By Justin Samuel, GSA Community Manager and Matthew Dawson, GSA Education Programs Manager
GSA: Please introduce yourselves to our readers and tell us a bit about the type of science you’re involved with.
MR: My name is Dr Munira Raji; I am a Geoscientist and a Visiting Research Fellow with the Rock Mechanics Laboratory (RML) Group at the University of Portsmouth, UK. I am transitioning my expertise from traditional petroleum and mineral exploration into sustainable geoscience. My research interests are at the intersection of sustainability of natural resources (energy and minerals), geoscience education, social sciences and policy.
HA: My name is Dr. Hendratta Ali, Associate Professor of Geosciences at Fort Hays State University located in the city of Hays, Kansas. I am GSA’s 2021 Bromery Awardee.
LW: Hello, my name is Leiaka Welcome. I am a graduate researcher at the Colorado School of Mines located in Golden, Colorado. I consider myself an Interdisciplinary Geoscientist as my research intersects sedimentology, fluvial geomorphology, and humanities.
GSA: How does your background in science inform the approaches you take toward diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work?
MR: In science, we were made to believe that having relevant scientific training/qualifications, hard work, creativity and passion for your research, persistence, and expertise will help you succeed in your chosen career. However, this is not entirely true for most women, especially Black women in geosciences. Black and other minority women in science face many obstacles that limit our advancement in science. My scientific background and lived experience have taught me that I have to advocate for myself and others to be seen or acknowledged actively.
HA: My science background did not and I think, was not intended to prepare me to engage in DEI work. The assumption is that this is work for disciplines in the humanities and that science is as diverse as it needs to be since it is based on “merit.” What contributed in shaping my approach towards DEI work is primarily my experience being a student and faculty at predominately White institutions (PWI) as a Black woman, an immigrant, and a woman in a subfield that requires significant fieldwork and is dominated by White men. DEI work helps me articulate, advocate and strive to improve my experience and that of others. I would have left the discipline or been pushed out by now without this work.
LW: Though I grew up volunteering and interested in social justice and civil rights topics, I have to say I did not ever mean for my background in STEM to prepare me for DEI work. Truthfully the two only began to overlap for me as I advanced in my academic career. While I was aware of specific topics before this chapter of my life, many of my experiences, conversations with upcoming, underrepresented scientists and mentors, and personal reflections from working on an advanced degree at a PWI have brought me to this point. It is the culmination of these events, the continuous reassessing of who I am as an earth scientist, and how I want to help others who have felt helpless and abandoned in this field that has brought me here.
GSA: Please tell us a bit about the Black in Geoscience (BiG) Week initiative. What were some of the goals for this year’s BiG week?
MR: It is disappointing that other marginalized geoscientists from the Black In Geoscience (@BlkInGeoscience), GeoLatinas (@GeoLatinas) and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Geosciences (@aapigeosci) are expected to be the voices for marginalized geoscientists for us to be visible in the Geoscience community. Dr. Ali and I set up Black in Geoscience in the Summer of 2020 to create visibility and amplify the voices of other marginalized Black geoscientists. Our primary goal for #BiGWeek 2021 was to focus more on our science now that the world knows that Black geoscientists exist. We had multidisciplinary experts on our panel discussions on climate crises, natural hazards, natural resources, geosustainability and leadership in geoscience who shared their expertise and experiences with our community as geoscientists.
HA: The Black in Geoscience initiative came on the heels of the petition, A Call for a Robust Anti-Racism Plan for the Geosciences and the wave of BlackinX movements that others started in summer 2020. From all indications, this was not a novel idea. Other people were likely contemplating a Black in Geoscience initiative too. Once the @BlkInGeoscience Twitter handle was created, Dr. Munira Raji also reached out with the same idea of organizing a Black in Geoscience Week. We invited volunteer co-organizers through Twitter and went from there. Organizations like Earth Science Women’s Network, Association for Women Geoscientists, and Women In Mining-UK have been very supportive in helping with resources.
This year we wanted to focus the #BlackInGeoscienceWeek themes around the climate crisis because of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. It is current, timely and of interest to the community. As you probably know, Brown and Black communities are disproportionately impacted by disasters exacerbated by climate change. Meanwhile, they do not get to hear experts from their communities much. Climate change, associated with leadership, hazards, natural resources, and sustainability became the key focus.
LW: In 2020 Dr. Ali and Dr. Raji mobilized a great initiative, a space for many others who look like me to raise their hands and be visible. In a year that had so much loss and grief, the Black in Geoscience platform allowed many to unite, recognize, amplify, and support.
Coming into 2021, we, as co-conveners, wanted to maintain this feeling and highlight the high caliber of research and experience within the #BiG community. Based on current global events, hazards, and natural disasters, and how marginalized communities are typically most vulnerable and impacted by these processes, we decided we wanted #BiGWeek 2021 to focus on natural resources, natural hazards, climate, geo-sustainability, and leadership. We also wanted to amplify the voices of those (scientific experts) who reside in areas most impacted by some of these topics.
GSA: BiG’s mission is “to acknowledge, amplify, and support the work of Black earth and planetary scientists from around the world.” What are some things that GSA members, or geoscientists in general, can do to advance your mission?
MR: An essential first step is to understand that representation matters. I hope that GSA and other geoscience organizations can develop and implement new policies and specific diversity strategies that reflect DEI to support the representation of the Black geoscientists and all other marginalized geoscientists. It is significant when organizations like GSA engage more and amplify the voices of geoscientists who traditionally do not have a seat on the table. Invite them to the table as members and chairs of councils and committees, to give keynote speeches, seminars, guest lectures, recognize their geoscientific contribution and nominate them for deserving awards. Appointing Black and other minoritized geoscientists in similar leadership and decision-making roles can help define more appropriate procedures adaptable to Black and minoritized communities.
HA: Most important is to acknowledge and afford Black geoscientists similar opportunities. GSA can help by becoming equitable, inclusive and just for all its members, and by becoming an organization where all members can thrive. Specifically amplify what we do to retain, recruit and connect geoscientists. Collaborate with us to identify ways to reach geoscientists that are leaving the discipline, reluctant to trust or actively discouraged from staying in the broader geoscience community.
LW: One of the most important things I think anyone can do is sincerely acknowledge that this mission is everyone’s mission. DEI work is complex, uncomfortable at times, but very fundamental. It is more than a byline, fad, donation, or sticker. Equity and representation matter, and this is the responsibility of every geoscientist in general. I want people to recognize that while it is acceptable to contribute to BiG’s mission and other branches of DEI work in the STEM fields, it is not always sufficient to remain silent or bury your head in the sand. It’s important to acknowledge and utilize your place of privilege to support those most susceptible to biases and injustice.
GSA: Who are some Black geoscientists who are doing some really interesting or innovative research that you’d like to highlight?
MR: Collectively, a lot of Black geoscientists in different parts of the world are doing innovative research in different areas of environmental sciences, natural resources, renewable energy, natural hazards, climate change, pollution, disaster management, helping us to understand, develop mitigation strategies and policies implementation plans to help reduce the risks of future climate and environmental disasters.
HA: Many Black geoscientists in the @BlkinGeoscience timeline are doing some amazing things. They are too many to list. However, you can find interesting and innovative work on our timeline with the #BiGpublished hashtag and inspiring tweet chats.
LW: There are so many amazing people doing innovative things, so I’d say the easiest thing to do would be to visit the @BlkInGeoscience timeline! From there, select the field you’re interested in, as truthfully, everyone who chose to participate in the BiG roll call is crushing it!
GSA: Who are some Black geoscientists our community should be following on social media?
MR: Find many Black geoscientists to follow through this link of Black In Geoscience RollCall.
HA: You can find all flavors of Black geoscientists @BlkInGeoscience. But, our Black organizers for this year and last year deserve a follow.
We also want to highlight these organizations: @NABGsocial and @AFRICANGeosci.
LW: Echoing the sentiments of my colleagues because Dr. Raji has provided a great resource link and Dr. Ali has provided a great intro.
GSA: Is there anything else you want people to know about BiG Week?
MR: We do not have the same network reach or privilege as our other colleagues. However, our White colleagues have the power to change the system from within their organizations, and we hope they will step up and take action as allies and sponsors. We are trained geoscientists first and not DEI experts, and we encourage other geoscientists to engage with our geoscience expertise. You can learn more about the phenomenal research work Black geoscientists have done by following us on Twitter.
HA: BiG Week happens once a year; Black geoscientists live in our bodies every single day. We face extra challenges in addition to all others because of our brown skin. We are racialized daily. It is exhausting; we do not need help, we want change. Do your part to change the status quo so we can make DEI work obsolete.
LW: BiG Week is so much more than what people assume. I say this because I’ve seen raised eyebrows when we fully explain the acronym. It is a grassroots community seeking to highlight, empower and support those who identify with being #BiG. Though BiG Week has been and will be in September, it is more than an annual event because every day, Black geoscientists are working and excelling in a field that tends to overlook and, at times, attempts to restrict them.
To learn more about Black in Geoscience Week:
- Follow on Twitter (@BlkinGeoscience #BlackInGeoscience #BiGeo #BlackGeoscientist)
- See Black in Geoscience Week’s homepage
Editor’s note: This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.