The 2019 Evolution Meeting Exemplified How to Make Scientific Conferences Inclusive Spaces.
I’ve just returned from the 2019 Evolution meeting held in Providence, Rhode Island this year. The conference is run jointly by the American Society of Naturalists (ASN), Society of Systematic Biologists (SSB) and Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE). This was the best scientific meeting of my career for several reasons not least of which was the number of actions taken by the societies’ to create an inclusive environment.
I first became aware of the effort when I was offered the opportunity to work the Diversity booth in the exhibits hall, sponsored by the three societies’ diversity committees, and to promote bio-diversity.org at the meeting. The booth featured a number of materials from programs and projects geared toward diversifying representation in the fields of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. There was information about graduate and postdoctoral programs explicit in their intention to increase diversity (e.g., The Frontiers Program); initiatives like Project Biodiversity looking to promote diversity and inclusion in biology classrooms; binders with QR codes linking to varied resources (e.g., Ford Foundation Fellowships); and of course swag including buttons and stickers from the various featured programs, projects and societies.
The exhibit hall also featured posters related to diversity and inclusion including one on hearing impairment among academics (find out more on Twitter @TheMindHears) and survey results on unwelcome behaviors at the Evolution meetings. Several events including mixers like “Evolutionary biologists with disabilities/allies coffee mixer” and “LGBTQ and allies mixer and happy hour” focused on the inclusion and visibility of under-represented groups.
This year, there was also an initiative called SAFE EVOLUTION. Several members attended a “Code of Conduct training for society councils and EvoAllies” before the start of the conference. These “EvoAllies” served at all times for the duration of the meeting to support attendees that experienced or witnessed inappropriate behavior and addressed these occurrences with a contracted Evolution Safety Officer, Dr. Sherry Marts. The resources for this initiative were highly visible at the meeting with posters, flyers, buttons, stickers, badges, website links and the SAFE EVOLUTION logo everywhere including bathroom stalls, exhibit halls, the conference app and homepage, twitter, attendee swag and EvoAllies badges.
My favorite diversity event at the conference by far was the Story Collider event “Outside the Distribution.” Five evolutionary biologists shared personal stories from their varied science journeys: (1) the importance of good mentoring, learning to ask for help and recognizing one’s right to exist in science spaces; (2) defending your research and the importance of funding basic science by engaging the public with effective science communication; (3) strengthening the scientific community by bringing your whole self to the endeavor and openly acknowledging the contributions of LGBTQ+ scientist; (4) navigating the collision of science and feminism while defending the validity of your scientific discoveries that challenge the assertions of years of work put forth largely by men; (5) reconciling your connection as a black male biologist to the research pedigree of a notoriously racist scientist. The stories shared during this event clearly had an effect on the audience and importantly demonstrated the interaction, and often inseparability, between their personal and professional lives. Look for these stories to come out on the Story Collider podcast.
I was incredibly encouraged by the varied efforts on the part of the conference organizers to establish an inclusive environment at this year’s Evolution conference. I appreciated the visibility of the initiatives, the commitment demonstrated by hiring an independent contractor to train attendees to deal with conduct violations and hearing about the experiences of a diverse cross-section of biologists. I’m looking forward to seeing these efforts maintained year after year, and hopefully being implemented at other conferences!
Janet C. Buckner, Evolutionary Biology