19 October 2021

Diversity in Ocean Sciences

 Maybe I should have called this post "diversity in Ocean Sciences or absence thereof" as our school doesn't really display much diversity. All our professors are white men, and straight, cisgender, able-bodied ones at that, as far as I know. When you come to the readers it gets slightly better; at least women are represented there, and one is even non-white! But with only one non-white person in the entire academic staff, and women only fairly represented in the lower ranks, and any representation of LGBTQ+ or disabled demographic, if any, having remained unnoticed by me so far, the situation is clearly not good. And just sitting there and concluding that is not going to make a change. So Yueng, our only Asian member of staff, decided to take action. She founded an organisation aimed at increasing diversity in the School. And we had our first meeting this week!

The biggest topic we discussed in the meeting was representation. You can't be you can't see! And we anecdotally know of minorities who leave because they don't think they have a future in a straight, white, male environment like Ocean Sciences. We can't suddenly have fair representation, but one thing we can do is show examples of possible role models in the wider scientific community. Yueng had made a document available with a whole list of diverse scientists. And I think we should use that list. If I emphasise all the people whose work I refer to in my lectures, I will inevitably be emphasising predominantly straight white males, as that is of course exactly the problem we are talking about here, but I think that after centuries of discrimination against everybody who is not a straight white male, it is fair to now discriminate in favour of them. 

We also discussed that it is important to keep an eye on hurtful prejudice. I remember Yueng asking me to swap some marking work with me; she had ended up with the dissertation of the student who had, in all ignorance (I was sure there was no malicious intent here) put lots of prejudice against the Chinese in his dissertation. If we educate our students better they might not do this, because they might see what it is they are doing.

I was also wondering if we should try to recruit from schools that are less lily-white than the ones we usually recruit from. I would really want to see a more diverse collection of professors in our school, but if your readers are not diverse you can't diversify your professors by promoting these. And if your senior lecturers are not diverse, you are not likely to get diverse readers any time soon. Et cetera. We should tackle this also from the bottom. And I am aware of the massive trap that might create; that is what the straight white males in management always say. Just recruit more female students, wait 25 years, and then you will have more female professors! It clearly doesn't work that way. And if a diverse cohort of students doesn't see itself represented in the higher ranks of university, will they pursue a career there? If all the staff mean well but are unable to deal with their own biases and prejudices and ignorances, will they get fed up and go elsewhere? That is what the women are doing now; why would it not happen to other underrepresented demographics? But I still think we should also walk that road.

There was a lot of talk about! And speaking was predominantly done by straight white people, of course. What else do we have? But it's the best we can do. For now… I really hope we can make a change!

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