We launched FeminaSci a year ago, and so much has happened since then, as a nation and in our personal lives. On the eve of the Trump inauguration and the Women's March on Washington, we wrote about our worries and hopes for 2017. The current political climate, environmental policy and climate change, identity and navigating our careers in a changing world, activism and grassroots engagement were all topics heavy in our thoughts. Today, we take a moment to reflect on our first post from 2017.
All those worries cited last year seem entirely justified one year later, but let’s not talk about that ugly stuff. Let’s talk about the weather! In Maine, we were hit by a surprisingly destructive storm in October that left many in the state without power for a week. Our house was one of the lucky ones whose power was restored almost immediately. We became a hub for many friends, our breakfast table swelled in the mornings, and our showers were always going. It was a sweet reminder of two things: 1) it’s hard to overstate how reliant we are on the electric grid, and 2) community is the key to survival when all else fails. We, of course, made it through our power outage crisis in Maine. Having experienced the discomfort associated with one week without power, it is clear that how this administration is treating Puerto Rico is an abomination. The Puerto Rico crisis brings to light many issues inadequately addressed by the current administration.
For me, personally, 2017 was a year full of friends and community. I summoned the momentum on a couple occasions to attend political meetings, but emotions seemed too raw and anger felt too intense. Instead, I opted to make many phone calls to our beloved Senator Susan Collins. I’ll try again in 2018, focusing on local issues and things that I can really impact. Very recently, I’ve started co-leading a Girls Who Code club at a local middle school with a friend and fellow coder. The gratitude we are receiving from local parents for initiating this club is striking and has really impressed upon me how much of a difference one can make in their community if they just take a small step outside of their bubble.
This month also marks my two year anniversary of jumping from an academic postdoc to a staff position as a bioinformatician. My job’s going well; I’m being pushed in ways I didn’t expect, and I am happy for the challenge. One thing that has come to the surface this year is that as a woman bioinformatician with a PhD at an institution full of senior scientists and postdocs, I have developed a strong case of imposter syndrome. This will be the personal challenge to address in 2018 and hopefully fodder for a future post.
On the eve of the Drumpf inauguration, I worried about what the future would bring for fellow women, POC, immigrants, and my queer community, and I wondered how my identity as a feminist shapes my identity as a scientist. This past year, I have dedicated time and energy to promoting diversity and inclusion in my local science community. It is extremely gratifying to see how these actions gain momentum and implement change. As the ‘future’ part of my ‘future career path’ rapidly approaches, I am thinking about how to effectively prioritize advocating for equity in STEM.
On the one-year anniversary to the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, I volunteered behind the scenes at the Women’s March Power to the Polls event in Las Vegas, NV. It was beyond inspiring to be surrounded by so many badass women (and ally) activists. The message is clear. To quote co-chair Carmen Perez, "There's a difference in being woke and being transformational." We all need to show up and be accomplices for justice in our own communities. 98% of black women showed up and voted for Doug Jones in the Alabama special election, and 63% of white women did the wrong thing. I hear the powerful message of co-chair Tamika Mallory (please take time to watch her speech). White women, it is our job to do the work in 2018 to fix this community we are a part of.
Some of the worries I mentioned in last year’s post were warranted. For example, 2017 ushered in a call from the White House to withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate agreement and also rescind the 2015 Water Rule that would have updated out-of-date rules for water protection practices in the US. We also saw clauses in the 2017 tax bill that will open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and a permit filled by the Northern Dynasty mining company to build a gold and copper mine in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska–home to the world’s largest salmon fishery–despite ongoing public outcry. However, grassroots organizing has, as I hoped, served as an important force for the protection of people’s rights and natural resources. We saw what was likely the largest single-day demonstration in US history–the Women’s March on January 20, 2017. We saw governors from 16 states declare they would uphold the Paris climate agreement, and these are only a few examples of the resistance. Grassroots efforts do not appear to be slowing down.
2017 also marked some big changes for me personally. I completed my PhD and moved to a new place (Durham, NC) to start a new research project that explores the role of urbanization and climate change on water resources (i.e., flooding and drought) in North Carolina. As 2018 begins, my goal is to use my skill-set to support to my new community. I started volunteering at the Durham Farmer’s Market and am helping organize local events for a larger (international) organization that supports women who code/want to learn to code, called R-Ladies Global. I plan to keep looking for other ways to get involved and connect with others in Durham who share similar, as well as different beliefs, from my own.
As we entered into the unknown upon the inauguration of Trump and stood face to face with being thrown outside our comfort zones, I tried my best to show up with an open heart. I participated in the largest protest in US history, Women’s March (2017), and worked tirelessly with FeminaSci's Sheila Saia to download data and reports from the EPA website before it was taken down. Climate change resources have been removed from the newest version of the EPA site, but fortunately there is an archive of the old site containing several decades of research. As a climate change scientist at a DOE national lab, I can say we have been holding our breath, waiting for funding to go up in smoke. Surprisingly quite the opposite happened, my colleagues raked in an obscene amount of funding for research that falls under the 'climate change' umbrella. It’s hard to say if this is an artifact left over from Obama or a potential oversight from our self-proclaimed 'genius' president.
Overall, I feel both closer to fellow my Americans, and somehow more divided. I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with strangers about Trump, and in this way I feel like people are reaching out and coming together as a community.
At the outset of 2017, I was worried about the conflict of my identity with the incoming administration and the ways Trump’s administration would affect underrepresented communities and the changing climate of the planet. The appointments (Gorsuch, Pruitt, DeVos, Carson, etc.) and policy choices (53 executive orders, tax cuts, Twitter) of the administration run counter to my core beliefs. But, somewhat cynically, I don’t think I’ve ever been more heartened by the slowness of bureaucracy and the inability of Republicans to agree with each other. I was thrilled with the 2017 elections, from local to national levels, and look forward to that momentum ramping up into the midterm elections this year. I used guidelines from One Thing You Can Do to figure out my Core Four, and recommend their approach if you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to focus politically in 2018.
Fall 2017 was my first semester on the faculty at Middlebury College, and the transition has been challenging. I joined a campus still torn apart in the aftermath of the Charles Murray visit in March 2017. The racial tensions on campus, although certainly present prior to this event, became exposed and raw. While the campus still has a lot of work to do, there are painful and important conversations taking place, and actionable steps being made to improve the campus. Aside from these major issues, I’m enjoying settling into my new department and classes, amazed by my new colleagues and the diversity of their scholarship, and getting my research lab on its feet. I hope 2018 will prove to be a year of continued hard work and hard conversations, with meaningful actions and outcomes.