Thousands of scientists participated in a strike against racism in science and academia on 10 June, with prominent academic institutions and scientific journals pledging their support. While these statements have been welcomed, many are keen for institutions to go further. “People are tired of seeing organisations that have released statements, but with no action plan in place,” says Jasmine Roberts at The Ohio State University.
Black scientists who spoke to New Scientist had a number of suggestions for further action by scientific journals that supported the strike, such as inviting more Black academics to write review articles, peer review scientific papers and serve on editorial boards.
“There are currently no Black editors on the Nature journal,” says Nature’s editor-in-chief Magdalena Skipper. “The implications of the lack of Black representation in our editorial staff are not lost on us.” Cell, another scientific journal, published a statement acknowledging that none of its editors are Black.
Journals can’t solve this problem alone, however. Several universities have released statements condemning racism, but many were criticised for their failure to explicitly mention Black people or to lay out plans for addressing inequalities.
There is mounting pressure for universities to acknowledge their racist histories and incorporate this into their curricula. An inquiry into the history of eugenics at University College London (UCL), for example, was criticised earlier this year for failing to investigate the issue in sufficient depth.
On 11 June, UCL announced it would immediately start reviewing the names of spaces and buildings that were named after two prominent eugenicists, Francis Galton and Karl Pearson.
But UCL is just one of many institutions worldwide that have buildings, lecture theatres or statues dedicated to scientists or other historical figures who held racist views or participated in racist acts. “Universities should stop celebrating individuals that are known to be racist,” says Cassandre Coles at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
To tackle racial bias and discrimination, academic institutions should penalise academics who make racist comments or exhibit racist behaviour, says Amber Lenon at Syracuse University in New York.
Universities should also be more deliberate about increasing their representation of Black people. Fewer than 1 per cent of university professors in the UK are Black, according to recent figures from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency. In the US, less than 5 per cent of full professors are Black.
Allocating more funding towards equality, diversity and inclusion work is an important starting point, says Madina Wane at Imperial College London. “Currently, much of this work is performed, with little recognition, by underrepresented groups in addition to their actual contracted work,” she says.
Overall, many Black scientists see the 10 June strike as the start of a process. “No one group has a monopoly on intelligence, creativity and ideas,” says Nira Chamberlain, president of the UK’s Institute of Mathematics and its Applications. “As a scientific community, we must work much harder to create a more diverse workforce from the top to the bottom.”
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