Supporting each other through difficult times

Globally the news is not good for education, science, healthcare, and research. In particular the environment, collaborative planning for epidemics, vaccination programmes, and reproductive justice are all under increased threat. Not to mention the safety and wellbeing of students, academics, researchers, adjuncts and activists.

At such a time, with daily news appearing more alarming, it is easy to feel alone, insignificant, and afraid.

Like many people currently, I’m not sure I can make much of a difference on my own. But here are some initial ideas on working together and supporting one another. Since I don’t have all the answers please make use of the comments to share and archive details of activism, advice, care and protest that others working in education, development, healthcare and science may be able to use and pass on.

Help yourself first
Looking to your own needs is important, particularly since we are likely in this for the long haul. And, for many, this is not a new situation. You may have been affected by academic/research inequalities for a long time, or experienced wider prejudice your whole life.

For starters, pace yourself, note what your limits are, and only take on what is feasible within your situation (more on this later). If you need ideas on your rights, or pointers about physical or psychological first aid here are resources for you, your family and community that include multi language, multi age materials and links on rights, wellbeing and getting/giving care.

Where are we now?
Those of us working in universities, industry and charities will be familiar with an environment driven by bringing in funding; a pressure to publish/get results; ratings, impact and league tables; precarious/temporary/zero hours contracts; lack of tenure; widespread inequalities (particularly regarding genders, sexualities, ethnicities, disabilities and income); problems of access; colonialist underpinnings (and resistance to any kind of criticism thereof); over/micro management; bullying, harassment and sexual assault; prioritising research (publication output) over teaching; and a rising opposition from the right about any kind of teaching/research/activism that embraces difference/diversity.

All of this creates a climate where people are afraid to rock the boat, have good reasons to be anxious about employment prospects/career progression, and is an exhausting environment that makes it hard to find more reserves to fight further battles.

Where others have been already

People of Colour (PoC), disabled, LGBT, indigenous people, women, and other minority groups, have historically been systematically excluded and harmed. Not just within and by academia/research, but also wider society.

Learning from – and acknowledging – their efforts and experience is a good first step for all of us. As is recognising that for many, current fears over state-endorsed repression and violence is not remotely new. This also applies to those working in climate science, and areas of stigmatised healthcare where opposition and suppression has been commonplace for decades.

Within academia silencing, chilling and controlling what is researched, taught and communicated is not new – but may be more extreme within particular subject areas, departments or institutions.

And while many wish to claim (and perhaps even believe) that science unites us, is objective, value-free, and sees no differences, we need to be much more honest with ourselves. Science is not objective. It is not value free. It frequently maintains and validates inequalities and has, in the past, and the present, been used to harm as well as help. We cannot move forward against governments that seek to oppress others while allowing this to be part of our own institutions. If this is a new area to you, or these ideas make you feel threatened or irritated, it may help to read some of the resources for teaching linked further down this post and discuss with colleagues about how inequalities and oppressions inform your area of social/science/health and what you can do to acknowledged, address, and challenge them.

Since we’re on the topic, it’s ahistorical and inaccurate to claim while scientists may be biased, science never is. Methods are not pure nor immune to cultural influence. Science and Technology Studies and the History of Science courses may help you appreciate these issues better. Some resources to help you include:
The British Society for the History of Science
History of Science Society
Science History from Free Radicals

In some countries problems are more extreme with arrests, expulsions, imprisonment or execution of academics/researchers/scientists. Many countries currently, and in the past, have struggled with these issues and they continue to be a cause for concern. More recent events around Brexit have made those in the UK and Europe anxious, and the newly appointed Trump administration have made it clear they intend to stifle, limit, cut and manipulate science and healthcare spending and services.

Honouring those who’ve come before while supporting those who are joining now are both important jobs. Noting, also there may be tensions for those who feel they’ve already been working hard but not acknowledged, and those who feel they’ve been unable to contribute before due to structural/personal reasons. Conflict may also arise where people have different priorities or ideas about how to reach a shared goal (and some goals may not be shared at all). This can be difficult and painful to process, and wanting to help may also mean learning when to step up, when to hold space for, when to stand aside, and when to stay silent. We all make mistakes. All of us want to be liked. It’s tough when you think you’ve done the right thing and discover that perhaps you haven’t. The challenge will remain helping people understand where they may have messed up and being able to cope with criticism. If you’ve got resources on how to help people navigate this process, on understanding diversities and intersectionality, or tips on activism if it’s something new to you please add in the comments.

What can you do to help bring change in science, research, healthcare and academia?
You can find people who want to make change; identify what is going on that you can join in with; alert colleagues about events and issues; while learning about what is happening locally, nationally and internationally.

Signing petitions and sending emails may not be all that effective but can have a place. Use critically.

If you can, call in person government officials, your member of parliament/congress, or any other authorities that relate to your area of concern. Give your details – name, who you are, where you live/work, why you are worried and what you would like them to do. Note the date/time of your call, and any response. Publicise this as appropriate/safe. There’s advice here if making such a call would cause anxiety or distress, or if you struggle with shyness.

If you feel you cannot report in person for fear of reprisals, ask a friend/colleague to do so or write anonymously (noting this may not be acted upon).

Attending meetings virtually or in person – either to find out more about action/protest or to discuss with politicians, universities or funding bodies about priorities and action.

Remember that with countries tightening border and immigration controls, getting into or out of countries may be difficult for some scientists. Hosting events in countries that are easier to travel to and from, or having opportunities for virtual attendance may be more safe and inclusive.

Join or set up existing lobby groups, protest rotas, support networks, or friendship/buddy/ally teams.

Use social media – to learn, reflect, connect, organise, raise awareness, and build momentum.

Write letters, blog posts, and via media with clear messages about what the problems are and what people need to do about them. Get media training if you need it, and offer it if this is a skill you already possess.

Researchers have a lot of hidden talents that you may not initially consider. You can share your skills to help with budgets, finance, fundraising, not taking, recording, data collection, sharing information, networking etc.

You can go on marches, join sit-ins, or support industrial action – virtually or in person.

Offering friendship is vital to boost morale and let people vent as needed. You can provide a listening service on or offline using email, skype, or other social media to help people feel connected and less isolated.

Holding space is an important act, showing people you are there for them and able to be alongside them. Particularly those who cannot be physically present at events/actions but want to be. That may include passing on information at events from those who’re unable to be there, setting up online protests to record the voices of those who can’t attend in person, or reminding others where their positions of privilege may be leaving others out.

Work towards making your activities as accessible as possible. Noting, always, who am I bringing in? Who am I leaving out?

Where knowledge is liable to be limited, discredited, manipulated or fabricated look to share ideas locally, or online (with low cost/free/multi language/level resources as required). That might include archiving and saving resources, records and data – you can do this via datarefuge; making data open; mapping activities; library talks, volunteering in schools, supporting people’s university/public education projects; and wherever you can passing on accurate information about climate change, vaccination, healthcare, reproductive justice (noting again the many experienced individuals and organisations with resources you can make use of).

Fundraise or donate to organisations supporting marginalised scholars and any health or science programmes currently at risk.

If you are planning on attending protests or other industrial action learn to give physical and psychological first aid.

You can donate books, resources or other materials to others who need it. Make your papers open access (or if you’re prevented from doing so then blog easy read versions of findings others can use).

Making meals, sharing food, cups of tea, or giving a space at your table (if you have the resources) are much forgotten acts of kindness.

Be a safe person others can turn to – to offload about problems, work etc (noting you may also need support and, in some circumstances, legal advice about what you can be privy to and what you may be compelled to disclose). Here are some tips if you want to send information to the media anonymously.

Talk to your students about inequalities, world events, and provide life skills to help them navigate and negotiate changing political situations. Noting also those students that may be already disadvantaged and offering additional support, security, and care. You may find the following resources helpful in your teaching
INDIVISIBLE – a practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda
‘Teaching back’ in the Trump years: an offer of support for teachers
What does it mean to be white? Developing White Racial Literacy by Robin DiAngelo
Wonkhe Brexit updates
The Classroom (LGBT teaching resources)
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein’s regularly updated Decolonising Science Reading List
We need decolonial scientists (the wider site is well worth exploring too)
Rhonda Ragsdale runs an online weekly teach-in via #SATURDAYSCHOOL
Helen Kara’s blog post on the ethics of book writing links to several core texts on indigenous methodologies and decolonising research
Journal of Diversity in Higher Education
Rethinking Schools
Is everyone really equal?: An introduction to key concepts in social justice education by Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo
Radical Pedagogy
The Queering Education Research Institute

You may pick up more ideas, tools, resources and points for reflection via hashtags including
#disabilitysowhite #BLACKandSTEM #LGBTSTEM #LGBTScience #WIMCW

[As you can see this is not a comprehensive reading list or archive of hashtags. If you have other resources, groups, courses or reading lists to recommend, please add them in the comments].

If you work in a university, make it a Sanctuary Campus – a safe haven for minorities or those who are otherwise at risk. This includes not only noting, but adhering to, whole-campus approaches to tuition, rights, support, counselling and healthcare.

You can join existing campaigns, such as
Science Is Vital! (UK)
Scientists for EU
Science Action Committee
Scientists’ March on Washington (see also their Subreddit)

314 Action are training up those with a STEM background to run for office (US).

@Twistance is archiving all the rogue Federal and Science agencies on Twitter. The Alternative National Parks account is here. While US scientists who’re doing federally funded research are showcasing what it has achieved on the hashtag #FedScience.

You may want to use, and check into, the hashtags #standupforscience and #DefendScience.

If you’re heading off on a demonstration, you might want to knit a brain hat (or knit for others if you’re a crafty type). Craftivism is also worth exploring, and if you’re making any posters or placards here are some art tips for activists. You should also think about digital security if you are protesting.

If you’re involved in any events or programmes please post in the comments!

If you are in a fortunate position…
While academia and science is under threat, there are still many who are in tenured, full time, well-paid positions, with supportive employers. If this is you, and you want to help, then thank you for stepping up! You have multiple opportunities to support others, some of which you may already be doing and want to share in the comments below.

You could also offer your facilities for demonstrations, teach-ins, and meetings. Speak openly in support of those whose work/disciplines/subject areas are adversely affected. Stand by/up for colleagues and students facing disciplinary proceedings, dismissal or redundancy as a consequence of political/academic cuts. Note, and expose, how other institutions may be colluding with existing regimes that harm science/academic practice. Offer safe spaces to study for refugees. Archive, collate, store and disseminate any research data currently at risk of censorship, redaction or manipulation. Share information about where cuts, blocks, silencing and manipulation of science/health is occurring.

Who may need particular support?
PoC, LGBT, disabled, non tenured, early career researchers, students, low income workers, those on precarious/zero hours contracts, parents/carers and those with pre-existing mental/physical health conditions may require particular support and care. If that is you, there are resources below and ideas above about where you can access support and information.

Note EVERYONE who’s in academic spaces – porters, cleaners, lab assistants, catering staff, security, post-room workers etc. All will be impacted upon with changes to academic life and need your assistance. This also applies to research within industry and charities. Who is in your organisation/network, what are their needs, how might they be affected and how can you collectively support each other?

Accessibility and energy
Many of the ideas outlined above require physical and emotional energy and may be especially difficult if you are already in an uncertain or risky situation at work (or if you are unemployed).

As said at the start, it is a good idea to pace yourself and do what you can within your circumstances.

It is not just okay to take a break, to switch off from the news/social media or to focus on positive things that bring you solace – it is a very good idea. The links at the very start of this post include lots of tips on self-care and that may be something you use, develop, and share. (Noting, again, how for some people the luxury of being able to tune out or switch off from oppression is simply not an option).

Remember you aren’t going to be able to do everything, so focus on what you know you have the time, energy and skills to manage. Building up or cutting back as appropriate.

If things are not open to you due to travel, cost, distance, venue/event accessibility etc then communicate that with organisers (see section above on those who may be in a position to hear/act on this information). For some events bursaries, per diems, childcare facilities, or travel grants may be available.

Who else can help me?

Unions, lobby groups, NGOs/Charities/activist networks (see links below)

Ask a Veteran Activist! Many people in their 70s, 80s and older have been doing this for decades. Ask them – what happened before, what have they learned, what can they share? Can they advise you and can you support them? Here’s an account from Alice Bell, noting what scientists did in the 1970s.

Legal advice – connect with lawyers who can support you.

Other disciplines have been addressing these issues for decades – e.g. arts and humanities, healthcare, climate sciences, people’s/public universities. Academics in countries previously affected by repressive regimes,or those who are refugees, can give you insights into their experiences and ideas on what push back to expect. What archives, resources and experiences do they have about what happened in the past and how people dealt with it? What did and didn’t work?


Scholars At Risk
Council for assisting at risk academics (CARA)
Refugee Support Network
Academic Refugees
The Helen Bamber Foundation
Academics for Refugees
Student Action for Refugees
Committee of Concerned Scientists
Te Kupenga o MAI Māori and Indigenous Scholar Support
Our World (UN University)
United Nation’s list of Human Rights Issues
Wikipedia’s list of Human Rights Issues
Wikipedia’s global list of Trade Unions
Office of the Independent Adjudicator (UK students)
European Students’ Union
International Student Unions
Relief Web Safety and Security
Aid Worker Security
Academic Mental Health Collective
Sexual Assault Network for Grads (SANG)
Faculty Against Rape
End Rape on Campus (EROC)
The 1752 Group
Academic Kindness
Conditionally Accepted
The Para Academic Handbook
Adjunct Nation
CASA (Casual, adjunct, sessional staff and allies, Australia)
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Black Lives Matter
PhDisabled Psychologists Against Austerity
Chronically Academic
The University of Colour
Let Us Learn
Queering Education
Union of Concerned Scientists

There are more resources to help with research, funding, study skills etc here.

As already stated, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide, more an opening for you to share your activities, tools and calls for help/action – so please do share in the comments. I note I’ve listed a lot of ideas about potential actions, but not much instruction on how to make them work. If you have that experience, guides, or recommendations for books/websites etc please do share below. If you don’t feel safe posting then you’re welcome to email me (info at drpetra dot co dot uk) and I will post on your behalf. As this is a research venture let’s keep the focus on activism, care and rights within education/science/healthcare. And, finally, please be kind, these are scary times and none of us knows the circumstances each other is facing.

Leave a reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.