Geoscientists have a unique responsibility to cultivate diversity among our ranks. First,
geoscience is the least diverse STEM field, so we have the most room for improvement (NSF,
2019). Second, our field faces a workforce shortage, despite growing demand for our
expertise, due to the lack of robust mechanisms to recruit, train, and retain diverse
cohorts (Wilson, 2014). Third, calling Earth “home” is perhaps the only common experience
between all people and thus access to understanding and appreciating Earth must not be
limited by societal inequities. Decades of concerted efforts to broaden participation of
marginalized groups in geoscience have resulted in no progress on a demographic scale
(Bromery et al., 1972; Bernard and Cooperdock, 2018). Therefore, we must go above and beyond
if we stand a chance of fulfilling our responsibility.
Here we argue that efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the
geosciences must be rooted in a common understanding of the role of harm and justice in our
vision of diversity. We provide three principles and a set of recommendations that are
widely applicable and relevant to the cultural and historical specificities of our field.
Principle 1. Everyone Benefits from a Diverse, Vibrant Geoscience Community that Centers Our
Most Marginalized Members
Guiding frameworks for maximizing the efficacy of DEI efforts can be found in the literature.
Much of this work rejects the premise that the inclusion of one group necessarily comes at
the expense of others, a pervasive myth that is especially harmful to geoscientists who
claim multiple marginalized identities (e.g., Mattheis et al., 2019). That dimensions of
diversity are interconnected is central to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s seminal analysis of Black
women’s experience, where she coined the term intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989).
In fact, Núñez et al. (2019) leveraged this theoretical concept to develop
geoscience-specific recommendations for practicing intersectionality toward greater equity.
Rather than the inclusion of one group resulting in the exclusion of another,
intersectionality posits that DEI work centering individuals who are the most marginalized
results in greater inclusion for everyone (Crenshaw, 1989). An intersectional approach to
DEI asks that we invest our energy in removing the barriers to participation for people who
have multiple underrepresented or marginalized identities: those who are most at risk of
Principle 2. The Road to Inclusion Is Uncomfortable for Everyone—the Majority and
We must not conflate being uncomfortable with being marginalized. Harm is inseparable
from, and central to, marginalization. Therefore, the reduction of harm must be
prioritized in our DEI work. A recent example from the geosciences illustrates this
distinction. Last fall, advertisements for a faculty job in Brigham Young University’s (BYU)
geology department were removed from numerous job boards because BYU’s honor code, which
prohibited “homosexual behavior,” was found to be incompatible with the diversity statements
of several international organizations, the Geological Society of America (GSA) included.
Some BYU faculty members saw this removal as its own kind of discrimination (Abbott et al.,
2019). The identities and perspectives of LGBTQ+ people cannot be separated from their lived
experiences of harm. Discriminating against LGBTQ+ people in hiring is part of a larger
system of discrimination that results in higher rates of harm, including homelessness,
attempted suicide, and murder (Durso and Gates, 2012; Human Rights Campaign, 2015; Dinno,
2017). Our principles provide a way to distinguish separate experiences of harm and
discomfort: an honor code violation may be uncomfortable, but does not cause harm.
Alternative frameworks, for example those that center on treating people with “love” and/or
“kindness,” obscure the fact that difference is not innate but emerges within a network of
established power relationships (Hearn and Louvrier, 2016). As we dismantle systems of
oppression in geoscience, having opinions that conflict with the core goals of inclusion
will be uncomfortable. This is not marginalization, and reckoning with our discomfort moves
us toward greater inclusion.
Principle 3. We Cannot Ask Marginalized People to Do the Work to Ensure They Are Included
Inclusion must not require that people advocate for themselves, their own rights, or their
own humanity. As Black queer writer and activist Audre Lorde laments, “It is the members of
the oppressed, objectified groups who are expected to reach out and bridge the actualities
of our lives and the consciousness of our oppressor. … Whenever the need for some pretense
of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our
knowledge with them. In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the
oppressors their mistakes” (Lorde, 1984, p. 114). Rather than rely on this limiting,
exploitative model, we must anticipate the needs of diverse communities and proactively meet
them. To put it differently, a coherent framework for inclusion need never be expanded to
cover new groups—rather, it critically examines existing structures that prohibit broader
participation and dismantles them. In this way, representation and inclusion fundamentally
differ. For example, the presence of an LGBTQ+ faculty member may help LGBTQ+ students feel
a sense of belonging (Yoder and Mattheis, 2015). Yet, a department or organization does not
need to hire an LGBTQ+ faculty member in order to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ people. In fact,
such an approach reduces someone along a singular axis of their identity and expects them to
represent a community whose experiences are manifold. A wide variety of resources, including
on-campus groups, national affinity networks, and professional organizations provide
suggestions about making a department more inclusive of marginalized people. We should use
Where Do We Go From Here?
Geosciences departments, professional societies, and funding agencies are reaffirming their
commitments to DEI. But the discourse is muddled by the lack of a shared framework for what
it means and why we pursue it. We have identified broadly applicable principles to form the
core of a coherent, sustainable, and effective model of inclusion. There are also many
hopeful and effective examples of how you can advance DEI goals:
1. Leverage your position and privilege to improve your community. Identify
contexts in which you personally have power and influence. Be it a meeting with
administrators, the graduate student union, or sorority, we all inhabit spaces where our
voices are valued. Share your interest in advancing DEI in the geosciences within these
spaces, and use your influence there to motivate others.
2. Practice inclusive pedagogy. Just like we engage with scholarly
literature to inform our understanding of our geological subfields, a vast literature on DEI
exists that can inform our efforts in this space. Start a for-credit seminar or reading
group to ignite and continue the conversation.
3. Become a DEI leader. Organize for change and get involved on your own
campus (see efforts by graduate students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, https://eos.org/opinions/whats-in-a-seminar), within a
broader affinity group (see the GeoLatinas: https://twitter.com/geolatinas), or with
an international professional organization (volunteer for a leadership/diversity position
with, for example, GSA, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), or the American Meteorological
4. Hold institutions accountable to their most vulnerable members. The
successful social media campaign (Tanner, 2019) to remove the BYU job advertisement from the
GSA and AGU job boards because it was inconsistent with the associations’ commitments to
diversity and inclusion demonstrates the power that individuals have to effect change,
especially when we uplift and amplify marginalized voices.
All institutions have room to improve with regard to broadening participation, but half a
century of efforts to diversify the geosciences have been stonewalled by myriad obstacles
(Bromery et al., 1972; Bernard and Cooperdock, 2018). We cannot expect that rearticulating
the same tired commitments will result in a different outcome. Instead, we must be bold and
brave in pursuit of our goals. Use the principles laid out here to inform the everyday
decisions that over time create the fabric of geoscience culture we inhabit. The
responsibility to fulfill our vision of diversity falls to every one of us. What action will
you take to achieve it?
We thank two anonymous reviewers and editor Mihai Ducea for feedback that improved the
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* Now at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades,
New York 10964, USA.
** Now at Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3AN, UK.
Manuscript received 17 Nov. 2019.
Revised manuscript received 8 June 2020.
Manuscript accepted 21 July 2020.
Posted 1 Sept. 2020.
© 2020, The Geological Society of America. CC-BY-NC.