500 Women Scientists Pledge for Democracy: Finding Hope in the Growing Numbers

November 23, 2016
Theresa Jedd
Post-doctoral scholar

Our story is one of hope, both for democracy and for science. It is a story of the catalyzing power of a few to bring together the many. It is a story of how, in a matter of days, we were able to find strength in numbers.

On the morning following the election, I woke in a state of despair. How was it that rhetoric so far removed from facts, honest debate, and inclusivity had won the day? Scientific work and many of my core values were under attack. In shock, I turned to my friends in science, some of the sharpest and most compassionate minds I know. They, too, had questions about what the transition would mean for the security of our planet, how basic diplomatic relations may be affected, and our ability to answer some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to live in the same town as Kelly Ramirez, Jane Zelikova, Teresa Bilinski, and Jessica Metcalf; these friends are a group of women who approach their research with the same levels of enthusiasm that I have seen them scale rock faces, bike downhill on single track, and run up and over mountain passes. We enjoyed meeting up regularly, discussing some of our favorite podcasts, exploring local trails, and finding new breakfast hotspots. We discussed challenges in our research and even helped each other with lab and fieldwork. Eventually, our research positions, teaching faculty jobs, agency positions, and fellowships took us to places far from each other. Yet, we stayed in touch, and this group continues to be one I turn to both in times of celebration and turmoil.

Over the past ten days, we have come together to support each other, to catalyze real action, and to combat the divisive and destructive anti-science and anti-women rhetoric. Our actions started small—we texted each other to make sense of the election results, expressing fears and frustrations, sending words of encouragement, and lightening the mood with pictures of our dogs and kids. Within days, our conversation grew from text messages into an email thread that quickly spread from the 5 of us, to 50, then 100, and then 200 women scientists.

Photo credit Sarah K. Wagner www.sarahkwagner.com.

Photo credit Sarah K. Wagner www.sarahkwagner.com.

In our email thread, we galvanized our collective diversity and creativity. We realized that as a group we are in a position to create real positive change with concrete actions. Some of us are working in applied research, some are in teaching positions, some of us are in policy, and others in outreach. We are diverse. We have been trained to ask tough questions and come up with innovative ways to answer them. In our emails to each other, we sought to build on our diversity, creativity, and passion to connect with others who felt similarly inspired. Our central vision was to build an inclusive scientific community dedicated to training a more diverse group of future leaders in science. This kernel of an idea grew into an open pledge: to identify and acknowledge our shared values, to push for equality and stand up to discrimination, to support the education and careers of all current and future scientists, to engage with the public and communicate our science broadly, to foster an inclusive and encouraging learning atmosphere for women and girls, and to use the language of science to bridge divides and enhance global diplomacy.

We posted this pledge online, with the hope that we could gather 500 signatures of like-minded women. It seemed like a lofty goal, but it is one that we surpassed within just a few hours.

Now the list of signatories has topped 7,500 and it does not seem to be slowing down. The number of names pouring in has not slowed because this is a call that we feel resonates across genders, across disciplines, and across countries. Yes, I may have felt despair on November 9, but I was not alone, and together we found strength in each other. Now we are organizing. We hope many more will join us in creating our vision.

Theresa Jedd is a post-doctoral scholar and environmental policy specialist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, School of Natural Resources. She is interested in developing a framework for broadly understanding the ways that people are vulnerable and resilient to the effects of drought and climate change. Her current research is centered on how changes in temperature and precipitation affect outdoor recreation in U.S. National Parks in the Northern Rockies region. In the recent past, she has worked with communities at various scales who are interested in preparing for change from the state of Colorado to countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Theresa grew up in Northern California, attended college in Wyoming, and completed her graduate work in Political Science at Colorado State University in 2015. 

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