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Now More than Ever: Stepping Up Our Allyship

November 20, 2016

The following post was contributed by Andy Rivkin, Bob Pappalardo, and David Grinspoon.


For the second consecutive year, we held a “Men’s Auxiliary” event at the DPS meeting as a way to discuss harassment and bias issues, and to foster allyship and better awareness and support. We look forward to reporting on the event in this blog, as we did last year. In this post, however, we are separately addressing a topic that served as an unavoidable backdrop and discussion spur for our gathering: the then-upcoming and now-recent US elections. While our individual politics and personal responses may vary, those of us in more privileged positions in our community should be aware of and not dismiss our colleagues’ concerns, and must be vigilant in taking action to minimize bias and harassment.


The actions and upcoming policies of a Trump Administration are only poorly understood by the public, and some have called for a wait-and-see attitude. However, damage has already been done to more vulnerable communities including people of color, the disabled, LBGTQ people, immigrants, religious minorities, and all women. While we focus on the latter group here, our concerns are with the other communities as well.  It is not news that the election campaign was extraordinarily vindictive toward specific women (such as Alicia Machado and Elizabeth Warren) with unprecedented bile directed toward Hillary Clinton.


There are obvious lessons and parallels for men in science to learn and confront. Many have ruefully noted that the most qualified person in America, who happens to be a woman, was passed over for a promotion that was given to a less-qualified man. How many times has this happened in our own departments and institutions, if less publicly and with more deniability? Testimony of sexual assault from several women, and video and audio evidence of sexual harassment and bullying, were made available, and were seemingly forgotten as ostensibly-neutral pundits muddied the waters and the personal lives of apparent victims were investigated.  How many times have brave women in science trusted the system and reported harassment (or worse) by powerful men only to be asked for “proof,” and find their complaints waved away as “a disagreement” and violations left unpunished? How many of us congratulate ourselves for clearing the bar of not being as bad as Donald Trump, while acting like Billy Bush?


Some have called this a “post-truth” election. But as scientists, we are trained to be critical thinkers. The gaslighting on a national scale that has occurred over the campaign is likely to continue, but we have an obligation to support our colleagues and trust them when they say they’re hurting.  We must not tell them to “relax” or that they’re overreacting, especially given very real concerns that the election results may normalize some of the worst behaviors seen during the campaign.


More than that, we are under an obligation to improve matters in our field. We have been saying for years that we are committed to eliminating bias, but we have been slow to take concrete steps in our societies to do so. Studies from people like Dana Hurley, Julie Rathbun, Ferdinando Patat, and I. Neill Reid show that women are significantly underrepresented in planetary missions and do worse in telescope applications than expected from an unbiased process.   We must speak up when bias or harassment is recognized, and advocate more strongly and regularly for implicit bias training in our institutions and societies as a requirement for membership in leadership positions, in conference organizing committees, and in prize committees.  Similarly, we must encourage bystander training for members of our community.  We must make resources readily available for those who are interested in taking such training, and increase the pool of people who have taken such training.


We do not know how dangerous or uncomfortable the coming years will be for women and minorities, including in planetary science. However, the steps we should take would not be wasted in any administration.  We know from years of evidence that change does not come unbidden, and it is evident that things will not get better by themselves. It is incumbent upon us to confront ourselves in order to achieve full support of, and respect for, all our colleagues.


Columns in the main entrance lobby of MIT are currently covered in shared hopes, fears, and questions of that school’s community, many of them centered on women’s and minority disquiet about the recent campaign. Communities throughout academia have similar concerns about the directions that a Trump Administration may take.


Thank you Andy, Bob, and David for your sincere thoughts!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. lovenstars permalink
    November 23, 2016 9:32 am

    Thanks for these words of support for those who may be nervous, scared, hurting. We promise to be there for one another. Yes we will.

  2. November 20, 2016 5:04 pm

    I am not a Trump supporter, and I agree with everything said here except for one statement–specifically, that Hillary Clinton is “the most qualified person in America” for the presidency. There are many people, including women, who respectfully disagree with this statement. It is important to note that this is a statement of opinion rather than fact. Different people have different notions of just what makes a person qualified for any job.

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