People of color and women can make work in the outdoors and in academia safer for themselves and others by exercising prudence and making their voices and perspectives heard, Diana Doan-Crider told NRT students on April 27, 2022.
Since NRT students study ecological resilience, Doan-Crider touched on how different groups of people had harmed the environment and one another, but she spent much more time discussing strategies of how people can make academia and fieldwork safer for all.
“Our goal should be to solve problems, not to make a point,” she said. “I know there are all of these ethical points of view, and we can talk about that all day, but when it comes down to it, we are solving problems, and we need to get to the table so we can do that.”
Doan-Crider, a Salish Kootenai College researcher originally from Durango, Mexico, visited the NRT upon invitation of Katia Carranza, a master’s student in the NRT.
“I had not seen any discussions around field safety for at-risk or diverse identities in the STEM spaces I had navigated since undergrad although it seemed like an important topic considering its severe implications,” Carranza said.
About 80 percent of the current NRT students at Nebraska are women and about 60 percent are people of color working in a state that is almost 80 percent white.
Doan-Crider spoke about what she learned about safety as a Latina while earning her college education in Montana in the 1980s and then working as an academician researching bears in the wilds of Mexico.
“One of the things that I learned in my career was really about prudence, and prudence was not my strong point,” she said. “Let me guarantee you I have made a lot of really stupid mistakes in my life. But when you're stuck out in the mountains of Mexico, you don't have a lot of wiggle room.”
She suggested students take someone with them to remote areas, and if they cannot do that, let others know where they are going and stay in constant contact. She cautioned becoming over-reliant on cell phones and other technology though.
“As GPS and technology started to really develop, I found a lot of my students relying too much on those things, so if a battery died, they were stuck,” she said. “We learned when I was in school, how to make a topographical map, how to follow contours, how to read a landscape. Try to keep up with those types of skills.”
Field scientists should stay aware of their surroundings, know how to use a compass, be able to read the skies and pay attention to whether others are following them, she said.
“In an event where your batteries die or something like that, you're going to have to rely on those things,” she said. “My biggest piece of advice is don't get lazy about that stuff. We rely way too much on what hasn't happened to us.”
She suggested bringing two spare tires for the vehicle used, a lighter, matches in a bag, a thermal blanket, rope, plenty of drinking water, an epi pen or Benadryl for insect and snake bites, and bear spray for self-defense.
“The reason I carry bear spray is because you can spray bear spray and, within 30 feet, it's going to stop anybody in their tracks,” she said. “I would never, ever recommend shooting anybody in the face with bear spray because you can kill somebody. It will stop you from breathing.”
She told the students not to leave bear spray in their vehicles when it’s hot outside because the product can explode and blow out a windshield.
She advised students to follow the speed limit and other laws to avoid giving others a reason to pick on them. She also advised they get advanced first aid training before going to the field and, once there, build relationships with the locals.
“Meet the people that you're going to be encountering every day,” she said. “Be friendly to them. Let them know that you're a human being and not some weird foreign thing that people invent on Facebook or whatever.”
She said she still has a keychain with 30 ranch keys on it from her days of working in the Serranias del Burro of Mexico.
“I have a bed when I need it,” she said. “I have food when I need it. I took gifts to people. Whenever I went to town, I called everybody and said, ‘Does anybody need any groceries or whatever?’ Be part of that community even if people don't think the way that you do. You're an ambassador for your people and your culture, so do your best to reach out even if you're in a hostile environment.”
Similar to the outdoors, academia can prove a hostile environment for Indigenous people and their worldviews, Doan-Crider said.
“We're all in this because we're passionate about nature, and we're passionate about what we do,” she said. “It's hard to be passionate when you're an Indigenous person and you've been asked to leave your own cultural values behind, your own worldviews behind, and have to conform to the way that we teach things in westernized academia and western science.”
One difference she noted specifically between the worldviews of westernized scientists and U.S. tribes is that westernized scientists strive to be objective and separate from the environment whereas tribes see themselves as interrelated with the environment.
“Westernized scientists look at things as specimens and we look at ourselves as removed, but Indigenous people do not see it that way at all,” Doan-Crider said. “They see themselves as part of a huge picture. Everything is connected and nothing is objective.”
The western worldview gets reflected in the way scientists use terms like “ecosystem services” to talk about the ways humans benefit from nature. Indigenous people are more likely to see these as gifts from Mother Nature and emphasize the relational aspect in a term like “ecosystem relationships,” Doan-Crider said.
Academia needs to better understand such perspectives and what people of color and different cultures need to make the academic habitat safe for themselves, she said. To achieve that, diverse people need to be part of the conversation even while everyone is being bombarded by world events and crises such as the pandemic and war in Ukraine, she said.
“How do you navigate through all of that? I think it's really important that we realize life is not easy, and the problems are not easily solved, but they can be solved, and that's what's important,” she said. “The most important thing is to get ourselves to the table and to be able to have these kinds of open conversations to do that.”
— Ronica Stromberg, NRT Program Coordinator