Field courses can be powerful tools that foster inclusivity and guide students towards becoming successful scientists. These experiences, however, can also be subject to inequity before the course starts with improper planning creating an additional risk of negative experiences. Field courses often require extra costs to the participant such as specialized equipment, the need to take time away from work, manage childcare, etc. resulting in limited enrollment by students with a low-income background. These barriers have resulted in low engagement from underrepresented minorities in ecology and evolution field courses, making up only 5.8% of student participants according to a study by the National Science Foundation (2015).
Spending time in the field to do research or take part in field courses places everyone in a more exposed position than in a regular classroom setting. Minority-identifying students might be additionally vulnerable in the field since this opens up situations where more practical activities are expected, such as boat trips, diving/snorkeling, hiking, and also through shared accommodation and dressing rooms. Lack of previous outdoor or swimming experience can result in a feeling of not belonging and result in underrepresented students not enrolling to the course. This sense of not belonging can be further accelerated by lack of role models if a diverse group of staff members are not present (gender, race, abledness, etc.).
Field courses therefore need to be well structured and planned, placing importance on inclusion of the whole student consortium. This can be sustained by, for example, hiring a diverse staff, having teachers and mentors travel with the group, through social activities such as meals together, group activities, and explicitly teaching and demonstrating potentially new activities or skills to all students, inclusive of those without prior experience (Zavaleta et al. 2020). Barriers to participation can be removed if courses aim for low costs and/or make stipends available to participants, through development of accessibility plans to make sure all students can join, by assessing, minimizing, and mitigating potential risks to individuals, and also by building in flexibility allowing students to manage personal commitments. (Zavaleta, E. S., Beltran, R. S., & Borker, A. L. (2020). How Field Courses Propel Inclusion and Collective Excellence. Trends in ecology & evolution, 35(11), 953-956.)
Below are a few links to selected resources that expand on specific issues regarding inequity related to field courses:
- How Field Courses Propel Inclusion and Collective Excellence, By Erika Zavaleta et. al. 2020. On removing barriers to equity in field courses to make them engines for inclusion, diversity, and collective excellence in ecology in evolution
- Safe fieldwork strategies for at-risk individuals, their supervisors and institutions by Amelia-Juliette Claire Demery & Monique Avery Pipkin 2020. Not all fieldworks face the same risks in the field, this article defines risk, uses examples to illustrate how at-risk identities have and continue to encounter conflict during field work, and describes the need and responsibility of researchers and their supervisors to identify and mitigate risks inherent to fieldwork. Strategies for handling risks, leveraging available resources, and how supervisors can support at-risk individuals.
- Birding While Black by J. Drew Lanham 2016. A first hand account of being Black while spending time in the field for hobbies, work, and school.
- Mental health in the field by Cedric Michael John & Saira Bano Khan 2018. On fostering good health in the field and how careful planning can support mental health and wellness of participants at all career stages.