Students participate in the Wisconsin Science Festival's Discovery Expo at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery in 2018.

Kicking off the first day of Wisconsin Science Festival, university faculty and students, politicians and indigenous advocates discussed representation and inclusion in science at a Thursday panel discussion titled “Who Owns Science?”

The panel was moderated by Rabiah Mayas, associate director of Northwestern University’s Science in Society research center. Introducing the conversation at the Discovery Building on Thursday afternoon, Mayas said she was excited to discuss how “the way we decide who does science is really colored by our assumptions and expectations of what science looks like.”

“Science existed before, during and after the Europeans made their announcements about it,” Mayas said. “To what extent does the exclusion of the vast array of scientific enterprise do a disservice to our economies, to our politics, to the livelihood of people?”

Panelists Cheryl Bauer-Armstrong and Dorothy Lsoto discussed their experiences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as the director of Earth Partnership, a native habitat restoration project, and an environmental sciences graduate student, respectively. Dawn Vick, a registered Ho-Chunk tribe member and administrator of the state’s division of intergovernmental relations, highlighted efforts by Gov. Tony Evers’ administration to rekindle relationships between the state and Wisconsin tribes.

Lori Lemieux furthered the conversation about Native American issues by describing her work as indigenous arts and sciences coordinator at the Bad River Education Department. To carry on “the responsibility that we have to make sure that our future generations have a place to call home,” Lemieux said, she works alongside indigenous leaders and youth to encourage science learning that carries on traditions outside mainstream education.

“If you’re constantly in a classroom and … no one’s touching the ground, no one’s touching the water, no one’s watching the clouds, no one’s spectating the stars, because you’re reading it out of a book, what does that do?” Lemieux said. “It doesn’t only affect our ethnic groups. It’s limiting to everybody.”

Derrick Smith and Ginger Ann Contreras offered perspectives from the Illuminating Discovery Hub. The organization works out of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery to create science partnerships and promote programming within and beyond UW-Madison. 

Smith, the Hub’s director of development, drew on his experiences as a black man in science marketing to highlight institutional flaws that reduce young people’s involvement in science. He is constantly asked about promoting diversity, he said, and encouraged people to seek out talent from historically black and underrepresented institutions: “Are you really looking for people of color? And two, if you are, where are you going to look for (them)?”

The panel was just one Science Fest event aimed at topics that are important for “scientists of the future” to consider, festival director and co-founder Laura Heisler said in an interview.

“Who has had a seat at the table in creating this specific enterprise, and who doesn’t?” Heisler said. “What does that mean for all of us when we don’t, for example, recognize Native American or African American contributions to science, and what do we leave out when we don’t make those mainstream?”

Mayas concluded the panel by asking each speaker the big question, “Who owns science?”

Lsoto answered, “I think we all do.” Contreras offered what seemed like the complete opposite, “No one owns science. We belong to science, and science belong to us.” But everyone on the panel agreed that there is work to be done to ensure everyone has a seat at the table.

“We all have that responsibility for one another,” Bauer-Armstrong said. “We all have something that can be a contribution so that we can understand different perspectives and different life ways.”

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