This post was authored by the founders of Minorities in Shark Sciences (MISS): Amani Webber-Schultz, Jasmin Graham, Carlee Jackson and Jaida Elcock
When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, their answers are endless and ever changing. One second they want to be a firefighter, a week later they want to be a veterinarian, and a year later they want to be an engineer. All of these different dreams come from seeing someone working in that field and succeeding. Children need role models to believe they can do anything and having a role model who looks like them only enhances their desire to pursue their goals.
In marine science and shark science, having a role model who looks like you is something women of color do not often experience. The lack of representation of women of color in shark science is the reason Amani Webber-Schultz, Jasmin Graham, Jaida Elcock and Carlee Jackson connected and founded Minorities in Shark Sciences (MISS). We can all relate to the struggle of finding a role model and being in a field that is completely lacking in diversity.
As Black female shark scientists, the four of us have experienced firsthand the adverse effects lack of diversity can have on a person’s dreams and ability to succeed. It is incredibly daunting to be the only non-white person in a room. It is even more daunting to think about pursuing a career where that will likely be the reality the majority of the time. As women of color entering the field of shark science, we actively decided to take on the emotional weight of “sticking it out” and sometimes feeling like we don’t belong.
At MISS, we want to change this. We seek to create a space where all women of color feel welcome. We also want to serve as role models for future shark scientists, promote diversity, and say loudly and clearly that women of color deserve to be in shark sciences. We stand by the idea that a diversity in people leads to a diversity of ideas.
Access to shark science is limited for minorities. Like in any career, there are many barriers to push past in trying to pursue a career in shark science. Shark science is an incredibly competitive career. The MISS founders want to address and decrease the financial barrier. A career with sharks does not pay as well as other careers and often people are expected to pay to gain experience. Getting your foot in the door is nearly impossible without having experiences and for those who cannot pay, access to a career of shark science is incredibly limited.
With this in mind, MISS is teaming up with Field School in Miami to run two workshops in 2021. These workshops will allow 18 women of color to participate in a weekend of shark research and career development discussions with the founders of MISS. The workshop will be all-expenses paid as MISS has raised enough money to fund travel for participants and Field School is providing housing and meals. Our goal is to create a space where women of color feel comfortable and welcome and to give them connections to other women in shark science who can help them throughout their career.
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In addition to running yearly workshops with new participants, we hope to expand our reach with MISS. We would like to participate in outreach with K-12 schools to bring shark science into children’s lives early on. We also plan to financially, professionally and emotionally support women of color to attend conferences. We want to give them additional opportunities to share their work. MISS will work to amplify research by women of color within the broader shark community. We hope to reach as many young women of color as possible to show them that they can do anything by connecting them with potential mentors in the field. Through these efforts we hope to broaden the community of women of color in shark science.
We, the founders of MISS, never had a network of women of color for support and encouragement as we moved into the field of shark science. Our hope is to give future shark scientists what we wish we had. Diversity is not a problem with a simple solution, it is complex and requires effort from everyone. The lack of diversity in a field does not mean people of color do not belong there or that they don’t want to be there. Science is for everyone. Shark Science is for everyone.
For more information about MISS, please visit www.misselasmo.org.