In order for the advancement of science to proceed at its maximum speed, with the most creativity, and to produce discoveries that will benefit humanity the most, our scientific institutions need to be welcoming to people from all backgrounds. Scientific aptitude and drive are distributed across people from all walks of life. As such, any barrier — perceived or otherwise — to the inclusion of all people in the scientific enterprise is a barrier to realizing its full potential.
Unfortunately, our scientific institutions were created by only a narrow sliver of society and in a time when racism and sexism were acceptable. Even worse, genetics and many fields of biology can trace their roots back to eugenics. This historical context has narrowly defined expectations of what a good scientist looks like, talks like, and acts like. Given this, it is difficult for any individual to be completely blind with respect to race and sex; human brains are biased towards accepting something they have seen before. As a consequence, people are more likely to hire, promote, trust, and overlook a flaw in those from groups historically represented in science. In addition, those in power (who are disproportionately white men) are more likely to favor a student that reminds them of themselves or someone they respect. It takes active work to avoid our unconscious biases and break the positive-feedback cycles that keep our scientific institutions favoring the groups that started them.
In this lab, we reject eugenics, sexism, and the idea that any group of people is genetically more likely to produce scientists. We believe any genetic differences that might exist between sexes or groups of people are miniscule when compared to the way our society has and continues to differentially treat groups of people (both inside and outside the walls of academia).
In this lab, we acknowledge the role of belonging– not just the absence of harm — for creating a space where all can thrive as scientists. It took all of my courage to join a PhD lab that had 0 women and 10 men in it (the ratio would change over time, but I didn’t know that then), out of a fear of not having anyone to relate to. This courage and focus must pale in comparison to that needed for an individual from a less traditionally represented minority in science, who sees such minimal representation levels across labs. A playing field in which those from some groups, but not all groups, need social courage to choose a particular path in science is not a level playing field.
Therefore, active work is needed to create equity for all in our scientific institutions. I am currently sitting on the DEI steering committee for IMES. I encourage every lab member to take time off from research to perform service, political action, or outreach aimed at ensuring diversity and/or inclusion in science. On a more immediate note, sexism or racism of any type will not be tolerated in the lab.