The March for Science organizers, who are heading to Washington, D.C. on Earth Day (April 22), announced yesterday (March 30) that they were adding three honorary national co-chairs.
Two are women of color: Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who was key in exposing the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a biologist who helped produce insulin from bacteria and co-founded the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). The third honorary co-chair is Bill Nye the Science Guy.
The march culminated out of response to what organizers felt was the administration’s anti-science stance, particularly in regards to climate change. But it’s been an uphill battle for organizers who have attempted to stay apolitical while not being exclusionary. This announcement comes after the march faced criticisms surrounding diversity and resistance to address inequalities like race and gender, according to STAT News.
“We were really in this position where, because the march failed to actively address those structural inequalities within its own organization and then to effectively communicate those values outward, we carried those inequalities forward,” said Jacquelyn Gill, a biology and ecology professor at the University of Maine who quit the organizing committee, to STAT. “Some of these problems stem from the march leadership failing early on in its messaging.”
March organizers initially attempted to address concerns by tweeting, “Colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, and econ justice are scientific issues,” as reported by BuzzFeed News.
But when a scientist called them out for taking stances, the tweet was deleted. Organizers issued four diversity statements and hired a diversity coordinator since then, per BuzzFeed, with this announcement being their latest diversity effort.
“For a very long time I have felt that just because I am a scientist does not free me from my responsibility in my community,” Villa-Komaroff told BuzzFeed. “As for those folks who feel that it’s a mistake to talk about anything but the doing of experiments, to not include diversity in a discussion of science, I think that’s shortsighted.”
Villa-Komaroff was one of the first Mexican-Americans to obtain a Ph.D. in the natural sciences in the United States, according to the March for Science website. Hanna-Attisha helped bring the lead crisis in the city of Flint to light, even after government officials tried to say her research was false.