The Future of Unlearning Racism in Geoscience
By: Carlene Burton, Gabriel Duran, and Vashan Wright
Unlearning Racism in Geoscience (URGE; www.urgeoscience.org) is a community-wide journal-reading and anti-racist policy-design program for geoscientists. Between January-May 2021, URGE guided geoscientists as they used scholarly articles, expert opinions, and personal experiences to draft six anti-racist policies and resources for their workplaces. From September 2021 to July 2022, URGE will continue supporting and creating networks for Geoscientists of Color, work closely with participants to refine the policies and resources they developed during the program, provide opportunities for participants to support URGE through the purchase of merchandise, host anti-racism sessions at national conferences, liaise with leaders at participants’ workplaces, and communicate the vision and findings of URGE through invited department seminars, interviews, and scholarly publications. By doing this, URGE aims to build a community of Geoscientists whose actions will improve belonging, accessibility, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (BeAJEDI) in Geoscience.
What is URGE?
Unlearning Racism in Geoscience (URGE; www.urgeoscience.org) is a program that helps geoscientists design and implement anti-racist policies within their workplaces. URGE aims to guide geoscientists as they (1) use existing literature, expert opinions, personal experiences, and group discussions to develop anti-racist policies, (2) share, discuss, and modify anti-racist policies within a dynamic community network and on a national stage, and (3) design processes to implement and assess the effectiveness of anti-racist policies. Since January 2021, approximately 4500 geoscientists and 300 groups (known as pods) representing geoscience lab groups, departments, organizations, institutions, professional societies, government agencies, and others have participated in the program. URGE is the largest belonging, accessibility, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusivity (BeAJEDI) initiative in Geoscience.
Vision and Roadmap
URGE envisions achieving its objectives in six stages, named Development, Refinement, Peer Review, Dissemination, Implementation, and Broadening. Development is the stage where pods first develop their anti-racist policies and resources. This stage ended in May 2021. Refinement is the stage where pods improve the first drafts of their policies and resources. During Peer Review, anti-racism and policy-design experts provide feedback on the summaries of the policies and resources that pods create. Dissemination is when pods communicate their policies and resources to members of their workplaces, hoping to convince others to support implementation. Stage five is Implementation, where pods implement and assess the effectiveness of anti-racist policies and resources in their workplaces. The last stage will be Broadening, where we market URGE to other disciplines if research shows that the program achieves its objectives. All URGE activities have and will continue to focus on Geoscientists of Color, honor social science research, expert opinions, and personal experiences, build community, recognize and compensate people for work, be reliable, and tell stories.
Past URGE activities
In January 2021, URGE invited lab groups, departments, organizations, institutions, professional societies, government agencies, and others to form ‘pods’ to serve as their discussion and policy-design groups. URGE’s website hosted resources for effective group discussions, group leading, registering pods, and finding or joining pods that suit participants’ needs (i.e., affinity groups). Each group participated in eight two-week units that incorporated readings, interviews, and discussions focused on learning about and designing anti-racist policies. The first week of each session was dedicated to independent reading, followed by a live interview with the authors of the papers or other experts on the unit’s topic. The interviews provided additional insights into the readings and allowed pod members to ask questions. URGE uploaded all interview recordings on its website. The second week of the unit was dedicated to pod discussions, where pod members used the interview, readings, and personal experiences to draft anti-racist policies and resources, or deliverables. Each pod then submitted these policies and resources to be shared on the URGE website. The goal of sharing these deliverables was so that all pods could see, discuss, and learn from each other. URGE also invited the pods to present their summaries to the department chairs, deans, directors, and/or leadership of their departments, institutions, and societies to discuss and develop accountability plans. This phase of URGE ended on May 17, 2021.
URGE Goals for 2021–2022
The primary goal of this article is to describe the details of the Refinement stage. Our slogan for this stage is MORE! We will provide participants with more flexibility, more time to dive deeper into anti-racist readings and policy drafting, more leadership engagement, more BIPOC (Black, Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color)-only events, more guidance on discussing racism, and more ways to connect.
Refinement runs during Fall 2022. During Refinement, URGE will:
- Host a live event to describe the future of URGE and answer questions from participants
- Host BIPOC sessions to continue supporting and elevating the voices of Geoscientists of Color
- Provide opportunities for participants to support URGE through the purchase of merchandise
- Host URGE anti-racist sessions at national conferences
- Work closely with existing pods to refine the policies they developed during the program
- Liaise with leaders at participants’ workplaces to help receive buy-in on behalf of URGE pods
- Communicate the vision and findings of URGE to the public
III. Refinement Activities during Fall 2021
Three BIPOC Sessions
URGE will host three BIPOC-only sessions from September to December 2021. The goals of these sessions are to (1) provide resources and create safe spaces for Geoscientists of Color to discuss and practice self-care in the face of racism, (2) facilitate networking opportunities between Geoscientists of Color, and (3) receive input on what Geoscientists of Color want to see in anti-racism policies, resources, and URGE programming overall. We welcome all Geoscientists of Color, regardless of previous participation in URGE, to join these meetings! We will disseminate summaries of what Geoscientists of Color in attendance want to see in the policies to the entire community. We expect that there will be differing views, priorities, and needs identified, which we hope to convey fully to the community.
Why are the BIPOC sessions critical to our work? During Development, URGE BIPOC leaders hosted two BIPOC-only sessions that were illuminating. URGE BIPOC leaders learned that additional support, the elevation of BIPOC voices, and the training of white participants (regarding discussion of racism) are essential to the success of our work. BIPOC participants enjoyed these sessions and requested more. BIPOC participants report that these sessions helped them recuperate from the “emotional burden” that resulted from participating in a pod that became either toxic or unsupportive. Many BIPOC participants also did not feel comfortable or safe speaking up about their experiences in their majority-white pods and reported needing to frequently remind their pod members to focus on racism during pod meetings. Thus, we encourage white URGE participants to be mindful of the space they share and occupy while being curious and respectful about each other’s experiences.
Pod Activities During Fall 2022
We encourage existing pods to:
- Recruit new pod members to asynchronously go through the URGE Curriculum
- Have at least three pod meetings with existing and new members
- Continue speaking to workplace leaders, existing BeAJEDI task forces, and BIPOC groups.
Pods may recruit new members who will, as a separate podlet, asynchronously go through the URGE curriculum, have weekly or bi-weekly discussion meetings, and contribute to improving the pod’s existing policies. While optional, recruitment of new pod members would invite more people within a workplace to participate in the creation of its anti-racist policies. During this recruitment, URGE will provide (1) online FAQs with answers on the recruitment process and (2) updated pod lists on our website as they are made available. We suggest that existing pods meet at least a week after the BIPOC sessions to discuss the summaries of the three BIPOC sessions. The goal of these meetings is to refine policies and resources based on concerns/suggestions raised by BIPOC Geoscientists. We also suggest that pods look for ways to support BIPOC-lead initiatives within their workplaces and or discuss their current anti-racist policies if BIPOC groups that are willing to and have the bandwidth to do so.
We will provide opportunities for participants to promote URGE through the purchase of merchandise. Wearing a branded T-shirt initiates conversations 90% of the time (Das, 2017). Thus, we envision that URGE T-shirts will help to facilitate discussions on creating anti-racist policies between URGE participants and the external community. Our t-shirt design is currently underway. We are exploring ways to create t-shirts that include pod affiliations (i.e., pod names and pod members) and general URGE t-shirts without the pod affiliations. We are creating the t-shirts via a print-on-demand company that allows participants to make purchases and have the t-shirts delivered to their address of choice. The t-shirts will come with an URGE code of conduct, which we expect participants to adhere to when wearing URGE t-shirts.
URGE will host anti-racist sessions at the Geological Society of America and American Geophysical Union (AGU) conferences. We will also support the organization of sessions at other conferences (e.g., Lunar and Planetary Science and Ocean Sciences conferences). Conference sessions present opportunities to not only share amongst ourselves but also non-URGE-participants. Why else is participation in these conferences important? At AGU, we have a vision that URGE participants will wear an URGE t-shirt on the day of the URGE sessions. We imagine there will be lots of us! We imagine that non-URGE-participants will have questions. We imagine that we will be well-equipped to answer these questions. We imagine that our sheer numbers will contribute to making anti-racism discussions prominent at these conferences. And, we imagine that our presence at these conferences will further encourage leaders and non-URGE-participants within your workplaces to support the deliverables your pod created. These conferences thus form an essential component of improving our policies and resources and expanding the group of Geoscientists dedicated to anti-racist work.
IV. Refinement Activities During Fall and Winter 2022
Anti-Racist Policy and Resource Refinement
URGE will provide more time for pods to dig deeper into and collaborate during the refinement of their anti-racist policies and resources. Over four months (i.e., during Fall 2022), we will:
- Provide additional training on discussing racism in small groups
- Provide additional resources to help pods refine their policies and resources
- Ask pods to break into podlet focus groups that work separately on a single policy or resource
- Host one URGE-wide live event per month for networking and sharing amongst participants
URGE will begin Fall Refinement by hosting a live session where one or more experts train participants on effective methods for discussing racism within their workplaces, navigating difficult conversations, and communicating with colleagues who may be hesitant to adopt or use anti-racist policies. We will then task participants with refining their policies and resources. The URGE team will provide additional journal articles (and reading guides) related to each policy and resource. We will encourage pod members to also explore additional, non-URGE-provided, social science literature and provide a webspace for pods to share these papers with the entire URGE community. URGE will post summaries and or highlights of exemplary policies and resources created by URGE pods. We will strongly encourage pods to examine, learn from, and use the policies and resources of other URGE pods to refine their pod’s existing drafts.
URGE will provide multiple ways for pod members to connect during Winter Refinement. We will suggest that pods break into podlets (of at least 2–3 individuals) that each work on one policy or resource. Alongside this, we will host once-per-month URGE-wide live events to provide virtual spaces for participants from similar workplaces to discuss additional readings, policies, resources, progress to date, and potential barriers and solutions to the drafting, implementation, and assessment of anti-racist policies and resources. We also create an online forum on our website and a Slack Channel, thus providing more flexible ways for participants to collaborate.
Liaising with Leaders
URGE will host three online conversations between our team and leaders of lab groups, departments, organizations, institutions, professional societies, government agencies, and others with participating pods. The goals of these conversations are to (1) describe the process and impact of URGE to date, (2) discuss the benefits of implementing the anti-racist policies that pods create, (3) advocate for compensation and or recognition of pods members for their role in developing the anti-racist policies, and (4) discuss potential barriers and solutions to the implementation of anti-racist policies. We are hoping that these online discussions will help to facilitate smoother discussions between pod members and those who will need to support, promote, and place resources towards the implementation of anti-racist policies. We will share summaries of the discussions with the URGE community.
V. Looking Towards the Future: Peer Review, Dissemination, and Implementation
The future of URGE beyond Refinement depends on continued funding. Post-Refinement, we intend to continue working closely with pods from the program’s first round to effectively assess and implement their policies. The URGE team will first produce summaries of the anti-racist policies and resources developed during each unit in the curriculum. Our team will examine the submitted documents from all 300 pods and use the existing literature to identify key aspects that pods may have missed. Contracted anti-racist, BeAJEDI, and policy design experts will provide direct feedback to the URGE leadership team, who will incorporate the input within the summaries. The URGE leadership team will make all finalized summaries available to participants. Once done, we will provide feedback on individual pod’s developed policies– we will aim to get to as many as possible. This will require that the URGE leadership team virtually meet with 1–2 representatives from no more than ten participating pods per month. These pods will be from similar institutions/organizations/agencies and at similar stages of readiness, as indicated by the institutional readiness for change model (Armenakis et al., 2007; Boukenooghe, 2010; Holt et al., 2007). We will provide feedback to pods, facilitate conversations between these groups, and discuss the next steps in the process. The pod representatives would then communicate the feedback and discussion summaries with the rest of their pod members. URGE will also request that all pods provide and publicly post (on our website) progress reports every three months. These reports should outline whether the anti-racist policies and resources have been implemented, are being followed, and/or whether there have been significant barriers to implementing the policies and resources.
URGE will also continue working with external evaluators to administer and analyze the results from our survey that assesses whether the policies and resources are being implemented and/or whether significant barriers prevent their implementation. Once pods have had at least six months to implement their policies and resources, URGE will have a live online event with experts and pod members. There, the experts will guide pods in developing long-term accountability plans for their newly developed policies and resources, especially using Estrada (2016)’s theory of institutional change model. Our hope is that the pod updates and longitudinal surveys will give us a unique opportunity to track the challenges related to implementing new anti-racist policies and supporting anti-racist resources. We also hope that the long-term accountability plans will ensure continuous improvement and reassessment of the effectiveness of the newly developed anti-racist policies and resources.
VI. Concluding Remarks
URGE is about creating real anti-racist action and lasting change in the Geosciences. The readings and expert interviews from URGE’s unit on racism and history indicate that many BeAJEDI geoscience efforts have waned with time either due to changes in priorities, lack of funding, and or changes in leadership or sense of urgency to fix the issues being dealt with. So, we want to remind all participants that this work takes time, patience, and is just as serious as our science. Please, stay the course and continue pursuing bold anti-racist actions supported by peer-reviewed literature, expert opinions, and personal experiences.
Armenakis, A. A., Bernerth, J. B., Pitts, J. P., & Walker, H. J. (2007). Organizational change recipients’ beliefs scale: Development of an assessment instrument. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 43(4), 481–505.
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Das, M. (2017). Unlocking the why behind the buy. https://www.ppai.org/media/2669/ppb2017augustbuyerstudyarticle.pdf
Estrada, M., Burnett, M., Campbell, A. G., Campbell, P. B., Denetclaw, W. F., Gutierrez, C. G., . . . Zavala, M. (2016). Improving underrepresented minority student persistence in STEM. Life Sciences Education, 15(5), 1–10
Holt, D. T., Armenakis, A. A., Feild, H. S., & Harris, S. G. (2007). Readiness for organizational change-The systematic development of a scale. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 43(2), 232–255.
URGE is supported by the National Science Foundation (EAR#2126109) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the URGE leadership team and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.