In efforts to improve diversity, equity, inclusivity and justice in organizations, the phrase “authentic relationships” is a buzzed-about term. But how do you build authentic relationships with communities that have previously been excluded from science engagement?
The Museum of Science in Boston is trying to answer this question with Subspace, adult programming that centers conversations at the intersection of science and societal inequities. They are working to prioritize diversity and inclusivity through live streamed events, community partnerships and an intentional shift in internal focus.
Funded by Science Sandbox, Subspace has begun to host events addressing race and equity related to science. The first of these events was the live talk “Superior.” It featured Angela Saini, science journalist and author of the book Superior: The Return of Race Science and Dr. Osagie Obasogie, a professor of bioethics at the University of California, Berkeley, whose research focuses on race and bioethics. Their discussion dove into colonialism, eugenics and their modern repercussions.
“The discussion validated many things I knew or suspected,” one attendee commented. “It’s always good to hear it come out of somebody else’s mouth.”
The second event of the series was titled “Caste,” featuring Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and author of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson. Reaching over one thousand people live and almost two thousand total, “Caste” discussed the continuation of racially fueled socioeconomic class divisions within American society.
While the events have been widely attended and well-received, the museum knows that building authentic relationships goes far beyond hosting live events. Working on collaborations between different groups in the community is essential to broadening those relationships and expanding them further. To that end, the museum is working to build relationships with leaders and media in communities of color.
“For example, with El Mundo, the local Spanish newspaper, we have had a long-standing relationship where we share science related content with their audience,” says Tim Ritchie, president of the museum. “In addition, El Mundo presents unique opportunities to engage with the museum through our thought-provoking events.”
“[We’re] just really trying to create a really dynamic and diverse lineup so that every adult that would look at our lineup would see at least one thing they see themselves represented in,” says James Monroe, producer of adult programming at the Museum of Science.
Reaching out to different communities and engaging different audiences lies at the center of Monroe’s priorities. In order to successfully bring together academics, musicians, artists, drag performers and scientists, Monroe emphasized the importance of making collaborators feel welcome.
“We haven’t always been a resource to every single community in Boston, so it’s taken a lot of time, and a lot of necessary work to create authentic relationships,” Monroe adds. “We had to first establish ourselves as a safe, welcoming space for everyone.”
An important part of building this safe space is ensuring organizational priorities are in the right place. In the past, the need for ticket sales revenue, which made up a large part of the museum’s operating budget, drove programming. With the change of funding sources due to COVID, management was able to evaluate incentives in revenue and ensure their programming was driven by their mission instead.
“We have focused so much on driving people through the door and trying to basically get revenue out of them. And that puts the incentives in the wrong place with respect to mission,” says Ritchie.
Moving forward, the museum aspires to include a physical space for interdisciplinary collaborations located in the Boston Science Common, a community space for people to come together across industries and interests to solve problems and build new relationships in person.
“We exist to inspire lifelong love of science in everyone,” says Ritchie.
The Museum of Science, Boston joined the community of Science Sandbox awardees in October 2020. This article is part of a series on how Science Sandbox awardees are navigating the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.