Monday, April 10, 2006

Advancing Ecology: Why (cultural) diversity matters

Dr. Robin Kimmerer (EFB) was the featured speaker at ESA's 2005 Diversity in Ecology Luncheon. She shared portions of her presentation and facilitated a discussion on why science institutions should change to take advantage of everyone's contributions, including those bestowed by membership in one or more cultural group, rather than continue to try to "fix" students into a one-size fits all mold.  Particularly striking were her own revelation that she almost didn't become an ecologist, her realization about 4 years into her first academic appointment that traditional knowledge could indeed by taught alongside the processes of botany, and true stories of students "with some otherness about them" that encountered obstacles related to culture, rather than their ability to "do science."   She reminded us that "we each have gifts and responsibly to bring them to the table," sort of like a potluck supper.  For a potluck supper to work, each person must bring a contribution, but also partake of everyone else's.  "But imagine that you have brought your specialty, and it is both delicious and nutritious, but no one will taste it.  Your dish keeps getting pushed farther and farther back on the table.  What would you do?  Pretend that you don't like it either?  Leave without mention? Or resolve that next time, you will bring macaroni and cheese, just like everyone else?" In the conversation that ensured, we noted that we don't want to rid the table of the mac and cheese, but that those who take comfort in it might enjoy expanding their palates to appreciate the other flavors and textures offered at the table.  If this seems too drastic a step, it may help to remember that often the same basic ingredients are used, but arecombined in different ways.  "After all, it's all science."

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