Community reflections

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Community: it’s a word that several of us begin typing into a shared document as our team completes a group exercise to define our core values. It’s also the first word we chose to describe our organization four years ago.

The Community Snow Observations program has been an opportunity to build a network of citizen scientists who contribute their time and energy to improve our understanding of snowy mountain environments. But today, the word “community” is taking on new meaning for us, as we ask ourselves difficult questions about our blind spots and biases. How diverse and inclusive is our citizen science community today? Have we created a community where all people are welcome, regardless of their gender, race and economic status? And, are we factoring in the diverse needs of communities affected by our scientific decision-making process?

As with many people around the world, our questions are surfacing in the wake of protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, and the systematic oppression of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) everywhere. In response to courageous conversations initiated by one of the graduate students on our project, we decide to initiate a series of regular meetings to begin a process of self-reflection, contemplation and planning for action. In this blog post we will share our process and what we have learned so far, in the hopes that we can work across organizations to foster new communities of respect, inclusion and environmental stewardship.

Setting the stage

We begin our first meeting by creating a space that is conducive to the open exchange of ideas surrounding topics of race and equity, knowing that these conversations can be challenging. One of our team members has experience guiding community retreat programs, so we use some of these programs’ “Touchstones” as waypoints and boundaries for our work. We set intentions to practice listening and to create a confidential space for open conversations to occur. We then spend a few moments giving everyone a chance to share what is on their mind. We’re grateful that our team includes several people whose race or gender is diverse from those that dominate our field. As we talk, we learn each other’s unique histories that have shaped their individual responses to this challenging moment in history.

Already, we have a good list of resources compiled over email: research articles on the lack of diversity in the geosciences, links to groups advocating for Black participation in snow sports, Twitter and Instagram feeds of BIPOC skiers and snowboarders who we might want to contact. But before diving into action, we decide first to turn our attention inward. We are drawing from the wisdom of scholars like Dr. Tiffany Jana, who emphasizes the need to start this journey with ourselves, examining our own values and implicit biases, and then building outwardly to effect change within our various communities.

Exploring team values

One way we assess where we are starting from is to use Dr. Brene Brown’s List of Values and invite everyone to identify their top five individual core values, followed by a similar exercise as it relates to the values of our organization. Teamwork, diversity, respect = community. Our hope is to return to these values as a foundation for future decision making, and to inform others about what motivates our overall mission within this project.

Spheres of influence

For our second activity we review the various actions on our list. We ask ourselves important questions like: “Which sectors of our community might be impacted by this action?”, “What roadblocks might we encounter along the way?” and “What does “success’ look like for this action?”. Working with Dr. Jana’s concept of “concentric circles of care”, we try to articulate the various spheres of influence within which we have real power to effect change. We settle on two different versions of our spheres of influence, one related to the snow community and another for the broader science and education communities. We begin to map some of our actions onto this framework and realize that this might be a good way for us to ensure our influence spans as wide a range of spheres as possible. We think it might also help us make decisions about where to invest our resources going forward.

Action planning

With these frameworks in place we now feel empowered for action. Our challenge for each other going forward is to report on some activity related to this work at each of our upcoming bi-weekly meetings. Over the next several weeks during our calls we share updates, resources and feedback for planning next steps. We find that these regular meetings help us stay true to this work and keep our momentum moving forward.

Notable actions coming out of our calls so far include work with curriculum developers to incorporate snow citizen science into the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, ideas to develop various mentorship programs, discussions about how to diversify Protect our Winter’s Science Alliance, and efforts to partner with the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) DEI task force. We take steps to broaden participation in our ambassadors program so that our platform can be used as a way to amplify diverse voices in our community. We also talk about ways to incorporate the needs of downstream communities in our decision-making process when selecting locations for observations and modeling. Finally, we use these calls to continue to share personal insights and grapple with new challenges.

Next steps

Moving forward, our intention is to review our ideas and actions with our broader community, ideally hearing from a diversity of perspectives. We believe this process of exchange and feedback is vital to ensure that our work benefits the people whose lives are impacted the most.

We feel we are just at the start of this journey and that we have much to learn. Through this work we hope that our sense of community will expand beyond our common interest in snow to include larger circles of people with diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

Please contact us if you would like to offer any suggestions and feedback, or if you are interested in partnering with us in making the Community Snow Observations more inclusive.

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