Like many of our peers, our passion for cell biology stems from our motivation to improve the world around us. When presenting research, many of us deliberately begin with statistics on who is impacted by the disease studied and describe how their research might lead to improved care and treatment. This logic of improvement through curiosity and deeper understanding of biology pervades biology research. Working with ASCB, this drive to better the world is doubled, by bettering the lives of researchers themselves: graduate students and postdocs are the current hands-on workforce and the next generation of researchers. Our efforts are integral to research performed around the country and the world.
Although our focus recently has been on the disruption of our research due to the pandemic, the past two weeks turned our attention to another effort to improve the world for black citizens. This effort and the pain through which it was born have correctly focused national attention on the multigenerational violence perpetrated against black people in every corner of the United States. We’ve been forced to consider, not for the first time, how our chosen careers to improve lives all around us operate inside a broad system of injustices perpetrated on black and brown bodies. Like many of our peers, we feel that now is the time to listen and amplify voices other than our own. Now is the time to make sure our peers know what ethics we support, and a time to consider how our privilege to improve the lives of others, not through our scientific research but by advocating, allying, donating, and (perhaps most of all) supporting new legislation.
These questions, of policing and race, of how this country has chosen to ensure the safety of its citizens, as well as the questions of how, when, and upon whom violence by the state is perpetrated, can no longer be circumscribed to particular venues or particular communities. We cannot not respond, even here in a blog post for a cell biology society. The violence we have all seen, by now many times over, leaves no room for silence.
First, for those of us who are U.S. citizens, we can vote to change how the police operate in our communities. While this is a moment of national urgency, it is a moment for local action because police departments are funded and regulated at the local level. Use your voice in your city to demand change in policing tactics. You can check what legislation your state has and has not put in place using data-based research national advocacy organizations like Campaign Zero and their policy proposal project “8 can’t wait.” For data on police violence and studies on how to reduce it, see the Mapping Police Violence project.
Another way some labs are showing their support is through donations to advocacy organizations. As graduate students and postdocs, we may not have the money to donate ourselves, but we can start a conversation in our research groups about donating to a cause. Talk to your PI about how personal funds they may have used to host a holiday celebration or a happy hour can be repurposed as a donation, or ask willing members to donate and pool money together. You can discuss worthy organizations to donate to with your colleagues. Some organizations to consider include the Black Lives Matter Movement, Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block, Black Futures Lab, and Campaign Zero, mentioned above. This list is only some of the organizations accepting donations. We encourage you to do your own research and find other organizations that reflect how you want to support the black community.
Finally, you can do something scientists do best a literature review. You can read books to educate yourself on racism against minorities, and maybe even start a book club. Some books to investigate are:
- White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
- How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kennedy
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
- An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee
- So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeamo Oluo
- An African American and LatinX History of the United States by Paul Ortiz
- The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andres Resendez
- Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
This list is not all-inclusive. There are endless opportunities to support minorities in the United States. As trainees in a highly diverse field, we have the opportunity to make real change. We are the next generation of scientists, voters, political leaders, and much more. We must educate ourselves and act. Silence is compliance.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the views of the author(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of ASCB.
About the Author:
The goals of the Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS) are to create programming and resources that directly address the training and career development needs of graduate students and postdocs, promote opportunities for science advocacy and outreach that facilitate active engagement between young scientists and society, increase the visibility of student and postdoc perspectives within the ASCB by authoring content for society publications and the ASCB website, and foster community and connection between young scientist members of ASCB.