A note from Interim Executive Director Jennifer Shirk
At this moment of shared attention to racial disparities, what’s on my mind is taking responsibility – in particular, reflecting on where we can take responsibility at the Citizen Science Association (CSA) and across the field.
CSA stands for integrity in science and integrity in engagement. As an Association of people devoted to this work – to bridging the gaps between science and society – we know that these two things go hand in hand in what we do. But it is necessary to take a deep look at the way we understand integrity in all aspects of our work, especially as it relates to race and equity.
The individual acts and impacts of racism underscored by this past week’s protests – including the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the many lives lost due to this pandmic – are recent among decades of data and stories clearly showing that those among us who are Black are disproportionately harmed and in harm’s way. Instances of racism are multi-faceted, intersectional, and systemic, and they are perpetuated by inequities that are woven into the institutions that make up our society. This includes the Citizen Science Association and the larger sphere of science itself. We need to take responsibility for the ways that science has failed communities of color – not just in historic examples such as inhumane and unethical research in Tuskegee and on Henrietta Lacks, but through continued and less recognized (but as damaging) failure to equitably acknowledge and support research efforts led by communities to address disparities in health, environmental safety, and more.
Over the past year, members of the Environmental Justice (EJ) community have been working to bring attention to these inequities within CSA and this field (if you haven’t already seen the EJ panel discussion from CitSci2019, please watch it here). Now, as the Environmental Justice Practitioners Working Group (EJPWG), they are leading efforts in ways that can help CSA take responsibility for identifying and addressing structural issues that perpetuate racial inequities and injustices: in our conference and our membership, and in the practices of citizen and community science.
As a young organization, still building our foundation and structures, CSA has the opportunity both to address and to try to get ahead of some structural inequities in our own operations. We also have, with the EJPWG’s leadership, the opportunity to be at the forefront of setting examples and expectations within this field and for other scientific institutions, to work for science that is done in a more inclusive, just and equitable way. That individuals and/or communities are not exploited in the pursuit of knowledge. That we think more systematically not just about the ways science is used, but also about the ways science is done and the ways science is supported: particularly, but not exclusively, science by, for, and with communities.
Since March, the EJPWG Co-Chairs have held twice-monthly meetings which I have attended along with several others in CSA’s leadership. Together, we are addressing priority areas of concern as detailed in a draft MOU document proposed by the Working Group. These include:
- attending to equity in our membership and conference options
- developing a code of conduct for CSA’s actions in regards to racial equity
- exploring options for offering racial equity training across this community
- creating best practices materials that guide equitable research partnerships in and with communities.
This work is still in early stages at CSA. It isn’t showy, and it isn’t nearly as fast as it needs to be. But I am personally committed to CSA’s involvement in, and growing capacity for, identifying and addressing structural inequalities in this association and field.
If you are asking yourself what you can do right now, whether to reflect on your own work or to help educate yourself or others, or (should you choose) take action, please see the box at the end of this email. This includes ways that you can connect to become part of this work in CSA spaces and beyond. Together, let’s take responsibility.
Jennifer Shirk (she/her/hers)
Interim Executive Director | Citizen Science Association
RELEVANT SOURCES OF LEARNING AND CONNECTING:
Broad information for integrity in engagement in our lives and work:
- A library of free resources for racial equity work via Racial Equity Tools
- Webinar recording (2020), offered through the National Institutes of Health, by Terrence Winston of Paradigm Time LLC, on Moving from Bystander to Upstander
Principles and guides for those who want to work with communities:
- Jemez Principles: https://www.ejnet.org/ej/jemez.pdf
- Union of Concerned Scientists, resources for Building Scientist-Community Partnerships
To see what communities are recommending and requesting for equitable science funding:
- Award-winning video (2018 STEM for All contest): Community Perspectives: Transforming Science to Benefit All, shared by Marilú López Fretts on behalf of the group of Independent Community Based Organizaitons (ICBOs) whose work also won best poster at CitSci2019
- a timely letter on funding equity for community science as relates to the CARES Act and HEROES Act, by Omega Wilson of the West End Revitalization Association (WERA) and panelist from the CitSci2019 EJ Panel
Thoughts for foundations/agencies interested in funding organizational capacity building for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work:
To connect within CSA:
CSA’s Integrity, Diversity, and Equity Working Group is compiling a longer list of resources. You can get involved with that group by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can inform the scope of the IDE Working Group’s efforts for the next year before Thursday, 11 June 2020.
To get in touch with CSA’s Environmental Justice Practitioners Working Group, email email@example.com
To help lead efforts for equity and diversity in CSA conferencing, email firstname.lastname@example.org