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Science & Hope in 2017

The Femina Sci team discusses their worries and hopes during this time of political change.

The recent election has exposed a political climate in which opinions seem calcified beyond reason and where ignorance and anti-intellectualism are celebrated. At the same time, progress toward gender equality and human rights are being challenged by movements fueled by sexism, bigotry, and fear. The appointments of the incoming administration suggest that such attitudes on both fronts will percolate up to the highest levels of power.

And so we kick this project off with a check-in for all of us:

What are you thinking about as January 20th approaches? What is your worry? What is your hope?

Federal Building Lit Up in Red, White, & Blue

Mallory's Response

I think about my role as a woman of science in a world where politics and social responsibility are inseparable from basic research. While today’s conservative populism certainly did not evolve overnight, navigating a future career in science across a cultural landscape infused with phobias and anti-intellectualism is incredibly daunting. To this end, I think about how feminism and other social justice movements shape my career aspirations. The way we conduct science matters, and as a feminist scientist I intend to have a voice in this conversation.

As a human being, I worry about basic human rights violations against all people born without the safety net of white, straight, cis male privilege. The incoming Trump administration threatens progress toward gender and racial equality, reproductive rights, access to education, and the preservation of clean air and water. As a scientist, I am angered by a wave of anti-science that undervalues and negates basic truths (e.g. climate change). The time and energy we will spend in the years to come fighting sexism, bigotry, and anti-science would undoubtedly be better spent supporting creative research and diverse scientific communities.

On the eve of the inauguration, I assume a greater responsibility to prioritize diversity and inclusion in my science community. I will continue to value my research and believe that advances in microbial evolution and ecology can contribute to healthier people and

solutions to climate change.

Sheila's Response

I am worried about the potential for: (1) the rejection/deterioration of critical and rational thinking by key political figures and communities, (2) the degradation of natural resources (e.g., water resources) during a time of increased vulnerability (i.e., climate change) and the associated long-term negative consequences for human and ecosystem health, and (3) the recension of programs that provide diverse cultures support to pursue STEM careers, or any careers, for that matter.

However, as we begin 2017, my optimism and pragmatism assure me that grassroots efforts will act like glue to build a network of communities that value critical and rational thinking, science-based decision making, and inclusion of diverse peoples. I also believe that as these communities grow, more and more people will feel compelled to “stand up for science” and/or advocate for the natural resources that sustain them. Most importantly, I am hopeful that as we move into a new year and a new era people will connect with others around them—including those with opposing views. My hope is that we will listen to each other, keep the conversation going, work through disagreements, and learn from one another.

Ashley's Response

When Obama was voted in, I was proud America voted for positive change, social justice, the environment, mindfulness, and integrity – all because we believed in a better world. As January 20th approaches, I don’t fear the future but I mourn the loss of a great President and the integrity and kindness he brought to the position. As a woman climate change scientist, and temporary government employee solely funded by government grants, I have many things to fear, but my greatest fear is the undoing of the progress made by President Obama. I worry about alienating foreign allies, groups and individuals within our own population, and the destruction of our environment. All of which seems like a moot point if we increase our nuclear armament, close ranks, and start shooting from the hips. We’re operating under this fear rhetoric and everyone has bought in, whether it’s Trump’s opinions or the opposition. My hope is that everyone prepares for potential challenges, is open to the unknown, and shows up for what’s really happening rather than functioning out of fear.

In the spirit of President Obama, I pledge to conduct my work and civil duties with integrity, embrace and cultivate diversity, and fight to protect the environment. I hope that instead of Americans feeling divided and closing ranks we come together as one, remain open to the future and embrace the change. Let the positive changes Obama has made live on through us as we carry the torch and breath life into his ideas and movements.

Chelsea's Response

Post-election and post-inauguration, my intention is to deepen the expression of my queer identity. Queerness for me has meant experiencing the world through a non-normative lens and questioning what is assumed to be true or right. When I bring my queer self to work, I’m bringing this same critical thought to scientific theory and practice. Being queer feels often like going against the grain and using intuition and self-knowledge to pursue an unpopular idea. Being an effective and original scientist is about a willingness to challenge unpopular ideas.

My research isn’t helping the most sensitive groups of people right here, right now. More likely, my research is for future generations of human and non-human lives. Being a scientist doesn’t feel like it holds the same urgency that I imagine a journalist, medical doctor, or social worker must feel right now at the beginning of the Trump administration. And yet, I’m going to keep on keeping on with my environmental research.

Post-election, I’m volunteering more of my time away from my academic bubble. The Black Lives Matter movement this summer and the election of Trump woke me up to my need to step outside of this world more often. I want to develop the social and political skills that I haven’t been getting in my academic work life.

Erin's Response

As 2017 begins, I have been thinking about identity. What does it mean to be a female, white, atheist, and well-educated US citizen in 2017? I’m coming to terms with the reality that many of the core beliefs that make up my identity are of little or no value to the incoming national administration. Beyond myself, the ideals and beliefs of this incoming cabinet and policymakers will perpetuate and bolster the agenda of the cis-white-Christian male. I worry about the communities around me, who are threatened in the face of these unchanging policies and actions, as well as the ramifications the next four years will have in terms of climate change and the health of our planet. However, I am grateful for the privilege I have to continue defending my identities and to stay vigilant in my efforts to hold local and national officials accountable for their decisions.

Additionally, I am very excited to start my new job at Middlebury College where I can continue to teach critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning to new generations of students and make sure that these students are well-equipped to fight for their values and beliefs. I’m also committed to working toward tangible ways of finding and reaching out to young learners for whom studying science has not been an option. I hope to find meaningful ways to volunteer my time and energy to these opportunities.

Julie's Response

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my grandmother in the context of today’s politics. She was a sharp, warm, and complex woman. Her father was a minister, an outspoken democratic socialist, active in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the mid-20th century. Her husband, my grandfather, was a staunch, stubborn Republican. She revealed to us after my grandfather died that she neutralized his vote every single election. She knew that fighting about politics was not a healthy path forward for her family. She was supportive, empathetic, and unassuming yet she left a lasting impact through her involvement in the lives of her friends, family and community organizations. Her legacy reminds me that you need not be a leader or an extrovert to make a difference in your community. There is so much to worry about – the environmental destruction that this administration has the potential to wage, the unraveling of human rights progress, the suffering that will follow if we choose to ignore the threat of climate change. My hope is that in the coming years, I find the energy and confidence to use my body, my voice, my optimism, and my love to foster a greater level of empathy and uplift the leaders in the crowd that speak for a sustainable and equal future.

Annise's Response

In my time as a graduate student in plant ecology, I’ve sought to understand the world around me a little bit deeper each day. I consider myself a critical thinker – open to ideas that challenge my core beliefs. However, this election has proven to me that I don’t understand what motivates people as much as I thought I did. My head swims with the list of cabinet nominees bent on dismantling generations of progress. To regain my footing, I am seeking out people beyond my current circles – not to educate, not to convince, but to understand.

Although I like to think data can speak for itself, the framing of an issue is more powerful than any confidence interval. For example, ~60% of Republicans supported implementing carbon pollution regulations by framing it as (1) important to a functional free-market, and (2) associated with traditional values and historical purity (Maibach et al., 2013). I am now grappling with how to use this information to achieve my conservation goals. In particular, I am concerned that appealing to these sentiments (particularly historical purity) supports similar dangerous rhetoric on social issues. Determining where to compromise and where to dig my feet in to ultimately achieve a greater good will be a major part of my next four years.

Armanda's Response

As the Obama administration comes to a close, mixed and uncertain emotions have come with it. In his last year as President, Obama declared a large portion of the Arctic Ocean off-limits to oil and gas drilling, announced advancements in soil sustainability and education, revealed a new microbiome initiative, and urged the importance for a transition to a clean-energy economy. Now bring in President-elect Trump. As an environmental scientist, well, I’m most worried for all that is wild and free both here in the great land of the U.S. of A. and abroad.

I decided to pursue a doctorate in environmental microbiology due to my desire to understand the underlying biological drivers of the thing I love most – the natural world. In the face of the new administration, there is an uncertainty of the policies that lie ahead *queue sinking stone to the bottom of my stomach*. Just when we seemed to be on the verge of making headway in climate policy, we may soon be taking a 50 year step in the wrong direction. Will our future generations continue to have these awe inspiring ecosystems? My hope comes from the fact that the changing climate can’t be ignored. Scientific, industrial, economic, and social tendencies toward a cleaner environment will grow regardless of federal policies. I will use these coming years to stand up for science-based truth by engaging in more science communication, education, and outreach to my community and the public.