4/8/2019 0 Comments
Elizabeth Eckford. The photograph of her walking through a mob of hateful white people trying to keep her out of their school comes to mind. My struggle in the academy does not compare to that of Elizabeth Eckford, but this image evokes the common narrative of black students enduring hostility to enter a white academic space. That “colored woman living in a white world”  reflects back to me my experience as a black woman in the white-dominated, hostile, engineering academic space where my legitimacy as a scientist is continually challenged.
My first encounter with the politics of research involved the politics of the “valid” research question. Surviving in my PhD program became dependent upon me defining research questions that satisfied my desire to do environmental equity- and justice-focused research while being deemed “scholarly-enough” (read: novel-, rigorous-, and technical-enough) for environmental engineering by my professors. Throughout this process, I have carried the words of Dr. Carolyn Finney. In a speech given during my second year, she said, “What is your vision…it’s the commitment to that. Not commitment to the degree, not commitment to the dissertation, not commitment to someone else’s idea of who you need to be and what your work is supposed to look like. You get clear about what you are committed to.” Her praxis of “doing the work on your own terms” inspired me to remain committed to making space for interdisciplinary, environmental justice work in engineering. Three years later, it is Dr. Charisma Acey who is helping me develop my final dissertation chapter and serves as a committee member. The mentorship of these two black women faculty, both in outside departments, helped me navigate and broaden colonial notions of “valid, technical” science and persist in academia.
The technical validity of my work is recurrently interrogated until a chapter is accepted to a conference or peer-reviewed journal. Before I became aware of citational politics, I was made to understand that publication is equated with merit. It was when I came across a retweet of a Cite Black Women post about a year ago that I began to think of citation as a practice. In the sciences, we are encouraged to look at an author’s h-index, a metric based on number of papers and citations. The h-index is indicative of science’s false claim of apolitical knowledge production. Using this value to select article citations reproduces the exclusion of black scientific scholarship due to limited access to and visibility in science fields. Seeing the words “Cite Black Women” reified the need to seek, read, and cite black women in environmental engineering and related fields. Since publication and citation are the institutional metrics of legitimate scientific research, the practice of citing black women is critical for our collective survival in white-dominated, hostile, engineering academic spaces.
 Terrell, Mary Church (1940). A Colored Woman in a White World. GK Hall.
Regan F. Patterson is a PhD Candidate in Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation research focuses on the environmental justice and equity outcomes of diesel truck emission control regulations and truck routing policies in freight-impacted communities. In addition to research, she enjoys teaching and tutoring K-12 students, always finding ways to incorporate environmental themes and student experiences. Regan holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UCLA and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from UC Berkeley.