Partner Highlight: The Lawrence Hall of Science Pauses for Racial Justice

Rena Dorph, Ph.D., Director; Frank Kusiak, NISE West Regional Coordinator; Kalie Sacco, MPA, Chief of Staff, Director's Office

The Lawrence logo

These are indeed difficult times. We have been challenged by a series of racist killings by police that once again have laid bare the systemic institutional racism that persists in the United States. These events have come at the same time we are already suffering from the stress, strain, and isolation of a worldwide pandemic. And, the same communities that are disproportionately experiencing the negative outcomes of the pandemic have been bearing the brunt of the police violence and resulting community outcry. 

The Lawrence Hall of Science is the University of California, Berkeley’s public science center. Much of our work in science education is motivated by our values of equity and social justice as well as our hope for a better future. Prior to recent events, we had already been working to examine and confront the insidious, oppressive, and destructive impact of institutional racism. We had already been working to change our organizational climate as well as to find opportunities for our work to dismantle the status quo. 

However, recent events led us to realize that we had yet to do enough. We recognized the need to take further and immediate action--to suspend business as usual, make an institutional statement against racism, and find time to continue our anti-racist work. 

On Monday June 8, the Lawrence’s staff took a “day of pause” from our work to make an institutional statement against racism and enable staff to take space and/or reflect as needed.  We followed that up by supporting those who participated in #ShutDownSTEM / #ShutDownAcademia on June 10th. During the Lawrence’s day of pause, we created online spaces to interact with each other, to post our feelings, and share resources.  

Using a combination of Zoom and Padlet, we created multiple avenues for dialogue and reflection including:

  • Affinity groups -- safe gathering places formed by people who share a common identity. We invited anyone to propose an affinity group and staff formed groups for people who identify as a person of color, white, and LGBTQIA2S+. Affinity spaces are safe spaces and allow members in the group to share feelings and experiences on racial injustice, inherent biases, and privilege without judgment.
  • Zoom forum hosted by our Director about racial justice was open to all staff to discuss with and/or listen to one another; during this forum we also discussed the need to take further steps to develop organizational commitments.
  • An ongoing, asynchronous sharing space using Padlet (a virtual bulletin board to post links and notes, draw, record video messages, and share other media). We used (and continue to use) this space to share our thoughts about the future, make personal commitments, share resources that have been helpful, share appreciation and gratitude for others, and any other feelings we wanted to share with colleagues. Each post can be commented on and “starred.” For example, the NISE Net’s page on racial justice was shared.  And, we shared everything from personal experiences, to experiences where we did not realize we used our privilege, to commenting on articles or videos that captured the struggle to make Black Lives Matter. We will continue to utilize this documentation to keep ourselves accountable in changing our culture to be more inclusive, address any inherent biases, and for many of us, watch our privilege.  

But sharing isn’t enough: The Lawrence Hall of Science is building on this renewed momentum to commit to continue and further organizational and communal action by: 

  • Prioritizing opportunities to engage in difficult conversations and reflection. 
  • Establishing a task force to re-write our organizational equity statement.
  • Designing new strategies for embodying anti-racist approaches within and across our STEM learning work.
  • Developing series of anti-racist organizational commitments including setting accountability metrics related to hiring and advancement.

These have been stressful times all around. The Lawrence Hall of Science is fortunate to have been in a position where we could commit time for reflection and dialogue. Our collective “day of pause” was enlightening and energizing for our community. We hope more institutions can find their own ways to pause, reflect, and commit to the deep work required to dismantle the structural, cultural and power dynamics that keep institutional racism alive within our organizations and throughout society.

A screenshot of the Lawrence’s Padlet.

​​​​