Moving Forward

By Eve Boyle
November 11, 2016

I am a writer before I am a scientist. I’ve been writing short stories and poems since elementary school, and was set on being an English major until I took an anthropology class to fulfill a course requirement. I write to make sense of things I don’t understand and to honor the things that I do. I write to say I love you and to say I’m sorry. I write to remember, to seduce, to grieve, and to inform. Today, I write to move forward.

I chose this blog post date for a reason. I was going to describe the privilege of living in DC during the election of the first woman to the office of President of the United States. I was going to discuss the 2nd Annual GW Women in STEM Symposium—a symposium series CASHP founded in 2015—and how I am optimistic for the future of women in science, academia, industry, and government. I was going to end by declaring how excited I am to complete my Ph.D. in a place where I can quite literally look down the street and be reminded that with hard work, strength, passion, and compassion, women can accomplish anything. Today, I can’t write any of that.

Over the past few days, we’ve all read poignant posts on Facebook, blogs, and news websites that capture the anger and shock many of us are feeling and try to convey a sense of hope. During a particularly troubling point in the election cycle a few months ago, I made a Facebook post of my own discussing passing privilege. To summarize, I am a mixed-ancestry woman, the daughter of a Muslim immigrant, and consider myself part of the LGBTQ community. My family, my friends, and I are the ones that President-elect Donald Trump suggested we monitor, and ban from entering this country. My family, my friends, and I are the ones for whom Vice President-elect Mike Pence suggested Congress fund conversion therapy.

Since my ethnicity, sexuality, and religion are unclear when you look at me, however, I benefit immensely from passing privilege. Because I pass, I am seldom the target of hate speech and violence, of which numerous instances have been recorded since November 8th.

For many, it can sometimes be easy to witness discrimination and aggression towards minorities and not say or do anything. But because I pass, I choose to openly and outspokenly advocate for all of the communities I identify with, where many do not have the ability to navigate social situations in the unique way that I can. Under a Trump administration, it will be on us—those who pass, as well as allies of minority communities—to be good bystanders, to call out bigotry, and to advocate for those who cannot safely advocate for themselves. 

As I found myself worrying for the safety of my friends and family, I realized that I, along with many of my loved ones, represent a population distrusted by many Americans—scientists. Although it is unclear what a Trump presidency means for science, we can make some guesses. In the few moments science was mentioned during the election, Trump reaffirmed his denial of climate change and sneered at the accomplishments of NIH and NASA. We do not yet know how this distrust of science and research institutions will impact funding. However, legislation recently passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives will likely set the tone for the next four years. In 2015, the House passed H.R. 1806 to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, a bill that would limit funding of social, geological, and climate sciences and weaken peer review at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Earlier this year, the House passed the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act (H.R. 3293), a bill that would further constrain the NSF by restricting funds to only projects that are in the vaguely defined “national interest.”

Reduction in research funds will not be the only challenge of relevance to evolutionary anthropological scientists. Newly elected and re-elected officials at all levels of state and national government—state legislatures, boards of education, Congress, and the Vice Presidency—do not believe in evolution, and support legislation that mandates schools to teach creationism, intelligent design, and the controversies of evolutionary theory in the name of “academic freedom.” Not only are these policies a direct threat to the public’s scientific literacy, but they make our jobs harder. Encouraging young people to pursue research in the evolutionary sciences, and increasing diversity in these fields, becomes a herculean task when you have to undo the damage of years of lessons that are incorrect at worst, and misleading at best.

So, how do we move forward? On November 9th, I sat in a room with the smartest men and women that I know to watch Hillary Clinton make her concession speech, and we cried. We hugged. Then we drank. We yelled. But after, we planned. We will donate, volunteer, and mentor. We will find reasons to rejoice. We will increase outreach efforts and other public engagement activities. We will do our parts to make sure that candidates running in the 2018 midterm elections best represent our values, and that next time around, people are talking about and combating voter suppression. We will fight. There is a lot of work to be done, but we need to start somewhere. Where will I begin? Today, I write.

Art Credit:  'We All Can Do It', poster by Valentin Brown