By Kayla Zacharias
Kadidia Thiero is an education advocate, Principal Investigator of the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research (SOARS) program at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), and CO LSEN advisory group member.
Kadidia Thiero has long been committed to promoting diversity and dismantling racism. After graduating from Howard University, a historically black university and research institution, and Georgetown University, she worked at Howard for the NOAA Cooperative Science Center for Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology as the Outreach Administrator. Eventually she made her way to Colorado, where she now leads the SOARS® program at UCAR, a bridge program for undergraduate-to-graduate students that aims to support students who are from communities historically underrepresented in STEM.
CO LSEN is still a young organization, but Thiero has played a major role in the advisory group thus far. She was critical to the planning and realization of our September 2020 event: A Discussion on Institutional Racism in STEM. She was motivated to participate in the event because racial disparities and anti-black racism permeates every aspect of our society, including the sciences; geosciences in particular have an especially dismal record of diversity.
“I know many of the leaders in the anti-black and anti-racism movements in geosciences and sciences in general, so I thought perhaps we could elevate the situation on a national scale and still be Colorado-focused,” Thiero said. “Boulder is the focal point for atmospheric sciences in the U.S., so it was relevant to have this type of discussion here.”
Although there is plenty of work left to be done, Thiero left the event feeling hopeful, she said. For many who are committed to improving diversity in science, it’s comforting and motivating to know that there are other driven and caring people working to address the issue.
As for the low level of diversity in science today, this likely stems from the lack of diversity in faculties at universities across the country. Of all full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in 2018, only 6% were black – 3% women and 3% men. Increasing diversity in faculties across higher education is one place to start, but it is not the only solution.
“The problem isn’t just faculty – it’s also in the areas where students are being trained. In undergraduate matriculation, in graduate school, the diversity is lacking there – this translates into the field because many people are not accessing that training, or being retained in academia,” said Thiero. “Interest can be maintained and nurtured, but it also needs to be supported as you advance through your career path.”
The acronym JEDI (for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion) has gained a foothold in discussions around racial disparity and racism recently, but Thiero likes to add a “B” at the front for “belonging” (she attributes this to Brandon Jones, GEO Program Officer at the National Science Foundation). Anti-black racism starts at birth, and we need to normalize diversity in the structures that ultimately lead people to their career paths, she said.
If racism in the U.S. is to be dismantled, within science and beyond, the solution has to come from multiple areas. Because the issue is systemic, improving diversity in one area or field likely will not translate to every other facet of society. Many universities, companies and organizations have expressed their commitment to improving diversity within, but for real change to happen, they need to be held accountable.
“I can’t prescribe what that accountability measure should be, but that is something that should be intrinsic to the creation of these offices or policies that they want to implement. There has to be some way to measure, and to hold institutions accountable for saying they want to improve diversity,” Thiero said. “How? What does that look like? These are questions these institutions need to ask themselves, and also make the answers known – the public should know what metrics are in place, and how organizations and institutions are holding themselves accountable.”
Thank you, to Thiero, for all the work she’s done for CO-LSEN and beyond. Our organization looks forward to continuing our efforts raising awareness about systemic racism and improving equity in science.