Why I am not supporting the #MarchForScience

When the news that EPA funding had been frozen and EPA and gagged first broke I was irate. Like many others I wanted to do something meaningful to express how I was feeling. When I was added to the March for Science Facebook group I was excited. This was right down the alley of what I was thinking. I was also pleased to see so many scientists becoming engaged in the political discourse. About 5 seconds into my scroll down the group page I saw all some people, white and mostly men and a few women, discussing how the goal of the march should be free of identity politics and to resist being hijacked by those movements. To say that I was annoyed is an understatement. I’m not sure why, but it never fails to amaze me that people’s gut reactions to anything is to make sure that marginalized people have no voice. Fortunately, D N Lee made sure to explain why this was unwelcoming for marginalized group and a huge comment thread began as a result. About 10 minutes later I saw a poll for making the march for science and against religion. I just stared at my screen screaming internally and decided that this march clearly wasn’t going to be for folks like me (Female, Black, Christian) or anyone else that isn’t cis, straight, White and male. Within minutes the poll was taken down and the organizers of the group made it clear that diversity was important to them and that they would publish a diversity statement in the coming days. I told myself not to be too discouraged by other people’s comments and wait to see what the diversity statement and other evidence of inclusion say before making any decisions.

The statement titled as “Unity Principles” is as follows:

The March for Science strongly supports diversity, inclusion and equality in science.

American and global citizens are best served when we build and sustain an inclusive scientific community. We advocate for equal access to science education and scientific careers. When evidence-based science and policy are ignored, marginalized communities are differentially and disproportionately impacted.

Scientists and people who care about science are an intersectional group, embodying a diverse range of race, sexual orientation, (a)gender identity, ability, religion, socioeconomic and immigration statuses. We, the march organizers, come from and stand in solidarity with historically underrepresented scientists and science advocates.

This statement is great! The statements of the organizers after the statement was released not so much.  In a New York Times article, Jonathan Berman, co-chair of the March for Science national committee, was quoted as saying “Yes, this is a protest, but it’s not a political protest.” Additionally, sister marches in other locations have described themselves a neutral as opposed to focusing on “liberal social issues” on Twitter.


What does it mean when a co-chair of the national committee and those in charge of sister marches want to be apolitical and neutral but also strongly support diversity, inclusion and equality? To me, it means they don’t get it. Whether we like it or not the 45th president and his administration have made it clear that they do not value scientific input. These are politicians whose influence comes via policy. If science wasn’t political before, the act of deciding that scientific evidence is questionable by the POTUS makes the issue VERY political. But even before the 45th president took office, science has been political. The government has not only funded science but has used the data to create policy.  The reason people research some things and not others? Political. Who does and does not get to ask the research questions? Political. Science has always been political!  I really wish that my fellow scientists would stop pretending otherwise.

Being anything other than Cis, straight, white and male is political. Every other group has had to fight for their rights to be allowed to vote, counted as citizens, get married, use bathrooms and/or not live in separate and unequal conditions and be treated with basic human decency. Much of that had to be amended into the constitution in order to have legal implications for not doing so. A lot of it has shaped the current political landscape. Having a marginalized identity and existing in this country AND science is an inherent political. To say that you are apolitical and support diversity feels like a spit in the face of the people you claim to support.

As the 45th president rolls out new executive orders strengthening police protections, the war on drugs and creating task forces on reducing crime, all I hear is enhanced danger for people of color. What I experience in the world outside of laboratory effects my science. When my husband gets called a Ni**er by a drunk acquaintance that affects my focus; my ability to be one hundred percent in my science. When co-workers continually perpetuate mirco-aggressions against you, it effects your science. When women encounter sexual harassment in lab and field work spaces, it effects their science. When a scientist has to worry about whether they will make it back into the country after and international conference, it affects their science and the dissemination of their knowledge.  When a trans scientist is continually misgendered, it effects their science. You cannot say you support these people and be apolitical. It is not possible. Science is not performed in a vacuum and to continue to pretend that it is puts scientists on the wrong side of history right along with the 45th president.

In order for me to be convinced to participate in the March for science, I need the organizers to stop saying they aren’t political or that they are neutral on social issues. I also need those folks asking for the march not to be “hijacked” have a stadium full of seats. I don’t need any fake allies or obstructionists in this fight for equality. I need people who are willing to face their own biases, look for the truth and be willing to fight alongside me and be political because that’s the only way there will be any progress.


“Hidden Figures” Renewed My Spirit

The Hidden Figures movie has been getting a lot of critical acclaim since its release. The movie follows three main characters, Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson on their journey as colored human computers for NASA. The movie shed light on the mistreatment of these women and the barriers they overcame to become HUGE contributors to the first human space mission in the U.S. and NASA as a whole.

My diversity STEM student group organized an event around the movie and it gave me my entire life! About 50 total students and faculty, majority black, many identifying as female, filled the theatre reserved specifically for the event and preceded to be both inspired and enraged by the events being portrayed on the screen. The experience was cathartic. The proverbial side eye that was given when we all realized that Katherine had to run back to West Computing to use the bathroom or when they added an addition coffee carafe labeled colored after she drank from the at first communal carafe was on full display in that theatre. The group applauded when Katherine broke down and yelled at Mr. Harrison when he asked where she went for hours at a time every day and when Dorothy told Vivian Mitchel “ I know you, think, you do.” After she said she didn’t have anything against the colored computers. It was like instant validation knowing that an entire group of people felt the same way you do. It helped me to remember I am not alone in my experiences even though I feel like it most days.


As a female STEM scientist I identified so much with the struggles that these women went through in this movie. Though segregation officially ended decades ago and the barriers for black women and other underrepresented minorities are no longer legal they still exist. The feelings of being other are still quite pervasive in science technology and math as well having to prove your intelligence and your value to the scientific community ten times over. In fact, this movie came right on time. For about a month before the movie came out until I saw the movie, I was debating leaving science myself. I was feeling down and discouraged about my future, my current status as a PhD candidate and questioning whether I am ever going to graduate.

The movie also inspired to me to look for the hidden figures in my own field. I realized that I had not come into to contact with one black female virologist let alone an arbovirologist and made me seek to change this. I reached out to folks on twitter and am on my way to getting to know the research of several women recommended to me. I am also in the process of reading the book that inspired the movie to get all the extra details, find more inspiration and separate the truth from the fiction in that movie. For example: The entire timeline was compressed. The actual story starts in the late 1940’s Mr. Harrison, was not Katherine’s actual supervisor and no one tore down the colored bathroom sign. Katherine just started using the closest bathroom.

So if you haven’y already seen this movie, go now! I plan on buying the Blue Ray so I can watch it again and again. Also, I challenge you to look for some hidden figures in your field. When you find them, if you care to share, please do so in the comments.