Shut Down STEM
June 10, 2020 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Shut Down STEM is a day of action planned for today (June 10th, 2020) to call attention to the ethical duty of global academic and STEM communities to eradicate anti-black racism. "Black academic and Black STEM professionals are hurting because they exist in and are attacked by institutional and systemic racism. Black people have been tirelessly working for change, alongside their Indigenous and People of Color allies. For Black academics and STEM professionals, #ShutDownAcademia and #ShutDownSTEM is a time to prioritize their needs— whether that is to rest, reflect, or to act— without incurring additional cumulative disadvantage. "

This is part of Strike for Black Lives, organized by the group Particles for Justice.

Details of the strike: "We will stop all usual academic work for the day, including teaching, research, and service responsibilities. All ordinary meetings of classes, research groups, and seminars should be cancelled or replaced with discussions with colleagues about anti-Black bias in the world and in academia."

Shut Down STEM's Action Plans: "We need to see exactly what your short- and long-term plan is to do the work to eradicate racism and create a just, equitable and inclusive STEM field. Your plan should include an actionable goal, steps you will take to reach your goal, and metrics/indicators you will look for to know whether you are successfully moving towards your goal."

Particles for Justice has a list of resources (divided into self-care information for black people, information and history resources, podcasts, videos, kid-friendly resources, and links for donations): located here, and Shut Down STEM has a list of action oriented guides: located here.
posted by codacorolla (32 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I wish this had been better advertised. I didn’t hear about it until fairly late yesterday afternoon. It was already too late to cancel shifts or get my superiors to take more obvious action, but I sent an email out to the staff this morning with a recommended reading list and permission to spend part of their day reading and discussing. If my superiors complain, I will say it was professional development, and I’m not even lying playing the bureaucrat.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:44 AM on June 10 [14 favorites]

My seminar is scheduled to meet tonight. I asked my students what they'd like to do.

I've heard very little about the strike. Nothing (!) in the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed today. Not much in mainstream media, besides a CBS story.
On Twitter right now #ShutDownAcademia has 23.2K Tweets, while #ShutDownSTEM yields 52.2K Tweets .
posted by doctornemo at 9:44 AM on June 10

Hunh, my partner and I are both in STEM, and he works for a major Canadian University, but this is the first that either of us has heard about Shut Down STEM. It's really a shame it wasn't better advertised.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:55 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see my home institution not publically advertising this.

I found out due to the dilligence of a colleague who is a constant campaigner for racial jutice. I believe that even if you cannot commit to taking the day to strike, still donating, advocating in your social networks, and taking time to reflect (even if it conflicts with a busy research schedule) are all good steps. As the resources above point out BIPOC academics must always juggle dealing with systemic racism amid their research duties, and white academics are largely free to opt to do this or not.

Moving beyond a single day and making a plan of action to address racism in your institution (including, I'm realizing, asking administration why this was not prioritized) are things that it's incumbent upon academics to do if we're truly committed to justice and truth.
posted by codacorolla at 10:00 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]

The research institution where I work had an email from the facility director endorsing the strike and actions that people can take. There's a dedicated slack channel for it, with documentary screenings in zoom and youtube links.

It was pretty sudden, but they've really taken it seriously.
posted by cowcowgrasstree at 10:04 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

I only heard about it yesterday when the American Crystallographic Association put out a statement in support of it (I had been emailing with them about putting out a statement, I am guessing I wasn't the only one or they did their own research).

I guess I can not do my marking today, but it won't do very much since I'm stuck at home not talking to other people at my school.
posted by Canageek at 10:11 AM on June 10

(I should say, I'm usually pretty plugged into Chemistry Twitter and the #RealTimeChem community who are usually a pretty good source of knowledge about this stuff)
posted by Canageek at 10:13 AM on June 10

Got an email from the American Anthropological Association about this yesterday afternoon, which wound up in spam for some reason. They are taking it seriously and cancelling stuff. Check them out on twitter.
posted by gudrun at 10:17 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

My employer, the American Museum of Natural History is participating in this.
posted by SansPoint at 11:40 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

The American Association of Physical Anthropologists is also participating. I'm taking most of the day to work with colleagues on decolonizing primatology syllabi, and reading about prison abolition in Boston. It's been well advertised in my ecology and anthropology circles on twitter, especially after Black Birders Week. White and non-Black academics are also being asked to reflect upon #BlackInTheIvory. Hopefully this will be substantive?
posted by ChuraChura at 11:41 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]

I took some time with my summer research students (undergraduates) to talk about these issues today, and encouraged them to spend the rest of the day on the subject as well.

I wish I could have taken the whole day, but my college is working quickly to revamp its entire fall schedule based on the requirements imposed by COVID-19 and I'm involved in that service work. I plan to make up for it in the coming days by reading some of the articles & references I jotted down today.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:02 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

As someone pointed out, it's finals week for some people....
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:09 PM on June 10

If you go to the website, it discusses what both students and faculty who are in finals week can do. This discussion has been up since I first heard of this initiative last week.
posted by nat at 12:10 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

Also, as I can’t help but point out— it was finals week lots of places when George Floyd was murdered and protests started. It is always an inconvenient time to confront racism, but we white people get to choose the time. Black people and others affected by racism don’t. (I sure as hell haven’t gotten to choose when I confront sexism, because sometimes it comes up and confronts *me*.)
posted by nat at 12:18 PM on June 10 [15 favorites]

Looks like my students want to meet (via Zoom, as always), working with some of our readings (which are about empathy), then doing research on racism for a discussion.
posted by doctornemo at 12:19 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

It was sort of last minute, but where I am, the University cancelled all classes for the day and asked people to spend the day educating themselves on issues of racial inequity. From a Big 10 university in a very white place, I was honestly a little surprised. Not enough, but not nothing. Research wasn't explicitly cancelled, but hardly any research is happening here due to the pandemic anyway.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:43 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]

This week is the virtual meeting of my professional society, the Society for Freshwater Science. Today was supposed to have been our award of excellence recipient's speech and our committee meetings. Since our award of excellence is to an old white guy, his talk has been postponed until next week. Most committees rescheduled their meetings as well. I'm on the Education and Diversity Committee, and originally we talked about meeting since our meeting could be highly relevant, but we decided to postpone so that folks who had seminars/discussions planned could do those instead.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:22 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]

At my University, we got an e-mail this morning from the head of our department that she was going to spend the day reflecting, but besides that, I've heard nothing from the University on the whole, and certainly none of my immediate management is addressing it. I didn't have a chance to read the email before I spent 4 hours extracting DNA in the lab. I think I'm going to go home and do some thinking/reading.

Speaking of research on campus, it's just now very slowly starting, and I fear it's going to be all shut down as the state closes again.
posted by lizjohn at 1:30 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

In addition to discussions within my research group, and also one led by our Dean of Sciences later today, I'm also reading some resources; one particularly relevant to my subject area is the AIP report here.

For a bigger list from particlesforjustice, see here. We're academics. Go read. Go learn. (And, as a reminder to myself as much or more than anyone else, keep in mind that read and learning is only step 1 or maybe step 0; action beyond that and beyond today needs to happen too.)
posted by nat at 1:35 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]

Since its release on Friday morning, this statement has had a huge impact in the North American physics community:

- The Canadian Association of Physicists annual Congress (held online this week) rescheduled all events planned for today and replace them with a special session hosted by the EDI committee, which was attended by about 440 people (compare the regular Congress attendance of between 400 and 700)

- cancelled today's daily preprint release across all fields (those papers will appear tomorrow instead)

- the Theoretical Advanced Study Institute particle physics summer school rescheduled today's lectures

- the American Physical Society Division of Particles and Fields cancelled all meetings to be held today, including in relation to the just-launched "Snowmass 2021" long-range planning process, and the APS issued a statement

Thank you codacorolla for posting this! And those complaining about a "lack of advertising" can blame in part MetaFilter's very strict policy against self-links. And maybe start paying more attention to what your physicist colleagues are getting up to.
posted by heatherlogan at 3:49 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]

I first heard about #shutdownstem about a week ago, probably because I work in the area of astrophysics that most closely borders particle physics (some of the Particles for Justice organizers belong to collaborations I am also a member of). All of the large astrophysics collaborations I am in cancelled all of the telecons that would be held today (except for a special #shutdownstem - focused event conducted by one of them).

In my own department (which covers both physics and astronomy), we had an event this afternoon (organized by a colleague and myself) focused primarily on how we can improve the environment for Black students in our own program. About a dozen faculty and two dozen students (mostly grad students) took part; even after two hours of discussion today there was a lot of interest in having a follow-up meeting next week. Hopefully, this will turn into lasting action.
posted by janewman at 8:00 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

Very similar experience to janewman here. I also found the guidance on the particlesforjustice site very useful too and understanding of to what extent people could take part. Here in the UK I believe I couldn’t legally strike but I took some holiday and spent the day educating myself and joining a well attended group meeting on the topic (very likely the first of many).
posted by edd at 2:57 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

I was also pretty confused about this as a non Twitter user. Our administration sent a somewhat supportive acknowledgement email. They produce a stream of meaningless email, so it didn't get my attention. It struck me as a little strange to have a strike when at 20% lab activity and most of our workers are at home or furloughed.

The resulting faculty zoom meeting was a reiteration of the diversity steps we've always done or been talking about. There may be a committee formed, but we are wary of the minority committee service tax. There wasn't any ... particular demand or point to the action so the conversation didn't go anywhere.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:56 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Academics are a smart bunch. Surely we don't need organizers of a movement to make a demand or ask for a specific action in order to interrogate the ways white supremacy acts in our departments. Surely fellow white academics have the ability to think about ways to, maybe, improve recruitment of non-white students, or retention of Black faculty, or evaluate course offerings with an eye to diversity and inclusion. I know faculty and grad students who spent yesterday working on proposals to remove the GRE from admissions standards. I know people who worked on proposals to divest endowment funds from the prison industrial complex. I know people who worked on proposals to end mutual policing agreements with city cops. I know people who spent the day reading testimony of non-white academics about their experiences. I know people who spent the day learning about prison abolition. I know people who spent some time in the lab and then went to a local protest. I know people who were skeptical of this action at first but actually spent some time engaging in good faith and came away feeling a little bit stronger about the need to make substantive change. Your department's lack of engagement or inability to come up with something actionable is not the fault of the organizers. There are all sorts of specific demands being made.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:05 AM on June 11 [10 favorites]

The entire premise of the action is that academics do need help in figuring out what role they can play. The uncharitable assumption that we aren't making a good faith effort already is unjustified. Spend a day learning about broader social topics or engage in marginally related activism is a fine thing to do, but an unusual job-specific shutdown demand. Nothing was invented on this front last week. The AIP/TEAM-UP report example is instructive in this regard: it is mostly soft, difficult to measure, and slow moving culture and environment recommendations. Those aren't things that change quickly or we even find the right levers for quickly making them amenable to "shutdown X" tactics.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:26 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

One of the things I learned yesterday is that there is a replacement proposed for the iconic iris dataset bundled with R, which comes from R. A. Fisher, a geneticist who is famous for inventing a lot of statistics, but who also was a dedicated eugenicist.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:27 AM on June 11 [8 favorites]

The Society for the Study of Evolution has also pledged to rename its R. A. Fisher award on the same grounds recently. It isn't enough, but it's a start.

I skipped out on my own lab's discussion of racial bias on the basis that I am trying to avoid any potential conflicts with my PI before I can safely graduate. So did the lab's only black student. From lab gossip, I am glad I did so, and I was right to do it, and I don't think things would have been better if he or I had attended. But I'm angry and sad that I felt the need to do that; I'm sadder that things didn't go well. I would have liked to be in a place where I felt safe engaging with this topic with my colleagues and being a decent ally. As it is... I've challenged and pushed one too many times here, and I'm putting my allyship energy into my scientific society instead for the moment.

Watching other labs and academic groups participate, as well as the work I see in my society? That gives me hope. It gives me hope that leadership will begin to get off its ass and bestir itself to do something, anything. I find that the more seniority and power that academics have, the more resistant to change and actually doing meaningful things to change equity (as opposed to paying lip service to equity) they are. I think that even at a truly basic level, an initiative like this is important for shaking the expectations of senior people who are resistant to making any kinds of substantial changes.
posted by sciatrix at 10:44 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]

An open letter to the [Ecology and Evolutionary Biology] community
It’s all dandy to form enclaves, and shut your lab for a day, to decide what you will do better. This was a necessary moment of reflection, and we thank you. That you could afford to do so is a privilege and we hope you realize that many BIPOC faculty couldn’t do so due to institutional barriers. How much of your outrage and activism can we rely on in 1 week, 1 month or 1 year from now? Why should we take these exercises seriously, when it feels like it was done to assuage your sense of guilt? Why do so many statements ring superficial and hollow? You see, racism is corrosive to the very fabric of society, but it’s real target is the trust between ordinary, well meaning humans. The way forward is to rebuild a foundation upon mutual trust, and justice is a key element of trust.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:01 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

Needhi Bhalla has put together an Equity Reading List with some actionable steps and readings in a bunch of different areas.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:06 PM on June 17

APS (American Physical Society) is hosting a webinar on June 24 about concrete actions towards making physics more diverse. The panel has some good people on it so, well, I hope it goes well and leads towards more action (and not just more talk).
posted by nat at 2:32 PM on June 17

Steve Hsu -- (former) Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Michigan State University -- resigned yesterday[1,2] after MSU's Graduate Employees Union called for his removal as part of #ShutDownSTEM.
posted by kliuless at 5:32 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]

This conference introduction by Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, is brief (15 min) and worth listening to, even if you're not a physicist. (Context: the conference she's introducing is an international conference that has run for a few decades, but this year was to be the first time it would be held on the African continent; it's still being hosted by South Africa but is of course being held virtually.)
posted by nat at 2:20 PM on June 30

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