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Pangeo and #ShutDownSTEM

Ryan Abernathey wrote this post, with input from the rest of the Pangeo Steering Council.

On the 10th of June, 2020, a historic event brought academia, science, and tech together for a strike in solidarity with the anti-racist Black Lives Matter movement.

This event was sparked by the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, countless others like them, and the systematic anti-Black racism that makes such killings commonplace in America. The strike was spearheaded by a group of physicists but soon engulfed many disciplines, as scientists sought a conduit for the outrage we feel.

The aim of the strike was to interrupt business as usual, stare the problem in the face, and begin to take concrete actions against racism. Pangeo is a distributed community project centered around open-source software and infrastructure in the geosciences. Our community via our regular telecon last Wednesday, and we brainstormed how we could meet the moment. This hour was, without a doubt, the most highly attended online Pangeo event up to this point. Nearly 40 people came through, mostly young people, at the core and around the periphery of the Pangeo project.

The hour began with introspection, as our mostly-white participants discussed our direct role in maintaining white supremacy — a difficult but necessary wakeup for many. The discussion then turned to what we can do as a community with a unique niche between science and tech. Erin Robinson of ESIP made a clutch suggestion to introduce a period of “silent capture” before launching into an off-the-cuff brainstorming session.

This technique brought out some creative ideas and perhaps helped the less extroverted feel that they had a voice in the conversation. After a brain-dump of ideas, people reviewed the notes and gave 👍 to ideas they liked. The notes from the meeting are online in a public Google Doc. These are, in a way, the closest thing to a statement we can make as a decentralized, loosely coordinated project / community of humans.

The challenge going forward will be to turn some of these ideas into action. For now, a concrete immediate action we can take is to work to help Black people enter and advance in STEM careers. To this end, we want to begin to use our network to help connect BIPOC students to exciting projects in Earth Science / Big Data and to funding sources for paid internships. Many felt that mentorship-style programs could be a solution to some of the persistent inequities resulting from exclusionary white culture. That work will continue on our forum, and I invite all the folks who showed up to the meeting with enthusiasm to follow up with specifics there:

This isn’t just about connecting people — it’s about recognizing the increased barriers black scientists face and building a community where everyone is seen. We hope the open-source software community can be a place where this type of online mentorship and career development can thrive. This is something that Pangeo does well, and is a strength to bring to this fight.

The pervasive problems of ani-Black racism and police brutality need to be confronted across our society. The most important tools we have here are our votes and our voices. Many of our community members are very active in the ongoing protests and are working at mobilizing their universities, labs, and professional societies. But each organization must try to do its part to move towards a racially just world. We hope that, by coming together and working steadily towards a goal, we can help increase the representation of Black people in science and tech, as part of a broader social transformation to dismantle anti-black systems.



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