A focus on diversity and inclusion

Science and science related activities, including informal science learning initiatives — even if meant for everybody — are in fact enjoyed by a restricted share of people, and despite a commitment to diversity and the adoption of participatory practices we ourselves often fail to include in our reflections and initiatives the very audiences we would like to reach. The inspirational session of the OS Together held on June 2021 was dedicated to inclusion and diversity and aimed at fostering a discussion on how we can learn to be more inclusive and open.

After a lecture on Social justice and inequalities in STEAM/education by Louise Archer (University College London) – resumed in #2 – Monika Skadborg (European Youth Forum) gave her view on The young peoples perspective, then Massimo Presti (LEC Trieste / PHERECLOS Project), Gisela Oliveira, Adriana Galveias and Margarida Zoccoli (SALL project) gave insights from the practitioners perspective.

Although the meeting was online, the participation was high and very lively, a sign that the topic is of great interest and relevance. The discussion started with Monika Skadborg, replying to a comment on the marginality of women in science, “Sir I’d appreciate if you didn’t imply that women or other currently underrepresented groups are just inherently dumber. Do you really believe it is natural that we are underrepresented and not perhaps a symptom of a structural problem?” Indeed, this consideration echoes a much more authoritative statement published in 1949 by Simone de Beauvoir, the French philosopher and writer, in her groundbreaking essay The second sex: “Only since women have begun to feel at home on this earth has a Rosa Luxemburg or a Mme Curie emerged. They brilliantly demonstrate that it is not women’s inferiority that has determined their historical insignificance: it is their historical insignificance that has doomed them to inferiority.”

It is true that women even today, 70 years after the publication of these words and more than 150 after the birth of Marie Skłodowska Curie, science is still a male dominated world. And women are not the only ones to be marginalized: science is an elitist world, which in a somewhat provocative way we could describe as “pale, male and stale”.

Yet science today is too important to leave it in the hands of a minority: we need the creative contribution of more and more people, coming from a variety of walks of life, backgrounds, experiences, capable of working collaboratively and contributing with a diversity of approaches. We should forget the old fashioned image of science made by a few genial individuals, and embrace a modern vision of science with interdisciplinary teams, a part of society and culture, not set apart tackling global challenges faced by everyone.

Some argue that science needs extremely intelligent people, just like sport needs exceptional athletes.

The comparison with sport is very interesting. In fact, sport as science is a collective enterprise, in which everyone can participate, and everyone should be able to participate. Only a few become exceptional athletes, and to do so they need opportunities, structures, training, etc. If the opportunities for access to sport were limited and only a few privileged people selected, then we wouldn’t even have Usain Bolt, Nadia Comăneci or Bebe Vio. Sport is such only because it is free, accessible, open to all, even to those who will never go to the Olympics.

As practitioners and scholars committed to inclusion and diversity in science, “what we all try to do is to breakdown the general concept that science is something that needs born talent. — commented Erdoğan Kahyaoğlu, — the issue is not that everybody can do everything. The issue is to breakdown the perception that certain things can only be done by certain individuals. Once this is understood then “everything” can be open to “everybody” = equal opportunities!

The question of intelligence is very complex, and we know today that there is no single type of intelligence, so probably, as Gisela Oliveira suggests, “discussing intelligence is not the best strategy. When we think of allowing ALL children and teenagers to have access to science, to scientific knowledge, to the joy of scientific discovery, I think the word to think about is freedom. The freedom to have equal access to science, irrespective of gender, socio-economic status, color of skin, etc.”

Author: Simona Cerrato