Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Today's guest blogger is Terri Brandt. Terri is a high energy astrophysicist working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Studying cosmic rays and gamma-rays has taken her from Ohio to France to the ends of the Earth (Antarctica!). She helps organize diversity events at Goddard and has filled spare time with, among other things, ultimate frisbee, including cofounding one of The Ohio State teams.

Those times you need an ear, or a shoulder.
We’ve all had them.
When support, a space to share, to rail at life’s injustices and be
are as necessary as air.

People in underrepresented groups, facing higher frequencies of injustice, often need these spaces more often or more profoundly than members of majority groups. Be it outright *ism or the accumulation of microaggressions, having such spaces can help underrepresented groups’ members remember why they began this journey, can help them renew their commitment to it or to celebrate the beginning of a new journey.

To do this, these spaces must necessarily be safe, as defined by the people needing them. For people of color, this may mean spaces where there are no “white” people. For women, this may mean spaces with no people identifying as male.

Exclusion from a safe space is typically not a reflection on a given person. Rather, it is a reflection of the systemic over- and undervaluing of individuals based on things other than their actual performance in equitable assessments.

These safe spaces allow discussion, healing, and renewal. This “inreach” to members of underrepresented groups can be absolutely critical to the success of members of these groups.

At the same time, we also need outreach.

We need spaces where people who genuinely want to be allies, who want to listen and learn and use their privilege (however small it may seem) for the good of others, to be able to interact with members of underrepresented groups who are ready to share their stories, who are ready to point potential allies to resources and engage with their respectful questions about points not yet fully grasped. Who can help enunciate the common needs of the underrepresented group. Who can help allies become advocates.

These well educated advocates can create more allies and advocates, sharing the burden and creating an exponential growth of people who can partner with members of underrepresented groups to more rapidly and effectively change the system from within, to create a culture and a system that better enables everyone to realize their full potential.

So if you are a member of an underrepresented group, I invite you to create or sustain spaces of inreach, to strengthen your support networks (whatever they may be) so that you are better able to survive the inevitable injustices inherent to our systems and enacted by individuals in those systems. Because despite our actions,

We Need You.

And when you are able and ready, please engage in outreach, whether in person or online. Help others to help you and other members of your group.

To members of well represented groups, I invite you to listen, to use resources available to educate yourself. To reflect deeply and compassionately on the experiences of underrepresented group members, acknowledging that the act of sharing is a gift, no matter how painful the content.

Reach out to others, to let them know that you want to engage with them on ways to stop injustices when they are ready. Respect when individuals are not yet ready. Leave the door open for them and keep looking for those who are ready. Because despite our actions,

We Need You. 

And when you are able and ready, please step up and act. Advocate! Whether online or in person, use the power of your privilege to raise up voices that systematically go unheard, to minimize bias, unconscious or otherwise, to create a more just world.

For only in fully realizing all peoples’ potentials will we truly be doing the best science possible.