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Feds spend $2.1M in taxpayer dollars to ‘root’ out oppression in plant sciences

‘We will get to the root of the systematic oppressions … so that they can regrow as truly inclusive spaces’

The federal government has allocated $2.14 million dollars to “root” out oppression in plant sciences.

The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences recently awarded $2.14 million to the American Society of Plant Biologists for the development of a multi-organization research coordination network called ROOT and SHOOT.

ROOT stands for Rooting Out Oppression Together. And SHOOT? SHaring Our Outcomes Transparently.

“The demographic distribution of scientists, especially those in positions of authority, does not reflect that of the US population,” the award’s abstract states.

“Some of the causes of this disparity are known, such as a lack of role models and the tendency for people to look within their own circles when they recruit, appoint, and promote. This award will provide resources, trainings, opportunities, and structures that will allow participating plant science and affiliated organizations to change that construct.”

The award follows the release of a 2021 Dear Colleague Letter from National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences encouraging “professional societies to submit proposals to develop collaborative networks for facilitating cultural changes in the biological sciences to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

In the letter, NSF BIO stated that it “recognizes culture change in the biological sciences as an urgent priority and is committed to supporting efforts that use evidence-based practices to remove barriers for individuals historically excluded from science.”

The letter sought proposals that “build networks to generate the changes needed to broaden participation within academic and professional spheres of the biological sciences.”

The letter did not, however, provide many details regarding how the biological sciences, as they are today, maintain barriers that may have historically excluded certain groups from participation or how furthering DEI benefits science.

National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences did not respond to The College Fix’s request for comment.

In January, the principle investigator listed for the root program, Mary Williams, announced approval of the grant in a blog post describing the program as “bold,” “radical,” and “innovative.”

She stated that “together we will get to the root of the systematic oppressions that lie within our organizations, so that they can regrow as truly inclusive spaces.”

To elaborate, Williams wrote:

“Our objectives are to 1) make a Bold Start by establishing an inclusive operational path for the RCN [research coordination network], and immediately addressing known climate and cultural deficiencies together; 2) to Dig Deeper by developing and implementing tools for self-assessments of community cultures and structures, and 3) to Reach for the Sky by identifying areas for equity action, and designing, implementing, and assessing interventions.”

As if predicting some may have found themselves lost in the buzzwords and metaphors, Williams went on to rhetorically ask: “What does this mean in real life?”

“The NSF is funding these organizations to hold up a mirror and critically examine what we do. Through this funding, we will bring in experts in equity, diversity, inclusion, justice, accessibility, who can help us understand how our practices can hold people back, or help them succeed.”

According to the more detailed and somewhat more comprehensible abstract for the program posted on the NSF website, the ROOT and SHOOT program is meant to develop and disseminate resources such as “web pages, guides, workshops, webinars, and action plans” to help scientific organizations, especially those in the plant sciences, perform self assessments of how diverse, equitable, and inclusive they are and help those organizations further various goals pertaining to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Like NSF BIO, Williams’ blog post was light on details concerning how the member organizations of her proposed research collaborative network were agents of “systematic oppressions” or how promoting DEI policies would improve science.

Williams did not respond to The College Fix’s request for comment.

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IMAGE: IFong / Shutterstock

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Daniel Nuccio holds master's degrees in both psychology and biology. He is currently pursuing his doctorate in biology at Northern Illinois University where he is studying the impact of social isolation on host-microbe interactions and learning new coding techniques to integrate into his research.