Ann Arbor community flocks to the Diag for local March for Science

Saturday, April 22, 2017 - 5:26pm

Thousands of scientists, teachers and allies gathered in the Diag Saturday afternoon to take part in the March for Science, an event organized to celebrate science and to improve dialogue between the scientific community and the public.

After the high attendance for the Women’s March, the March for Science was organized similarly in response to President Donald J. Trump's adminstration. Many in the march argued the adminstration did not value science and research, citing the recent budget cuts and anti-climate change statements as evidence. 

According to the March for Science website, one of the goals of the march was to serve as “the first step of the global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments.” It explains protesters and scientists have recognized the need to “advocate for its role in informing the policies that shape our present and future.”

Ann Arbor was one of over 610 cities around the world that marched in solidarity with the main event in Washington D.C. The University of Michigan had a strong presence at the Ann Arbor march, where professors, researchers, graduate and undergraduate scientists participated, as well as at the Washington March.

University alum Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who helped expose the lead poisoning of children in Flint, was invited to be an honorary co-chair of the March For Science. Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a molecular biologist who helped develop the process of producing insulin, were also honorary co-chairs in D.C. The three headlined the activities that took place on the National Mall.

In Ann Arbor, the march began with an hour-long rally in the Diag, where marchers stood in front of Hatcher Graduate Library and listened to seven speakers, including state Representative Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) and University professors Drs. Monica Dus and Scott Barolo.

Rackham student Chiamaka Ukachukwu spoke to the crowd about her experience in the her lab studying biofilm formation in e. Coli and why she was marching for science. She emphasised the importance of working together and increasing strength through numbers and participation. She then read a spoken-word poem to the crowd referring to the need for inclusivity and equality, particularly of minority groups, within the scientific community.

“I look like a scientist because I am one,” Ukachukwu read.

She referenced Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951, but whose cells — extracted from her body without her consent — have been used to make critical advances in cancer research. She also referenced Katherine Johnson, a Black female physicist who is recognized for her vital contributions to NASA space missions.  

LSA senior Yiran Emily Liu, a researcher at Michigan Medicine's Comprehensive Cancer Center, discussed some of the injustices that science has enabled and also stressed the significant social responsibility that scientists have.

“I saw this (march) as a tremendous opportunity to not only defend science as an institution on authority but also to present some of the challenges and dark history,” Liu said in an interview after her speech.

Liu also commented on student involvement and said she hopes the students that were present at the march take the opportunity to interact and talk about science.

“I think that this is a great opportunity for University students to see the vast range of people that are showing up that are scientists or science supporters who might not necessarily be in academia or go to the University,” Liu said.  “I think something that could be improved about science is its accessibility and interaction with the entire community and I think this event is a perfect example of that.”

Barolo was the last speaker. He emphasized the importance of learning and encouraging one another in scientific fields.  

“We’re marching today for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “To me this march is for us — scientists and friends and allies of science. Let’s remember to take care of each other. Let’s remember our duty as public servants to teach and our duty to listen and learn from others. Let’s remember our humility in the face of our own ignorance. Lets remember that science is and should be for everyone, and let’s challenge each other to do better.”

The rally ended at 1 p.m after the final speech; people left the Diag and began on the march route. Marchers filled the streets as Ann Arbor police kept traffic off the roads including South University, State and Liberty Street.

Signs and chants were prominent as the crowd proceeded towards the Federal Building in downtown Ann Arbor. Popular chants included “This is what democracy looks like” and “What do we want? Evidence based science! When do we want it? After peer review!” The variety of signs included sayings such as, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not” and “Science not Silence.”

Peter Freddolino, an assistant professor of Biological Science and Computational Medicine, and Sarah Goldshlack, a teacher, were marching with their children. Freddolino cited a "strong current" against facts in public discourse as one motivation for their attendance.

“For the sake of our kids we want to show them what fact-based discussion looks like,” Freddolino said. “We want them to be aware of current issues,” Goldshlack added.

Public Health student Elizabeth Lusk was at the march with a group from her Biostatistics department. Lusk said climate change was one of the main reasons she attended.

“I’m here because I think climate change is a really important issue,” Lusk said. “I think it represents a huge danger to the planet and to everyone and I think it needs to be confronted.”

Lusk said the importance of public funding to the sciences was also one of her main concerns, as many of her peers and other students are funded by public grants.

“I think that when you see public funding to the sciences decreasing it makes graduate education inaccessible to people who aren’t already privileged and can’t pay for it on their own,” Lusk said. “I want higher education in the sciences, and elsewhere, to be open to everyone.”