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Summary of DPS 2018 Planetary Allyship Meeting

January 20, 2019

The following article was written by the event organizers, Brian Jackson, David Grinspoon, Bob Pappalardo, and Matt Tiscareno.

On Thursday, Oct 25, during the 2018 annual Division of Planetary Sciences (DPS) conference in Knoxville TN, the Planetary Science Allyship group held its fourth annual meeting to discuss how people in non-marginalized groups can support equity in the scientific community. The meeting was included in the official DPS schedule and advertised in the program:

Please join us for discussion about harassment, bias, and what we can do to help change the culture. All DPS members are welcome, with the goal of continuing a conversation among men about how we can raise awareness and be proactive on these issues.


The gathering attracted 13 attendees, roughly split between men and women, and the discussion lasted for about 1.5 hours and was facilitated by Matthew Tiscareno and Brian Jackson. The meeting was less formal than previous meetings — Tiscareno had assembled a rough outline of discussion topics, but attendees were invited to interrupt with their thoughts and ideas.

Of particular importance, Tiscareno began the meeting by suggesting that “allyship” would be better than “allies” as a name for the group. Allyship is a principle to which we aspire, while claiming the label of “allies” would presume a positive judgment of our efforts.

The discussion then highlighted the magnitude of the task facing groups like ours, to undo thousands of years of building a society structured to benefit certain groups. Even if attitudes changed overnight, social constructs still need significant re-tooling to benefit and support groups traditionally marginalized.

Mention was made of the Parable of the Polygons, an experiment showing that even with no biases among groups, a society structured by historical segregation is unlikely to spontaneously de-segregate. The experiment illustrates the importance of restructuring society and not just changing attitudes. A conscious and long-term effort to mix is required, just as a long-term effort by those with privilege in the scientific community is needed to spread societal benefits as broadly as possible.

The group also discussed the importance of amplifying the voices of those who too often aren’t heard, rather than just stepping in. One way to strike this balance is to explicitly echo ideas and credit the originator, a strategy employed by female White House staffers during Obama’s presidency, “when a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.”

Those with privilege should also feel a duty to “collect your people”; that is, those with privilege should stand up and confront privileged others when they say or do something that reinforces marginalization. Those with privilege aspiring to allyship can leverage their commonality with the  person whose actions require intervention, which may (or may not) result in a better hearing.

Whether an intervention seems efficacious, the effects on targeted people and/or bystanders must also be considered. Those who may have been targeted might feel supported that the problematic speech or action did not go unchallenged and might be spared the emotional labor of confronting the problem themselves, while potential allies who took no action in that situation might be encouraged to do more in the future.

Finally, the allyship group discussed specific actions we could take back to our home institutions and communities, while recognizing that progress toward inclusivity cannot be treated as a series of checkboxes or action items.

We must work to establish relationships with people who are from different social groups and to listen to their perspective, rather than assuming we know what’s needed. Those of us from non-marginalized backgrounds must recognize the dangers of “saviorism” and seek to amplify others rather than our own perspectives. We must promote excellence, especially when it might be undervalued, and should try to nominate folks from historically unrecognized groups for prizes and academic honors. And we should help establish policies and procedures within our institutions that promote equity, diversity, and inclusivity (EDI). For example, using pre-written rubrics and broadly worded job advertisements in the academic hiring process can reduce implicit bias that often masquerades as gut feelings or post-hoc justifications.

Finally, some immediately actionable items were discussed, including

  1. Volunteer to work on EDI-promoting projects as defined by groups such as the DPS Professional Culture and Climate Subcommittee (PCCS), such as taking data on the patterns of people who ask questions at meetings or crunching numbers to characterize patterns of privilege in our field. If you are interested in joining this effort, contact Matt Tiscareno.
  2. Establish a channel for the Allyship group to continue communicating through the year.  The focus of such a group would be for people who have privilege in our society to support each other in efforts to use it well. If you would like to participate, contact Matt Tiscareno.
  3. Look for opportunities to amplify, support, and learn from marginalized voices.  This can be in your own workplace, in meetings such as DPS, or in meetings that are specifically configured to center perspectives of people who are usually marginalized.
One Comment leave one →
  1. January 20, 2019 4:52 pm

    Thanks to all for organizing this event and for the great writeup!

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