Remarks of Dr. Alondra Nelson at White House Roundtable on Ensuring Safety and Opportunity in STEM
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Dr. Owens, for that introduction, and thanks also to Rosie Hidalgo, Noah Brown, and the many others who helped make today’s roundtable possible.
As Dr. Owens noted, I have the great privilege of leading the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy — where we work to maximize the benefits of science and technology to advance health, prosperity, security, environmental quality, and justice for all of America.
And we at OSTP are honored to co-host today’s roundtable with: the Gender Policy Council, the Department of Education, and members of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Interagency Working Group on Strategic Partnerships, which is part of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on STEM Education.
Before we begin, I want to acknowledge how drastically things have changed since this event was originally scheduled a few weeks ago.
I know that many of you planned to join us last month — on the day of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate an enshrined Constitutional right recognized for the last 50 years — the right for everyone in this country to make their own reproductive health care decisions, free from government interference.
As we were planning to reflect on the 50th anniversary of Title IX — and take stock of the progress we’ve made so far on expanding rights and protections for people of all genders — we suddenly had to contend with a monumental leap backward.
This decision expressly took away fundamental rights — to privacy, autonomy, freedom, and equality — rights that are being restricted across the country. And sadly, we all know that this ruling will disproportionately affect women of color, low-income women, rural women, and gender nonconforming people who need healthcare.
So, while we chose to postpone this event, we certainly could not cancel it.
There is so much for us to work on: protection from harassment, ensuring equality and safety in STEM research and learning environments, and more, all while keeping in mind the full scope of rights for women and gender nonconforming people that need protection and reaffirmation.
That’s why, two weeks ago, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Services.
This Executive Order builds on actions that the Biden-Harris Administration has already taken to defend reproductive rights, by safeguarding access to reproductive health care services; by protecting the privacy of patients and their access to accurate information; by promoting the safety and security of patients, providers, and clinics; and by coordinating the implementation of federal efforts to protect reproductive rights and access to health care.
We are very proud to have leaders like President Biden and Vice President Harris who are committed to equity and equality in all its forms, and we consider it an honor to carry out this work in science and technology.
So, let’s continue the work.
At a time when rights are being constricted, it’s good to be together with you all today to celebrate an expansion of rights, in the 50th anniversary of Title IX — a landmark bill that extended civil rights to include gender equity in education. We’ll learn more about the rich history of Title IX from Catherine Lhamon.
As we celebrate this anniversary, we know how vital these protections are, in a world where too many protections for women and girls are under threat, and we know there is still so much work to do to advance gender equity and equality for everyone.
Indeed, advancing gender equity is a strategic imperative for our country.
Achieving this goal will: reduce poverty and promote economic growth, increase access to education, improve health outcomes; advance political stability, foster democracy, and catalyze innovation. And it’s worth noting that reproductive rights are foundational to all of these.
And while Title IX focuses on gender equity, we know that gender-based discrimination does not exist in a vacuum. The very thing that gives America it’s competitive advantage — the rich diversity of our people — means that how we identify as individuals is often not one dimensional.
Unfortunately, it also follows that when people face discrimination, that discrimination is also based on a complex web of bias and prejudice that cannot be isolated or confined to just one part of a person’s identity.
For example, according to a recent study, of nearly 500 astronomers and planetary scientists, 40% of women of color reported feeling unsafe as a result of their gender or sex, and 28% as a result of their race.
And to put a finer point on it, nearly 20% of women of color and over 10% of white women reported skipping professional events because they did not feel safe attending.
These troubling data confirm not only that people who fall into more than one marginalized group face more discrimination and harassment, they also confirm that we cannot ever hope to achieve an equitable science and technology ecosystem without first ensuring that the settings where research and learning happen are safe.
Identity-based harassment — which is any denigrating behavior that targets individuals’ race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship, socio-economic status, disability, and other demographic identities. Identity-based harassment damages the science and technology ecosystem — the people, places, and structures that enable global innovation.
As I’ve just described, discrimination isn’t just wrong, it decreases productivity; it degrades a person’s sense of belonging or well-being; it pushes people to leave their disciplines; and, in many cases, it’s illegal.
We have to ensure that all people can realize their full potential in a safe and supportive environment. And that’s an important part of OSTPs commitment to advancing both equity in science and technology, and science and technology for equity.
Because we firmly believe that STEM is for everyone, whether it’s a scientist who’s also a caregiver for young children or an elderly parent, or a postdoc researcher who’s also a veteran, or a part-time engineer-in-training who’s embarking on a second or third career.
When we create a science and technology ecosystem that increases opportunities for all — including those from historically underserved communities — it benefits everyone.
It’s our responsibility to create safe and welcoming spaces where people can learn and work to expand the blue sky of potential futures for women, girls, and nonbinary people. By doing so, we will also expand innovation and discovery in science and technology.
We still have a lot of work to do, but I can tell you that across the federal government, agencies are stepping up their efforts to protect people from discrimination and combat harassment in various ways — for the safety and well-being of their employees, as well as people at the institutions they fund, and in the communities they serve.
You’ll hear more today about this from the Department of Education. There are also important actions being taken by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution.
Today’s discussions will be led by two of my respected colleagues, Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, and Dr. Nafeesa Owens.
Dr. Wolinetz has long advocated for a root-cause analysis of the structural barriers that lead to unsafe and unwelcoming science and technology environments. She will lead a discussion with two speakers who deeply understand how harassment can have devastating consequences. And Dr. Owens is a longtime advocate for educational access. She will lead a panel about structural interventions that can liberate science and technology organizations from harassers and harassment.
We may not solve all these problems today, but hopefully, this roundtable will serve as a catalyst for enacting change across all of America’s science and technology ecosystem.
I’ll close by extending my deepest gratitude to everyone joining today’s discussions. Thank you for the work you do every day, and for helping us march ever closer to a more just and equitable world.
I’ll now pass it over to another dear colleague and partner in this work: Jen Klein, Executive Director of the White House Gender Policy Council.
Jen, you’ve been doing such a great job leading the Administration’s response to the Dobbs ruling. Thank you so much for that. It’s great to work with you and your team to advance gender equity and equality for all women, girls and nonbinary people in science and technology.
Over to you, and thank you.
A video of the Roundtable is available here.