From AAS president Dr. Greta Binford:
Dear Colleagues and Friends in Arachnology,
As our communities are rocked by direct confrontation of the long-standing, violent, widespread and pervasive racism and inequities in our society, I reach out on behalf of the American Arachnological Society (AAS) Executive Committee (EC) to state our support for Black members and aspiring Black members within our society. We also extend broad support to scientists of color whose paths are addled by societal norms of racism. The challenges of people of color in our community are magnified in the background of this time when impacts of covid 19 threaten the livelihoods of so many. Black members of our society, as a community the American Arachnological Society supports you.
I also reach out with humility acknowledging that we can do more to widen and smooth the path into and through arachnology to make participation in our beloved field more accessible for all. An important step is better understanding obstacles for persons of color specifically as they engage in arachnology. I am grateful to a few minority arachnologists who have reached out to share obstacles they encounter specific to our work. These include feeling so unsafe doing field work that it can constrain research, encountering expressions of surprise or confusion when they reveal they are scientists and describe their work, and even dismissal or disgust when shopping at outdoor stores to prepare for field work. We are aware that navigating the world of academia and other aspects of our field can be challenging, it is substantially more so for our colleagues of color in ways that those of us who are white cannot fathom.
In an effort to better understand obstacles Black members of our society and other persons of color face we invite you to share with the AAS EC insights or examples of ways in which pervasive racism has affected your path in arachnology, and/or ideas for how we can make sure the arms of inclusiveness in our society are opened as widely as possible. We will consolidate the insight we receive and share it with the AAS community.
Meanwhile, we have revisited the language of our society's code of conduct, and crafted explicit language around diversity and inclusion that is now embedded in the Purpose of the American Arachnological Society on our website. I can also offer the good news that momentum is in place to galvanize and expand the outreach efforts of the AAS community. We have assembled a team that is coordinating efforts to structure and support positive AAS messaging in social media, develop and consolidate resources that will make education centered around arachnids more broadly and openly accessible, and strengthen opportunities for community science in arachnology. These efforts are moving forward with a guiding principle of expanding and supporting access to arachnology as a source of inspiration, a lens for teaching, and/or a career path.
Finally, there are reasons why the AAS community is particularly well predisposed to provide insight and leadership in efforts to work against racism in our society. These are well articulated by AAS EC Director Mercedes Burns. As a society the AAS is “in the unique position, and indeed, tasked with the duty of describing the diversity and demystifying this historically maligned group to the general public. I believe a society that appreciates the diverse forms of arachnids in nature has also the capacity to appreciate the diversity of human experience. Many Americans have grown up with fear of the dangers of arachnids-- in fact, I know members of our own society found their way to arachnology in an effort to confront these fears. These concerns may parallel the fears many of us have of speaking about the historical mistreatment of people of African origin in the Americas. It is only when we choose to move forward by engaging with the source of our discomfort that we grow as scientists and humans.”
I am continuously grateful that I have the privilege to navigate this world surrounded by thoughtful caring people. We all need to roll up our sleeves and engage in positive, productive change to improve the situation of Black people and other minorities in our society.
Greta Binford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
President, American Arachnological Society