i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgSo, we may have mentioned we’re going to ScienceOnline 2009, which starts on Friday; ScienceWoman and I have our respective sessions on Saturday with our respective co-facilitators.

I’ve been snowed under with the start of classes, some papers due, some abstracts due, a meeting last week, and, of course, this upcoming event. But I’m getting a little caught up (even if this is a scrambled post), and saw discussion of being a blogging ally at a couple of places of note:

In particular, Samia blogged about how others could be good allies within her post about race and science blogging (before she had to pull out of attending — major 🙁 ). I’m going to quote a chunk at length:

Online? If you’re a “majority” blogger (in any sense of the word– white or male or abled or cis-gendered, whatever) and you enjoy a blog written by a “minority” individual, try to showcase one of their posts on your blog once in a while. Write your take on their post and send your readers to a link. Show some love, basically.

Offline…keep talking to the people you are allying yourself with. Try not to sit on your ass feeling good about yourself for too long. It’s great to identify as an ally, but that’s not enough. I think it’s about how you live your life. Don’t put up with racist bullshit in any part of your life. Get ready to be “that person” who may sometimes have a problem with something everyone else thinks is okay. It’s not about being confrontational as much as striving for moral consistency.

One of the most important things an ally can do is to validate the experience of a person of colour who opens up to them. Common traps that may push someone away: “I’m sure they didn’t mean it.” “Well, I don’t see a lot of that around HERE.” “It used to be a lot worse X years ago.” (I get this from older individuals a LOT and have to resist wondering if they personally owned slaves or something)

Validate, validate, validate. Not getting validation is like…filing a rape report and subsequently receiving a lecture on the amount of false rape complaints people make. Learning to listen is a big step, and a big deal. I don’t want my allies to be self-flagellating about how much white people suck or whatever. I’d rather they listen to what I have to say and respect me enough to believe I’m not making shit up. If I ask for help or advice, I want an honest opinion. And I’d like to know they’re not some two-faced piece of shit who acts one way around me and is a completely different person in every other facet of life. You know that feeling you get when you realize your “friend” doesn’t necessarily care about what happened to you, they just want you to calm down and shut up so they can forget what you said and keep mentally coasting? Yeah. HATE IT.

Another thing I want to mention is that some allies get kinda crazy and start shit “on behalf” of people who haven’t even shown they desire help. Stop and think for a second. Better yet, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you’re really not sure if that person needs your assistance, ask before risking making a fool of yourself.

She also has some good points for people to consider offline. You should go read the whole post.

In my past posts, the question “what is an ally” and “an ally of whom” came up. Zuska has found a great reference at the University of Michigan, for those who want to read more. In particular, they describe “becoming an ally” as a process, not an outcome:

Awareness: Explore how you are different from and similar to others. Gain this awareness through talking with others by attending workshops, and through self-examination.
Knowledge/Education: Begin to understand policies, laws and practices and how they affect others. Educate yourself.
Skills: This is an area that is difficult for many people. You must learn to take your awareness and knowledge and communicate it to others. You can acquire these skills by attending workshops, role-playing with friends or peers, and developing support connections.
Action: This is the most important and frightening step. Despite the fear, action is the only way to cause change in society as a whole.

There is some pretty interesting discussion at DrugMonkey by folks taking various stances, and (sometimes) talking over how best to be (or not) allies. Prompted by a simple description of the ScienceOnline session. Wowza.

So, on one hand, ScienceOnline is an un-conference (h/t Abel), so we as facilitators need to spend more time facilitating than talking. I’m down with that — I’m totally looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

But on the other hand, it would really be cool if we went to the conference with a few stories in our pocket. And one question that seems to be resonating with my co-facilitators is: when could you have used an ally but no one stepped forward to be one?

If you’re willing to share a story or two that answers this query, please do, either in the comments or on your own blog (and leave us a link here!). If you want to weigh in on the wiki, please do that too. (Thanks in particular to DNLee and acmegirl who have already – props to you!)



  1. #1 Podblack
    January 14, 2009

    “And one question that seems to be resonating with my co-facilitators is: when could you have used an ally but no one stepped forward to be one?”

    Begging for corrected links seemed to be an issue at one point. A well-known and popular blogger got my url wrong and grudgingly changed it only after a few voiced chimed in about it. That particular blogger then went on about a week later about how they were ‘keen to promote other blogs’. Not unless they were other popular blogs or their very close friends, it appeared. Certainly not keen on being criticised, even fairly.

    Sadly, it seemed that unless you fit the stereotype of a niche, it’s a little tough to get link-love. In return, you end up becoming less and less enthused about popular blogs and read them less – because they seem to be just all talk when it came to supporting. The incestuous nature leads you to wonder just how often do you step out of your own circle. So – I could have used a strong, supportive ally who walked as they talked – but it seems that I got more support out of and being supportive in return, via Blog Carnivals and developing networking on Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

  2. #2 ScienceWoman
    January 14, 2009

    Offline: I could have used an ally when MU made me spend every. single. cent. of my start up money before I arrived on campus. After the fact, I’ve learned that other new faculty were able to hang on to some money to spend later in the year. But I was getting an adamant line from the chair and I felt powerless. It would have been really really nice if one of the other faculty who knew what was going on (and some did) would have been an ally for me.

  3. #3 Arlenna
    January 14, 2009

    Online: getting blogrolled by PhysioProf on Drugmonkey, and getting regular feedback and advice from Massimo/Okham, Nat Blair and Odyssey (among others) has made me feel like I have allies in this online community. It’s a good feeling, and has been important in encouraging me to write.

    Offline: My nearly-all-male dept. has a group of guys (mostly associate profs but a few asst. profs go sometimes) who go out to lunch every Friday. It becomes like an informal faculty meeting, since about half the faculty rotates in here and there. My very first day on campus they contacted me to let me know about it and invite me along. I’ve been going ever since, and they make me feel really welcome by including me in the weekly lunch and the discussions we have, asking me how things are going and giving me frank advice.

  4. #4 Arlenna
    January 14, 2009

    Ooops, I didn’t read the directions, lol. Those were times I DID have an ally.

    A time I didn’t: when a troubled student asked to transfer to my lab, before I’d even arrived, I got some advice that it probably wasn’t a good idea–but nobody said “No, this can’t be allowed to happen.” None of the more senior people said, “Nope, if you’re going to transfer, you have to transfer to a more established lab.” And then when it came time to tell the student that a Ph.D. wasn’t in the cards, they dumped all the responsibility onto me to tell the student, and also made it clear I would get no financial (i.e. TAship) support to allow the student to stay one more semester to get an M.S. degree. I could have really used an ally to just nip the idea in the bud, or at least push for full support for me if I took on the responsibility of dealing with other peoples’ longstanding problem on this one.

  5. #5 Arlenna
    January 14, 2009

    You know who REALLY needs an ally right now:

    Her story is a typical example of how young faculty get screwed over, especially the implication (by one of her colleagues) that she would be sucking up to the dean by doing a job everyone else refused to do.

  6. #6 Mrs. Comet Hunter
    January 14, 2009

    Online: I agree with Podback on this one: it’s incredibly hard to get in with the “in crowd” of scientific blogging. It would be great to have a mentor-type contact that could give tips to those of us just starting out or want a wider audience.

    Offline: during planning of outreach events I’ve had many of my suggestions poo-pooed by senior professors. Afterwards, many people (grad students and young professors alike) tell me that they liked my idea(s), but none of them would say so during the meeting. I wish that people would just stand up to these people who never want anything to change – if a group of people did, then things would happen, but as one lowly PhD student, I just can’t do it by myself.

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