Over the past few days, the world has seen on full display the anguish and anger of people across the United States as we face the concurrent crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and of pervasive racism and associated police violence. Both crises have disproportionally impacted Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and both are calling needed attention to deep-rooted systemic inequities in our communities.
In Minnesota, where George Floyd was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, Black people make up only six percent of the state’s population, have suffered approximately a third of the known COVID-19 cases, and represent a quarter of the state’s documented COVID-19 hospitalizations. And in addition to the disproportionate deaths from COVID-19 among BIPOC communities across the United States, recent weeks have added more names to an excruciatingly long line of victims of systemic racism and police violence: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others whose names don’t make the news.
Certainly, inclusion and equity are global concerns, and we see anger and unrest emerging around the world. But today I acknowledge unique challenges we are facing across American communities, leading to just protests. Disparities in health outcomes, and disparities in how the American criminal justice system works, result from long-standing systems of oppression, privilege, and power that maintain inequity and allow racism and white supremacy to fester.
The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) is committed to doing our part to become more actively antiracist. As an organization and as a community of science and technology centers and museums, ASTC is strongly committed to diversity, accessibility, inclusion, and equity, which we have named as “paramount values in our increasingly connected global society.” This is not just a statement, but a foundation that informs all of our work and our strategic direction.
Science and technology centers and museums, as institutions deeply rooted in their communities, share a common vision of all people being able to participate in science and to benefit equitably from scientific contributions to society. At the root of science, technology, and innovation are fundamental values that ASTC embraces: a commitment to seek out and engage a diversity of ideas, perspectives, backgrounds, disciplines, knowledge systems, and approaches; and an evolving practice of accepting, valuing, and celebrating contributions, discoveries, and novel solutions regardless of their source.
Like other social systems such as housing, finance, criminal justice, health care, and education, the American scientific enterprise also has work to do in dismantling the structures that are preventing all Americans from fully participating in and benefiting from science. Society at large benefits the most when we value and celebrate diverse contributions to scientific processes and when we ensure that everyone can engage with and share in the results of scientific research.
Black people have made remarkable contributions to scientific progress, and yet significant barriers still stand to their being fully welcomed and included in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Just look at what Christian Cooper faced when trying to watch birds in Central Park in New York City.
Black lives matter. Contributions of Black people to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics matter.
As we reflect on our part in these systems of racism and oppression, science and technology centers and museums are striving in their work to better listen to, reflect, represent, and include their communities, as is the case for many long-standing cultural organizations. Some examples of how the museum community is responding to this moment:
- See these remarks from Laura Lott, President & CEO of the American Alliance for Museums, on museums’ “unique duty to listen”
- See this statement from Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch
- The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has a new online portal, Talking About Race
- The Cultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI), which ASTC is proud to support alongside the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the Garibay Group, offered a recent webinar, Reopening with Equity in Mind
- Ecsite, our sister science-engagement network in Europe, also offered a recent webinar on equity and diversity in science engagement in the time of coronavirus
At ASTC, building on our own efforts to be a more inclusive, antiracist organization, we strive to support our member science and technology centers and museums in their own journeys to become more welcoming and inclusive organizations, as they work to listen more deeply to those they serve and to help advance the hopes and priorities of their communities.