Research highlight

Scientific community: Combatting racism in ecology, evolution and conservation biology

Nature Ecology & Evolution

August 10, 2021

A toolkit of anti-racism interventions for ecology, evolution and conservation biology departments is presented in a Perspective published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. These evidence-based actions are intended to help counter structural barriers in the classroom, within research groups and at the departmental level.

Racial and ethnic inequities persist across STEM departments, particularly within the fields of ecology, evolution and conservation biology (EECB), as illustrated by recent social media movements including #BlackintheIvory and #BlackBirdersWeek. These inequities affect researchers at all levels — from students to senior faculty. Inequities include financial and social barriers, and both overt and implicit biases. EECB departments therefore need to instigate robust anti-racism interventions to identify, challenge and change these structural problems.

Melissa Cronin and colleagues begin by confronting the history of racism in EECB, including racist influences on the naming of species, racist ideology in evolutionary biology and colonial practices in conservation. They then present their suggested interventions at three levels. In the classroom, they identify changes needed to the way in which teaching is conducted and also to the content of the curriculum, for instance suggesting the incorporation of anti-racist material into the syllabus. Within research groups, the team discuss ways to ensure that researchers from underrepresented groups are both recruited and retained through changes to work culture.

Proposals include prioritizing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) recruitment and decolonizing fieldwork. Finally, within departments, they identify ways of promoting an inclusive culture and ensuring that anti-racism strategies are prominent in hiring, promotion, tenure and retention processes. The authors suggest that this could be done by creating internal departmental structures to combat racism or by ensuring that research conducted by scientists from racially marginalized groups is highlighted, for example.

The authors conclude that considerable changes in EECB departments are needed to ensure that participants from diverse backgrounds experience considerable and lasting equity. The proposals set out in this Perspective represent a positive model for tackling these issues.

This press release refers to a Nature Ecology & Evolution Perspective piece, not a Nature Ecology & Evolution research article. Perspectives are intended to provide a forum for authors to discuss models and ideas from a personal viewpoint. They are peer reviewed.

doi: 10.1038/s41559-021-01522-z

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