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Summary from the Planetary Allyship Meeting 2019

October 7, 2019

The following post was compiled by the Planetary Allyship Group including the organizers and attendees of the meeting:

The Planetary Allyship Meeting is an informal group that has met at the Division of Planetary Science’s annual conference since 2015 to discuss issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion among those who have privilege to support folks who have less. Write-ups of previous meetings are available here: 2016, 2017, and 2018. Interested parties can sign up to an e-mail list here – tinyurl.com/planetaryallyship2019.

The fourth annual DPS Planetary Allyship Meeting took place on Tuesday, September 17, 2019, during the joint EPSC-DPS Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Amidst the coffee and croissants, we discussed several issues that span the Atlantic, affecting both our American and European colleagues, and issues that seem unique to each side of the divide.

After a round of personal introductions, our group of about 20 attendees began with a discussion of how widely spread the #MeToo movement has become (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement) and how it has catalyzed conversations about allyship on both sides of the Atlantic. The European attendees confirmed that #MeTooSTEM pervades social media in Europe and that it has helped raise awareness of issues confronting minorities in the science fields. At recent European science meetings, efforts have been made to address challenges through a variety of means, including publicly posting comics from the “Did This Really Happen?” series. The suggestion was made to display these comics at future American and European science meetings on a poster and allow attendees to mark specific comics that describe situations they themselves had confronted as a way of reifying these experiences for people who have not endured them or are otherwise unaware of them.

The conversation then turned to differences in how the American and European communities talk about and address issues of diversity in professional settings. It was indicated that “diversity” in the European context can refer to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, AND country of origin, where in the US, the country of origin is not considered. An interesting conversation arose around the use of the word “race”. The European attendees indicated that in many of their countries, that word carries strong negative connotations and “ethnicity” is the preferred term. 

We then dwelt for a while on the history of racism in the US and how, even though much (but not all) of the formal legal structure that bolstered institutional racism has been rooted out, the US is still struggling with the unequal opportunities that persist as a result of that legacy. The conversation then touched on the difficulties in collecting demographics of the European and US science communities. The European attendees indicated that some countries in the EU have laws that make it difficult or impossible to openly request the gender or ethnic background of conference attendees. The issue of how to allow for a broader range of genders than only “male” or “female” came up, and the suggestion was made that, when collection of those data was allowed, perhaps the form could just leave that field open-ended, that the respondent be allowed to fill in whatever they chose. In this context, Rathbun et al.’s recent work was highlighted.

Attendees then discussed how unconscious bias training is often dismissed by those who may need it the most. Instead, specific personal anecdotes, offered by friends and close colleagues, can have more power to change minds. One suggestion to disseminate these anecdotes is to write experiences down at the start of a breakout session, pool them, and pull them out of a hat allowing participants to share anonymously. The discussion then centered on how to deal with colleagues who flouted codes of conduct, what are the best means of reporting those violations, and how to confront the code-breakers. The suggestion of anonymous microreporting was made, and it was pointed out that the IAU has recently implemented such a system (other groups seem to have developed infrastructures for microreporting – https://www.europlanet-society.org/epsc-dps-reporting-form/ and https://byrdlab.sites.ucsc.edu/microreport/ are examples). Such a system allows conference attendees to report an incident and to indicate what level of response they would like – from nothing at all to direct confrontation of the violator or more.

As the meeting neared its end, conversation turned to next steps and specific actions attendees could take. Some suggested raising issues of equity in the classroom with students, others suggested refusing to serve on professional panels that were exclusively male or exclusively white. Questions arose about the availability of bystander training and how to implement it at future European conferences such as EPSC. Finally, members of the group reminded everyone about the diversity talks scheduled in the middle of the EPSC, and there was broad agreement that, while there was still a long way to go, these kinds of conversations were helpful to keep people engaged and pointed toward the distant goal of broad access and equity in the STEM field and beyond. A strong desire was expressed to have similar discussions at future EPSC meetings.

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