The first featured speaker, Steward Pickett, Distinguished Urban Ecologist from the Cary Institute and this year’s Eminent Ecologist of the Ecological Society of America, opened the symposium with “An ecology of segregation: what does race have to do with ecology? What does ecology have to do with race?” An Anti-racism Panel Discussion led by Nicholas Reo, Associate Professor of Native American Studies at Dartmouth, brought the symposium to its conclusion.

“A common theme that emerged from the symposium is that the general field of ecology and evolutionary biology is increasingly coming to grips with the fact that our science is indeed related to issues of race and racism, and the research within that framework is likely to increase in the future,” said John Vandermeer, Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor.

“Common themes that emerged across my own and others' work is inclusivity and safe spaces within academia for all given a variety of traumatic histories within science and academia,” said Sabrina Shirazi, a presenter and postdoctoral researcher, The University of Oklahoma and The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, “and the conflicting interests of those wanting data publicly available, and tribes wanting sovereignty and control over data regarding their people, land, and culture.” 

Eight early-career scholars, who are transforming our discipline through anti-racist and justice-centered research that pushes our understanding of the links between EEB research and society, presented their perspectives in many areas of EEB. Talk titles ranged from “The power of diverse perspectives in science: a personal account,” “Ecological research on stolen Indigenous land,” and “Holistic restoration: incorporating science and culture into conservation.” The goal of this symposium was to provide opportunities for the EEB community to think imaginatively about the future of the discipline.“

Two particular benefits of holding these early career scientist symposia stick out to me,” noted Shirazi. “First, it provides realistic goals for graduate students to work towards in the short term without being intimidated by the jump to tenured professor, and second, it provides early career researchers an opportunity to both make the research agenda they are early in developing known and to receive feedback from diverse people around them on the path they are moving in.”


The Anti-Racism Panel Discussion was led by Nicholas Reo, keynote speaker, with Robin Clark and Katie Kamelamela

Shirazi added, “I was not in person, but the whole workshop was run very professionally, and the Zoom experience was as delightful as they can be, without any of the many Zoom hiccups that often occur.”  

The symposium began on Saturday, March 19, 2022 in person and via livestream, followed by three consecutive virtual (livestreamed) Fridays from March 25– April 8, 2022. Two to three participants presented each Friday, followed by a moderated discussion.“

I especially enjoyed the work that Steward Pickett has been doing on urban ecology,” said Vandermeer. “Since my research has been focused on agricultural ecosystems, the theme of urban agriculture is a natural for my interests. I had not so explicitly realized how closely tied that subject is with the subject of racism.” 

More than 260 people registered for the symposium from nearly 40 universities nationwide and from six other countries including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France and Portugal . Over 85 percent of registrants were from outside the University of Michigan.

Attendees hailed from a breadth of disciplines from anthropology, botany, biopsychology,  chemistry and conservation science to microbiology, Native American and Indigenous studies, and zoology – some 40 areas of study altogether, making for a wonderfully cross-disciplinary reach.

Special thanks to the stellar lineup of early career speakers: Karen Bailey, assistant professor, Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder; Robin Michigiizhigookwe Clark, postdoctoral scholar, Michigan Technological University; Nicolas Gauthier, assistant curator, Artificial Intelligence for Biological/Cultural Diversity, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida; Fushcia-Ann Hoover, assistant professor, Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina Charlotte; Katie L. Kamelamela, postdoctoral researcher, Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests; Alex Moore, postdoctoral research associate, Princeton University High Meadows Environmental Institute; Sabrina Shirazi, postdoctoral researcher, The University of Oklahoma and The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; Lynette Renae Strickland, NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Memphis.

Much appreciation to the ECSS committee for their brilliant planning and execution of the event: John Vandermeer, committee chair, Catherine Badgley, Susanna Campbell, Shane DuBay, Tom Duda, Samantha Iliff, Nia Johnson, Jo Kurdziel, Nathan Sadowsky, Kristel Sánchez and Chatura Vaidya.

And a loud shout out to the staff who were integral to the event’s success: Amanda Kosnik, event coordination; Gail Kuhnlein, event promotion; John Megahan, graphic design/art; Cristóbal Arellano Borges, Linda Garcia, Jennifer Wolff, Amber Stadler. Facilities: Mark Matusko and Garrett Sanders. Technology services: Rob Feeley, Andy Holman and Jesse Miller.

Financial support was provided by the CEW+ Irma M. Wyman Grant Program Fund, the Rackham Faculty Allies Diversity Grant, and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

“The racisms ingrained in academia and ecological and evolutionary biologies in particular have been put in the spotlight over the last several years, and will continue to become less taboo to directly address within our own research, programs and universities,” added Shirazi. “I believe each person intentionally working in anti-racism within EEB is setting off a butterfly effect with those around them, teaching and learning from those around them how to become better advocates and allies.” 

Read more about the SPEAKERS and their PRESENTATIONS 

Watch videos of the presentations and panel discussions on EEB’s YouTube channel

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein