Unlearning Racism in Geoscience combines information with action

URGE logo

Gabe DuranWhen Gabriel Duran first began developing the curriculum for URGE, Unlearning Racism in Geoscience, neither he nor his collaborators had any idea that the project would become as popular and well-respected as it is now. The program, an eight-part series running from January to May 2021, was designed to replicate an anti-racist book club structure while also delivering actionable frameworks for substantial longterm change in one of the least diverse fields in science.

“It’s kind of daunting in a way. Our initial meeting had over 1200 attendees, some of them spearheading really impressive research institutions,” says Duran. Although he was never formally trained in social sciences or education development, Duran has utilized his experience as a geoscientist and passion for equity to make the project a success. “I think part of the popularity is that we haven’t really seen anything like this before in this field. There are similar systems out there that educators use, but nothing that directly addresses the specific challenges and history of geoscience while crowdsourcing anti-racist policies and data.”

Duran’s interest in this work stemmed from a conversation he had while conducting fieldwork as a part of Woodwell Climate’s Polaris Project. Finding that many members of the geoscience community have faced the challenges of working within a predominantly white and male field, Duran was inspired to deepen his own understanding of the racist and colonial history of earth science when returning to the Falmouth campus. After forming a Diversity Book Club with other members of the Woodwell staff, Duran began collaborating with Vashan Wright—a postdoctoral researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution—and other members of the URGE team.

URGE has three primary goals: to broaden and deepen the community’s knowledge of the effects of racism on the participation and retention of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people in geoscience; to draw on existing literature and personal experiences to develop anti-racist policies; and to share, discuss, and modify these strategies within a dynamic community network on a national level.

“We acknowledge that this is one of the least diverse scientific fields, and we are working to make it a more accepting, inclusive, and equitable environment,” Duran says. “At the end of the day, anti-racist policies will only be as good as the data that inform them, the people who uphold them, and the resources that go into supporting them.”

The URGE team plans on accomplishing with a series of eight focused sessions, presenting information from experienced panelists and fostering guided discussion. The first session, hosted on January 18th, provided key definitions and working principles to lay the groundwork for further discussion. The second session explores personal identity, offering participants an opportunity to share experiences and better understand individual relationships to larger systems of oppression. The third session is focused on the history of racism in geoscience, the fourth on issues of environmental racism, the fifth on accessibility of entry into geoscience, the sixth on inclusivity. Understanding that, although many institutions are putting in necessary work, racism won’t be stopped overnight, the seventh session offers self-care practices and coping strategies for people of color. The final session asks how participants can best implement the goals, policies, and strategies developed over the course of the program, and continue to hold themselves accountable after URGE is complete.

“I’m hopeful that people will take something meaningful away from URGE and bring it back to their institutions to affect change. We’ve already gotten requests to continue the program past the scheduled run date. I’m not sure what comes next but this feels like a really good start,” says Duran.

To learn more, visit the URGE website: urgeoscience.org