Dr. Lisa Whitenack is an Associate Professor of Biology of Allegheny College. She is a shark paleobiologist, studying modern and fossil shark teeth over their 400 million year history. While she is also a member of the Board of Directors and acting chair of the Equity and Diversity committee of the American Elasmobranch Society (AES), this piece is not written under the umbrella of AES. Follow her on twitter at @WhitenackLab.
Author’s note: italicized quotations in this piece come from many different female shark researchers who gave Lisa permission to share their stories in this post.
“Funny that all of this Harvey Weinstein nonsense triggers feelings of AES in me…”
Back in mid-October, a colleague of mine sent the above to me in a private message on social media.
“I arranged my desk so he couldn’t sneak up and rub my shoulders anymore.”
Even before the Weinstein news broke, harassment and assault have been at the forefront of my mind, and have been for the last 3 years or so. Until July 2017, part of my committee work at the institution I work at was to evaluate our student code of conduct and to serve on panels for student misconduct cases, including Title IX related cases. As is typical for many female faculty, students tend to visit my office looking for a sympathetic ear or help. Most recently, I have been helping American Elasmobranch Society (AES) write a Code of Conduct for its meetings and am serving as chair of the Equity & Diversity committee. It’s hard to escape these topics when it’s your job. But, it’s really more than just my job. These are issues that infiltrate most aspects of my life, and have for a long time.
My wife, on the other hand, is a social scientist who works on development here in Mexico. When we first started dating, I used to tease her for being a soft little scientist in her soft little science. I now understand that helping a community pull itself out of poverty is more complex than brain surgery or quantum physics.
There is no magic equation for community organizing but she begins by understanding that “the community” isn’t some monolithic creature that thinks as a unit. There are complex politics and power dynamics at work that can either aid or destroy all her efforts.
I now understand why the vaquita is going extinct. They sent too many people like me into the region and not enough like her.