Professor Barnes Explores Systematic Inequities in STEMM

Associate Professor Rebecca Barnes co-authored a perspectives piece in Nature Geoscience highlighting the systems of oppression inherent within STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine) for historically excluded groups. The article, “Scientists from historically excluded groups face a hostile obstacle course,” reframes the discussion of diversity in STEM from one that is passive (i.e., a “leaky pipeline”) to that of a hostile obstacle course, exploring the causes and consequences of underrepresented scholars. Barnes and colleagues’ article points at the structural problems and exclusionary behaviors in scientific and academic institutions, which create a hostile environment historically excluded groups in STEMM, including scientists of color, white women, scholars who identify as LGBTQA+ as well as those with disabilities. Recently this article was included in a collection of works by Springer Nature “amplifying Black voices and issues of race and inequality.”

According to Barnes, “by reframing the challenges surrounding diversity within STEM to one of a hostile obstacle course, we better identify the problems, demanding those in power take action. Diversifying STEM is not a supply problem, it is a retention problem. The analogy [obstacle course] points to the fact that we need to change academic culture, to broaden ‘scientific misconduct’ to include harassment and bullying, to recognize the years of bias baked into our systems, if we are to make the scientific enterprise more just.”

Barnes is a biogeochemist and ecosystem ecologist who is interested in understanding how disturbance and global change drivers (e.g., nitrogen deposition, land use change, and warming) affect ecosystem function. She conducts research in a collaborative, multi-scale, and interdisciplinary way; acknowledging that to understand the ecological impacts of global change we need to examine not only ecosystem drivers such as changes in temperature and hydrologic cycling but also policy decisions and cultural perceptions of the environment. More recently her work also includes research on who is doing the science, working via multi-institutional NSF funded projects to improve workplace climate and investigate the effectiveness of mentoring to make science more welcoming for all.
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