In this moment, our city faces heightened racial tensions between protesters and local leaders. Our graduate community continues to stand in solidarity with those protesting anti-Black racism and racial violence. Over the summer, we sat down with several graduate students who are active in the fight for racial justice to learn more about their efforts.
Biology Ph.D. student Juita Martinez recalls that not long ago, she was firmly against Twitter. Two years and thousands of followers later, her experience using the social media platform has been life-changing.
Twitter allows her to network with other academics and the broader STEM community on a daily basis, and helps her make her research accessible.
Recently, Juita and her fellow Biology Ph.D. student Kassandra Ford became heavily involved in #BlackBirdersWeek. This social media initiative amplified the voices and experiences of Black birdwatchers, scientists, and nature lovers throughout the first week of June.
“Black Birders Week was started by a group created by Jason Ward, who's also on Twitter. And it's basically a collective of 30 Black individuals who are nature enthusiasts, who are in STEM and in general, we just all really appreciate the outdoors,” Juita explains.
“We saw this lack in being able to utilize outdoor spaces safely. We saw that we could show people that yes, we are out here. And yes, we should be able to utilize these spaces safely.”
Birding has become an integral part of my daily routine. The FACT that the Black community can not safely enjoy outdoor spaces needs to change. We CAN & WILL change this narrative! We are out here & #RepresentationMatters !!!#BlackWomenWhoBird #BlackBirdersWeek pic.twitter.com/pDQyPiQ74F— Juita Martinez (@JuitaMartinez) June 5, 2020
The social media movement was a response to the nationally publicized racist incident in Central Park on May 25, when a white woman harrassed Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper.
The incident drew attention to the ways in which Black people are not given equal access to safely use outdoor spaces.
Juita notes that people of color face extra scrutiny in public spaces, and are forced to take precautions that their white counterparts would not.
”People don't necessarily think we're out there for a good reason. They usually assume that we're hooligans, that we have alternative motives. And I'm just out here trying to study pelicans.”
The students’ participation in #BlackBirdersWeek caught the attention of numerous media outlets. Kassandra was highlighted by the National Audubon Society, Living on Earth, and the Integrative and Comparative Biology blog, while Juita was interviewed on the Ologies podcast and featured in an article by the Allegheny Front. Juita and Kassandra also authored the piece Black People Bird: Our Strength and Stories for Audubon Louisiana alongside Tykee James.
Bringing visibility to Black people birding seeks to counteract the harmful assumptions and biases that perpetuate inequality in STEM.
“If I'm with a male white counterpart, who's usually my field tech, I'm easily dismissed. Everyone usually thinks that they are the boss, and they're usually undergrads. So it's one of those things that we're not really recognized in this field as much as people may or may not think we are,” Juita says.
“We're hoping to show them that black people also have the right to utilize these spaces outside. We also are professors. We just want to be treated equally as everyone else says.”
#BecauseOfBlackBirdersWeek— Kassandra Ford - Quarantining Cat Mom (@kassthefish) June 6, 2020
I have found my voice and will not be silenced.
I have amplified others and will continue to do so.
I have reinvigorated my love of nature.#BlackBirdersWeek #BlackInNature #BlackWomenWhoBird #BlackAFinSTEM @blackafinstem pic.twitter.com/3Pi4ENuhM5
The Ph.D. in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology at UL Lafayette prepares students for the highest levels of scholarship and research in academia and industries. Find out more about the opportunities our program provides.
To learn more about the commitment of the Graduate School, Graduate Council, and the University Committee for Graduate Student Success and Retention to combating systemic racism, read our statement of solidarity to the UL Lafayette graduate community.