Christine Wilkinson is a conservation biologist and PhD candidate in the Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests include human-wildlife conflict, carnivore movement ecology, multidisciplinary mapping, and using participatory methods for more effective and inclusive conservation outcomes.
Kendall Calhoun (he/him) is a PhD Candidate in the Brashares Lab at UC Berkeley in the department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. He's gay and is a wildlife ecologist/global change biologist studying the effects of recent wildfires on wildlife communities.
How did Black Mammalogists Week begin?
Christine: Black Mammalogists Week was initially developed by myself, Rhiannon Kirton, and Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant. Though we were already interested in developing this project, the catalyst was that we had discovered that a National Geographic article had mentioned there was only one African-American female large carnivore biologist, yet we knew of several. We knew then that we needed to find a way to connect Black mammalogists (and aspiring mammalogists) to one another to build community, elevate each other, and create a platform for showing young Black mammalogists and wildlife ecologists that there are lots of role models there for them. After Rhiannon, Rae, and I brought some of our ideas off the ground (including starting collaborations with the American Society for Mammalogists, National Geographic Society, and Amy Poehler's Smart Girls), it was important to us to invite other Black mammalogists to join as co-organizers. That's how our amazing and incredibly dedicated team of 18 co-organizers and three artists was formed.
What has Black Mammalogists Week been involved with doing so far?
Kendall: Our initial, week-long event last September contained a variety of events hosted via several venues. We organized several social media takeovers throughout the week over both Twitter and Instagram with partners from National Geographic and @realscientists, which gave a spotlight to several early career Black mammalogists. This created an important opportunity to amplify and connect the voices of various Black mammalogists and also elevate their work. Additionally, we organized three separate webinar panels hosted by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and the Hunting, Trapping, and Conservation Working Group of the Wildlife Society that featured Black mammalogists from around the world talking about their research, their experiences being Black scientists, and answering questions from the audience. Black Mammalogists Week has also initiated a mentorship program that connects early career Black scientists interested in mammalogy with more senior scientists and a scholarship fund (BIPOC Scholars Fund) to support these early career scientists.
What do you want queer scientists to know about Black Mammalogists Week?
Kendall: Intersectionality and solidarity are two very important pieces in accomplishing the goals laid out by Black Mammalogists Week. Our week was designed to elevate and advocate for the voices of Black scientists who are often marginalized and under-recognized. In many ways, this mirrors some of the challenges and struggles of other marginalized and disenfranchised groups in STEM. Furthermore, many of our members belong to more than one of these groups, including myself. Recognizing intersectionality between these different identities becomes critical as we advocate for justice and change. Including intersectionality, and working toward solidarity by supporting other marginalized groups, is the best way we can work toward our collective goals to diversify STEM.
What’s next for Black Mammalogists Week?
Christine: We're continuing to try to reach our $60,000 endowment for a scholarship for Black and Indigenous scholars in mammalogy and wildlife ecology—we'll be setting this up through the American Society of Mammalogists early next year. We're also hoping to hold another themed week, similar to this year's event, next year. Another initiative we're setting up is a mentorship network, which we're hoping to roll out next year. We would like to keep finding new ways to elevate Black mammalogists and encourage inspiring young folks—please reach out to us (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you'd like to collaborate!
Has there been anything surprising that you’ve learned or experienced while doing this work?
Kendall: I’m relatively new to social media, so I was a little surprised by how long it can actually take to curate posts and design a “media takeover.” I had a lot of fun doing it, though! I was less so surprised, but very happy, to have Black mammalogists from around the world be so willing to share their time in our panels and other events to make the event a success. I’m also just so happy to have met so many other cool Black mammalogists and scientists with this event.
Anything else you think is important to talk about?
Christine: Black Mammalogists Week helped me significantly expand my community of Black mammalogists and wildlife ecologists, and I've made some lifelong friends. We've also been able to hear from numerous parents of BIPOC children that Black Mammalogists Week inspired and engaged their kids and their entire family, and helped their kids to see themselves studying wildlife in the future. This is what it's all about. :)