For this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Jamie Coon and Nathan Alexander about a paper they published about safety and inclusion for queer ecologists.
Science Highlight: None this week
What unique barriers do LGBTQ+ folks face when it comes to ecology, and fieldwork in particular?
- Strain of identity disclosure
- Negative fieldwork experiences and career trajectories
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
Where you can find Nathan: Twitter
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Kayla Fratt 00:00
I’m just dropping in before this episode to let you know that there will be a final wrap up q&a episode all about our discrimination miniseries. Firstly, I’m kind of waiting for some more questions to roll in. So feel free to email us DM us on Facebook or Instagram or find me on Twitter if you’ve got any questions. We also have a huge backlog of really exciting episodes that we’re going to take advantage of while I work through some personal stuff. Barley has had some health issues. I am starting a PhD. I’m the maid of honor in a wedding. And we have some fieldwork coming up. So the final episode in our discrimination mini series will be coming out, we just need you all to send me some questions, and I need to get my life in order to record it. So thank you so much for your patience. And in the meantime, enjoy some of these very exciting backlog episodes that we have prepared for you. Bye.
Kayla Fratt 00:47
Hello and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast, where we’re positively obsessed with all things conservation detection dog join us each week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior, and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt, and I’m one of the cofounders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for land managers, researchers, agencies and NGOs.
Kayla Fratt 01:06
Today I’m here with Nathan Alexander and Jamie Coon to talk about a really exciting paper that they published earlier this year, all about safety and inclusion for queer ecologists, particularly when it comes to fieldwork. Because this entire podcast is going to be a science highlight. We don’t have a specific science highlight upfront, and we are just going to dive right in with introduction. So we’ll start with Nathan and then Jamie, tell us a little bit about who you are, where you’re from, what your work looks like right now and how you came together on this paper.
Nathan Alexander 01:41
Hi, I’m Nathan Alexander, he/him pronouns. I’m a PhD candidate at University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, currently researching predominantly species distribution modeling and genetics of gophers. I did my masters at Humboldt State and my Bachelor’s at Oregon State, although I’m originally from Southern Illinois. My career has been a lot of fieldwork early on before going back to higher education. And I met Jamie at University of Illinois.
Jamie Coon 02:14
So I’m Jamie, I use she or they pronouns. I’m an assistant professor at Earlham College in Indiana. I did my PhD work with Nathan at the University of Illinois and got my bachelor’s from Central Michigan University. But most of my research is on grasslands out in Iowa, where I study the relationships between people and nature with a special focus on grassland birds, and how we can support the conservation of that declining avian group. And Nathan and I met during grad school, but have continued on doing lots of really cool projects together after I graduated, and Nathan is soon to graduate. So I’m really excited to talk more about that today.
Kayla Fratt 02:59
Yeah, definitely. So why don’t we dive right into it with you know, what are some of the unique barriers that LGBTQ folks may face when it comes to ecology and fieldwork? You know, what, what even spurred I imagine that as part of what spurred the spirit of this paper forward for you both.
Nathan Alexander 03:21
Yeah. And so one of the things that spurred this paper was the realization that both of us had previous experiences in the field of both being unsafe or having to navigate personal identities in order to effectively retain employment and be accepted within these kind of close knit field work groups.
Jamie Coon 03:47
Both of us were at a place in our career where we had a certain level of job stability. And we wanted to ensure that there was this broader message to upcoming LGBTQ field workers, or those that might feel like they don’t fit in the standard mold of what a field worker looks like. And we really wanted to push against that narrative and create a document and a discourse around how there is inclusion. And there are opportunities, specifically for LGBTQ field workers.
Nathan Alexander 04:17
During my master’s, I actually had a student ask if they had to switch majors because they were queer. And there’s been several other instances of people not feeling like this is a welcoming field.
Jamie Coon 04:30
Similar to Nathan, a lot of my interest in writing this paper related to mentorship of students. Once I got my assistant professor job, I was really mentoring a lot of students. They’re going into the field, and they were having negative experiences due to their queer or trans identities. And I realized that a lot of the way that I had always shared information about safety in the field is by chatting with my queer and trans friends with Nathan, and we would share strategies with each other. And I realized and Nathan and I realized together that it would be useful to write all of it down and put it in the literature. Because not everyone has access to queer and trans mentorship, where they’re working.
Jamie Coon 05:13
And so we thought, if we could get this information out there, get it sizable, then we could get it out into the general knowledge and kind of take this conversation out of hidden corners and put it out in the open.
Kayla Fratt 05:27
Yeah, that, I mean, that is exactly where this how we came to find this paper, and why we’re all here today. So you know, there were a couple of keywords that came up for me as I was starting to read through this paper that maybe we can start out by exploring and defining and talking about how they’re really important for, for queer folks in the field. So the first one that came up for me was identity disclosure, would either of you feel comfortable defining what that is, and talking about how that may be a barrier for someone who’s trying to be a field ecologist, or, you know, succeeding as a field ecologist, but struggling and, you know, safety and inclusion wise?
Nathan Alexander 06:07
Sure, I can speak a little bit on that. So, with identity disclosure, one of the common discussions around LGBTQ identities is that it’s not something that’s immediately noticeable. And so it often relies on individuals to disclose if they are LGBTQ or not.
Nathan Alexander 06:25
And with this, there’s always a personal risk when and assessment when deciding when to disclose and when not to. And so there have been instances when I’ve been on field crews where I have been out, I’ve talked about experiences, I’ve gone to prides and named neighboring cities, with field crew members. But there’s also been experiences where I have not been out to a field crew, where, due to the kind of tone or the discourse that I’m observing around me, I choose that it’s safer for me to not be out. And well, I tend to be able to navigate that as a sis male, I’m, it’s, it’s more difficult to hide identities or have ownership over your own identity if it’s more visibly present. And so there’s increased safety risks depending on how somebody presents, or how somebody lives their life.
Jamie Coon 07:24
For me, I think one thing I have to keep in mind as a mentor of students, and Nathan has talked a lot with me about this and helped me understand that identity disclosure can be variable, even within like a given time period. So I may have a student or I may decide myself to be out within my field team, but within the community contexts, that may not be as safe to be out. So when I’m doing extremely rural field work, I do not want my field team to be using they/them pronouns for me. But within my team, that’s totally acceptable. And that risk really ramps up if you are a person who belongs to identity groups that are more at risk, particularly trans individuals and people of color.
Jamie Coon 08:11
And so there can be a lot of risk and decision making that you have to do. And your decisions may also be limited by society. So identity disclosure is really complicated. And it’s something that we believe all fieldwork teams need to talk about and be on the same page about just a quick thing as well, to kind of follow up with that is I think it’s also important that if you’re leading a field crew or managing the field crew, you don’t come from a place with the assumption that your crew is going to disclose their identities to you and you need to create a system that will protect them, regardless of that disclosure.
Kayla Fratt 08:48
Yeah, Nathan, I’m really glad you brought that back in. Because I think it is so important to not just identify these things, but you know, let people know what they can do if, if they’re in a leadership or coworker position, even if they’re not, you know, directly a member of one of these groups. And I know, you know, I think I’ve talked about this previously on the podcast. But as far as identity disclosure goes, I’ve, you know, we’ve had to in several different international experiences in particular, you know, have minor conversations within teams that I’m part of as far as how to talk about someone’s, you know, boyfriend or girlfriend in either gender neutral language, or if actually misgendering, the person’s partner is the safest thing to do, particularly in the context of international fieldwork. But that also can certainly go factor staying within the US, depending on your situation, as you mentioned there, Jamie.
Kayla Fratt 09:46
So one of the next things that I had kind of highlighted that something that we can define and pick apart right away is kind of cis- and heteronormativity and how that may relate to the experience of queer folks in the field of ecology. So what, what does cis-, and heteronormativity have to do with ecology and fieldwork.
Nathan Alexander 10:09
So this is one of the benefits of this paper as well where we brought in outside experts. So in addition to us who are field ecologists on the paper, we also have experts in psychology and education, and black queer literature. So with sis heteronormativity. The concept is essentially that social expectations and social obligations that are created through these communities that prioritize non LGBTQ people create additional stressors and additional barriers for LGBTQ people. And importantly, these tend to be exacerbated in rural areas where there’s more tight knit communities. If you’re doing fieldwork, you’re there briefly or just for a summer. And with this kind of increased social pressure to conform to heteronormative, or straight expectations, there can be added mental health burdens, lack of community for LGBTQ people.
Nathan Alexander 11:21
And, you know, growing up in Southern Illinois, even though it was like two hours, two and a half hours away, it was very common for people within the LGBTQ community down in Southern Illinois to drive to St. Louis for an evening, or something like that, just to be able to be around other queer people.
Jamie Coon 11:43
Sorry, Nathan. So for me, cis-/heteronormativity, or the expectation that you are heterosexual or cisgender, was had a really strong impact on me because I generally, if you look from the outside conform to expectations. And for me, it was painful, when people would make assumptions about my identity based on how I looked or how I acted, or the apparent gender of my partner. And that painfulness, is comes from a feeling of invisibility, and not being seen. And while it’s a privilege to be able to not disclose my identity, if I don’t want to, there’s also cost to that feelings up to those feelings of erasure that come with that. And on field teams, you may think, okay, you’re in a work environment, how do identities come into this, but honestly, heteronormativity and sis normativity is everywhere. And it comes up more often than you might think, especially if you are also living with your field team, as I do with my field team every summer.
Jamie Coon 12:50
And so that we shouldn’t be making assumptions about everyone’s gender and sexuality. We should be creating environments where everyone feels safe to be themselves should they choose to, and combating that eraser means talking about it. And so that’s one reason why Nathan and I wrote this papers, we wanted to kind of hit back against some of that erasure and invisibility that happens in a lot of scientific environments.
Kayla Fratt 13:21
Yeah, so then how, you know how can having these potentially negative experiences in the field affect a young or early career ecologists, career trajectory, or, you know whether or not they even choose to stay in this field. And I don’t know if either of you feel comfortable or at Liberty sharing any specific stories or examples to help highlight this for us.
Nathan Alexander 13:47
I mean, both Jamie and I stayed in the field, I have heard stories of people leaving the field or experiencing negative interactions to the point where they change how they approach field work. One memory, or one instance, coming up to my mind is a person doing work in a rural area and being threatened. Definitely, in my younger years, when I was doing some of this work, and like one of my field, first field Jobs was working with scat detection dogs down in Belize, prior to their inclusion of LGBTQ rights, where it was still illegal to be a gay man.
Nathan Alexander 14:32
And well, within my ability, I was able to identify how to exist in that situation without any ire or hardship. There is this constant question of am I going to be protected? When I do this work, and especially as we’re seeing within the United States and within the UK, increased legislation that is prohibiting access to gender affirming care, prohibiting LGBTQ rights in general, there’s going to be more of these hardships where we are having to decide, are we comfortable sacrificing our rights to work in this environment. And if we’re not, or if we can’t be, then we’re inevitably going to lose people from the field, that would be excellent contributions.
Jamie Coon 15:28
And so for me, one thing that I like to look to is research and literature on this, which helps me contextualize personal experiences. And there’s a really growing area of literature that shows that one negative experience in fieldwork or in lab work can cause students to leave the field of ecology. And if we have unwelcoming environments, you have to really find ways to survive, that can have detrimental impacts on mental health and on physical health as well. And you can find community, there are strategies to get through, but no one should have to go through that.
Jamie Coon 16:11
And so I really am concerned about these negative fieldwork experiences that queer and trans students are having out there that I have never probably even heard of, but are excluding folks from the field. Some of my students have had negative experiences. And one thing that I noticed is that having someone that they can come talk to, and community can help folks be resilient to some of those stressors. But those feelings of isolation of loneliness, lack of community can really take a toll and can serve to exclude folks from the field.
Kayla Fratt 16:46
So I think with all of that, you know, I think we can all understand and especially thinking back to our interview with Cate, about why we want increased diversity and what that can do for conservation for ecology for us as organizations.
Kayla Fratt 17:01
Maybe one of the other things that I think is really easy to miss, if you have not had the lived experience of being a queer person, are some of the social and cultural barriers that negatively impact LGBTQ folks. So you know, maybe if we can go through a quick rundown and highlighting any that may be particularly relevant to ecology, that would be another good place to go.
Nathan Alexander 17:23
So one of the a lot of the issues that LGBTQ people face in the field include structures around safety and accountability. So with a lot of field procedures and safety plans, there needs to be explicit accounting for LGBTQ inclusion within these were particularly some of the tangible items that are obstacles that LGBTQ people can face is housing, where often field work, you have a default of gender segregated housing. However, individuals should be allowed to choose their sleeping arrangements and kind of the the go to have the gender segregated housing is not particularly an effective way for inclusion. bathroom access is a common one as well, especially as we’re seeing an increased anti trans legislature. However, bathroom stops and how people can use the restroom while doing fieldwork should be incorporated, where it should be very evident to people doing the fieldwork, that there will be bathroom access at these locations. If not, here’s how you can use the restroom in the field. One of my projects, we were working in rural Illinois, and even for that, I and one of the other co authors would kind of have a buddy system where if they were using the restroom, I would kind of make sure nobody else was entering it.
Nathan Alexander 18:59
And then one of the common things and this is just a general note, but a lot of fieldwork is very hierarchical and power dynamics where there’s a crew lead. And then there’s a PI. And that creates an individual where, you know, they have access to the staff, the and the technicians, they have access to the reporting, and they have access to essentially kind of managing the field site. And this can create issues if that person doing all that management winds up being problematic.
Nathan Alexander 19:37
And so we recommend a more of a diffuse crew lead structure where you can have co crew leads, I’ve been a co crew lead before and you have people who manage different aspects of safety, where the person with the spot or with the radio to contact outside of the field site is different than the person with like the truck keys or things like that.
Jamie Coon 20:00
When I think about socio-cultural barriers, one of the main ones is cis-/heteronormativity. And how that can influence safety in the field is that if you diverge in any way from cis-/heteronormative expectations, you’re at a higher risk for victimization and harassment in the field. And a lot of literature has shown that to be true for LGBTQ folks in fieldwork.
Jamie Coon 20:24
So it’s really important that you have a robust safety plan as Nathan mentioned, and you should be proactive in your safety plans. So not waiting for issues to come up. But rather, planning as much as you can in advance to make your team inclusive and safe. We recommend radio contact, working in pairs, being aware of hate symbols around you, as a queer person, as all queer people are very aware when you see a confederate flag or some other symbology, maybe related to Nazis, you are in a less safe environment. And so having a plan for what you do in places where you might be less safe, where there’s hate some symbols, making sure you can stay in contact, working in pairs, and having a really clearly defined safety plan so that you can figure out what to do in advance and queer people on a team don’t have to invent all the solutions for themselves. And into that plan should also go options for housing and bathrooms, as well as thinking about storage of medication.
Jamie Coon 21:30
And that way, if you provide those plans in advance to your team, everyone can review it and can identify whether there are any gaps for accessibility. And this is good for queer folks, people of color people with disabilities. So these sorts of things aren’t just for LGBTQ folks, they just make an overall safer team environment in the field.
Kayla Fratt 21:54
Yeah, and I think that’s one of the things that often strikes me when I’m reading papers like this one, or you know, other suggestions is reading through this and thinking, gosh, these are all just such good ideas for so many reasons. And I know, it’s one of the things that we’ve struggled with, kind of organizationally here at K9Conservationists is, because we’re often in like a subcontractor model. Sometimes we’re not being provided with these things, or we asked for them, and they don’t exist yet on organizational levels. And we, it can be really challenging when you feel like you don’t necessarily have the power to have something like this created for you.
Kayla Fratt 22:37
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Kayla Fratt 23:12
So maybe with that we can pivot a little bit into we’ve already been talking a little bit about some of the things that can be done to help support LGBTQ folks in the field. But why don’t we start out kind of going through some of the intimate institutional fields or policies that either we haven’t talked about yet, or we want to revisit and expand upon? And then we’ll move through fieldwork and scientist recommendations as well.
Nathan Alexander 23:36
Yeah, I think that one of the things that really, one of the things that I think that should also be emphasized from kind of a structural stance is that there should be inclusion of when it’s okay for a field technician to leave a site.
Nathan Alexander 23:53
As Jamie was talking about hate symbols, being present on sites or there’s a real issue of safety in order to get the data. It’s important for the managers or the crew leads to prioritize the technicians and the workers over the data. And I remember being on a few cruise where the data was the most important thing, whatever you had to do to get the data. You should, however, having now been on the backside and published a few data papers, and done research, it’s real easy to account for missing data, and nobody should be at risk for that. That’s that’s probably the main thing that I think that I would want to re highlight.
Jamie Coon 24:45
Another thing to highlight about ways that institutions can help in situations like this, in addition to the things we’ve already mentioned, is financial and paperwork support. So when we think about LGBTQ folks, what a lot of people don’t realize is there are a lot of societal barriers that are causing a barrier to LGBTQ people and feel the ecology before you even get to school. So there’s increased family disowned meant homelessness, there might be limited access to medical care. All of this can make it more difficult to get into the field of ecology, which often includes unpaid internships.
Jamie Coon 25:25
So one thing that institutions can do is provide financial support allow grant funding to be used to purchase field equipment, have scholarships available. In addition, there may be complications, especially with international travel, but often with domestic travel, relating to documents and prescription transfer. I know for me, I have a prescription that needs to be transferred every summer and the local pharmacy makes it very difficult. If someone is on some sort of hormone therapy, making sure you have a plan to get that prescription transferred and institutional support for that can be very helpful. Especially if your name does not match any of your documents, then having institutional support for travel internationally can be really helpful navigating that as a lot of work. And having someone whose expertise is there to help you do that is something that institutions can do to help reduce the impact of some of these structural barriers.
Kayla Fratt 26:29
Yeah, absolutely. And I can’t, I struggled to imagine exactly how big of a headache that must be. I’ve been doing a lot of Overland border crossings lately. And you know, the paperwork for my vehicle is complicated enough, even when everything does match up. And I actually this, I was originally denied my visa to Kenya when we were when we were going there to help out with the Action for Cheetahs and Kenya because I had somehow swapped my first name and middle name on one of my pieces of paperwork for a visa and I again, that must be so challenging. Are there any? Are there any programs or resources or anything like that, that people can look at for grant funding or where to actually get that sort of expertise.
Jamie Coon 27:17
I have actually seen a few calls for scholarships or small grants from organizations that were specific to early career LGBTQ plus, folks. So you really just need to keep an eye on organizations. Like if you’re involved like I am with bird research, sometimes there are early career LGBTQ grants from ornithological societies. But I think that institutions should allow grant funding to be used to purchase equipment, like boots, brain pants, whatever is useful for the field work that you’re in, to generally reduce money as a barrier to field work, which helps lots of different groups. So that’s something that institutions should allow, and sometimes can be difficult to make that happen. And mentors can advocate for that. But otherwise, keep an eye on organizations relevant to your field of study and organizations, you should start offering these types of scholarships.
Nathan Alexander 28:12
Yeah, I think I recently saw one through the Wildlife Society for field equipment, or field clothes that are appropriate. And trying to find these sources of funding can be difficult. And our general recommendation is that this funding should be built into grant applications as like personnel costs, equipment, expenditures, hiring, finances, all of this can be itemized in different ways on grants. But also for identifying the scholarships, or the available funds through different societies. There’s out in the field with the Wildlife Society, there’s the Rainbow lorikeets, with the I believe American Ornithological Society. And there’s a lot of these societies are starting to increase funds and inclusion for minoritized people and including LGBTQ people.
Jamie Coon 29:18
Another great organization is the trans and gender nonconforming fieldwork Alliance. So there’s lots more organizations coming online, and that can be a great place to exchange information and receive notes about various scholarships that are available, and hopefully these organizations can develop funding to be able to offer support to LGBTQ folks in the field.
Kayla Fratt 29:45
Yeah, well, that’s excellent. We’ll be sure to kind of draw those up and drop the links into the show notes. So anyone who’s listening who is interested can have a place to go and check and look for due dates and what’s required and what can be covered.
Kayla Fratt 29:59
Okay, so then on the institutional level, just looking at one of the graphics from your article, then we’ve got require fieldwork, safety and procedure plans provide adequate and Inclusive Housing Options, communicate and plan bathroom access, manage safety, provide financial and other resources. And then finally, provider create support and paperwork.
Kayla Fratt 30:17
So then if you’re going down to more of the field, work supervisory support level, what are some of the things that as a potential supervisor, or CO supervisor, one can be doing to help promote safety and inclusion in the field?
Nathan Alexander 30:29
One of the main things is being actively participating in this and keeping up to date with the literature. So as these papers are coming out, I just saw one recently, specifically for trans and gender non conforming people doing field work, as well. And there’s some common throughs for all of these papers. But if you’re staying abreast of the literature, it can help inform how you are creating your safety plans.
Nathan Alexander 30:56
And it’s important to communicate those safety plans in a in an inclusive way to your field team. And there’s a lot of ways to kind of indicate that you’re open to inclusion and diversity, as well, that can help kind of build these systems of trust, where if you have a technician who is concerned about coming forward, they can talk to you and confide in you if there is an issue, or ask for clarification, if something in the safety plan is not addressing their needs.
Jamie Coon 31:33
Another way to think about it as a mentor, Nathan talked about advocating for structural changes and being active in thinking about keeping yourself up to date, this information is out there, we’re not the only paper that is written about this, there are blog posts. So it’s kind of the responsibility of the mentors to be looking into these things. But we should think about things in a way that moves from individuals on up. So if you have an individual on your team that uses they/them pronouns, you should be using correct pronouns. That’s kind of the base level, everyone should be making sure. And as a mentor, you can make sure other people are using correct pronouns for individuals.
Jamie Coon 32:13
But your advocacy absolutely should not stop there. My institution recently got trans inclusive health care added to our health care plan. So this is something that’s a structural change that increases accessibility of our institution to trans folks. And so we can use correct pronouns, we can also advocate for health care, these things should not be mutually excuse exclusive, and it’s just the bare minimum to be using correct pronouns.
Jamie Coon 32:41
Another thing that we recommend for mentors, which is complicated, is if mentors are belonging to the LGBTQ plus community, you might consider disclosing identities. It’s a very personal decision. And it’s related to privilege and safety. But increased visibility in supervisors can allow us to serve as role models, and trainees may be more comfortable coming to discuss safety with someone who they know is LGBTQ plus, I know both Nathan and myself, being more out in certain work environments, has led a lot of folks coming to talk to us about any issues they were having or strategies that we might have to share. And even though it’s a situation that is complicated, if you’re safe to do so there can be a lot of benefits for your students.
Kayla Fratt 33:32
Yeah, definitely. And one of the things that I was reading about on the paper that I think this was one of the sections that I felt I learned the most was also talking about cyber security. So is there anything that we would like to touch on there? Because again, this was this was the part that I think was newest for me.
Nathan Alexander 33:49
Yeah, I can talk about that. And this is both a, this is a complex section as well, because especially from a supervisor standpoint, standpoint, it’s important to be aware of this, but also, your crew is most likely adults, they can manage themselves. And you don’t want to overstep some of that, but with cybersecurity.
Nathan Alexander 34:16
This is particularly, we were particularly focusing on dating apps, including apps like Grindr, scruff Tinder, where there’s this location based algorithm to connect you with people have romantic or dating or friend interest.
Nathan Alexander 34:37
And especially as field technicians are often in one area for three months, three to six months, and then they leave the area. Those apps can be like, really useful for identifying local community and local support structures and getting to meet new people. However, at the same time, you’re in a new environment, depending on the social climate, or depending on the legislative climate, there are risks with using these apps as well. So, you know, one, one thing that we kind of emphasize is that it’s important to have kind of an important check in or know when staff or technicians are leaving field sites, and when to expect people back.
Nathan Alexander 35:26
And later on in the paper, we do talk about how to engage in these apps in a safe way for technicians. And it’s a balance between that the issue of being isolated, not having community, feeling alone, and physical safety, where there are instances where people or governments use these apps for entrapment, or they use these apps maliciously. So it’s a hard conversation, but it’s also how do we ensure people are making connections, people are being safe? And from a supervisor standpoint, how are you setting up your system to ensure that people can do what they want as an adult, while still being safe on site, and safe for work.
Jamie Coon 36:24
Another aspect of cybersecurity could be social media, increasingly, institutions are using, at least for me, using public facing blogs, Twitter posts, TikTok, to promote the work we’re doing. But not everyone may be out to their friends and family back home, even if they’re out on the field team. So it’s really important to have consent and permission before posting about someone and making sure that you have their permission to put them out there as a part of the field team in any public facing social media presence.
Kayla Fratt 37:00
Yeah, definitely. I know, you know, just talking about the dating app side. That reminds me a lot of, you know what I do as a young woman on dating apps at field sites, but understanding kind of the different level of risk and being aware that I think people might more instinctively want to do those things to help support maybe young women on their field teams. But understanding that, you know, visible identity is not necessarily the most important thing for thinking about these, these safety tactics, and you still would want to be checking in with any other field members. And yeah, figuring out how to balance privacy on letting someone be an adult, while also, you know, planning for safety and supporting that side of things as well. Or anything else on the fieldworks supervisor side.
Jamie Coon 37:54
One thing that I do, and Nathan helped me put this together is I have a document that I just called fieldwork, inclusivity resources that has links to all those organizations we talked about, I link to specific blog posts or papers about being trans and queer. In the field, I link to resources about being a person of color in the field, about disability, I have a section on menstruation and fieldwork.
Jamie Coon 38:18
And what I do is I provide this document to everyone we should as you just said, we should not be making assumptions about who needs this information. Because we may not know who’s menstruating on our team. If I only pre-approach people who I thought were women and provided menstruation information, then that is not going to be supporting all people on my field team necessarily. So I provide that document to everyone and make sure people know that I’m there to answer questions if they want, but not everyone is comfortable with that. So just having a resource you can provide for folks to read and providing it to everyone, regardless of what you perceive their identities to be, can be really helpful as well.
Kayla Fratt 38:57
Yeah. Alright, so then to recap here we’ve got for fieldwork, supervisors get educated on LGBTQ plus inclusion and fieldwork to be vocal and advocacy, three, build a trust and rapport, for be supportive of variable identity, disclosure, five, be aware of cybersecurity risks, and six, if you yourself are LGBTQ plus consider disclosing your identity. So kind of last up here before we get to talk about each of your kind of ecology side pillar would be the field scientists recommendations. So what are some recommendations put forward in this paper for for the scientists themselves?
Nathan Alexander 39:39
One of the things we really wanted to do with this paper and it’s something that we hadn’t seen before was we wanted to talk specifically to LGBTQ field, ecologists or scientists. You know, it’s great to write a paper about these things should change from a structural and supervisory standpoint, but it’s also really important for us to be giving resources and support to LGBTQ people that might be starting off in the field, or might be trying to figure out how to navigate this field.
Nathan Alexander 40:12
And so a lot of the times, especially within the recent years, there’s been a lot of pressure to kind of disclose. And that’s going away a bit with some of the current legislation and political climate. But there was an era where there was kind of this, if you’re queer, you should be out, you should be proud, you should tell everyone. And that creates a lot of personal pressure on a person if they are not feeling safe or affirmed and a space. And we kind of wanted to give permission for people to decide when and where and how they disclose their identities. It’s their decision. And they it’s not a requirement to be who you are, you don’t have to be vocal about who you are, if you are LGBTQ, you’re still LGBTQ, if you’re quiet about it.
Nathan Alexander 41:05
We wanted people to prioritize their safety. So, you know, as I mentioned earlier about the data collection, if you’re not feeling safe in an environment, communicate it. And you can leave when you need to prioritize your own safety, above data, before other perceived requirements of the job, your safety is a priority. And one of the ones that actually people resonated a lot with was to bring something symbolic of your identity. And so I did this a lot when I was doing the field work circuit, where I had this old battered copy of Picture of Dorian Gray that still on my bookshelf held together by duct tape. But it was this connection to a queer author about a queer story.
Nathan Alexander 42:01
And even on the field jobs where I wasn’t out, I had this kind of physical representation of this connection to my community, and the ownership of I’m part of that community. And, you know, the community is still there, even if I am currently isolated, and it’s there waiting for me when I returned from the field job.
Jamie Coon 42:25
I’ve had a lot of students ever since we published this paper that have specifically mentioned that that one piece of advice that Nathan put in the paper really helped them when they were going out and doing their first field jobs. And so I think it may seem like a small thing. But Nathan, after he mentioned it, I started thinking about what I’ve done in the past. And what I’ve been doing lately is I paint my nails when I’m in the field, it’s not the most practical thing necessarily, but there’s something for me that I look at that that feels symbolic to me of my queer identity. And I can always just looked down and remember that connection to both history and present queer community. And you know, reminding that we’ve always been here, we will always be here despite any difficulties we might face.
Jamie Coon 43:11
So we don’t necessarily even mean like bringing a rainbow flag, although people can certainly do that if they feel safe, but a personal a personal symbol, something else that we bring up in the paper is being saved from environmental and health safety risks.
Jamie Coon 43:25
And one of the specific things to think about are binders. So a lot of folks were binders or compression on their chests. And you have to be really careful in hot environments or during strenuous activities, making sure that you’re binding safely. And it’s something that maybe people on their first field job may not realize. And so it’s really like we can’t make decisions for other people, that’s important. But you need to make sure that you’re not going to cause an adverse health impact in extreme weather. So you need to balance gender affirming garments, like binders with your safety in those environments.
Nathan Alexander 44:04
And the last thing that we kind of tend to recommend is specifically around sexual harassment and sexual assault reporting. And a lot of these reporting mechanisms, you lose autonomy once you report and it triggers a system that you might lose control of. And so it’s being aware of those systems and knowing what might happen if you disclose and being prepared for that if you are sexually harassed, or assaulted, and choose to disclose it.
Nathan Alexander 44:44
This, I was a resident assistant during my undergraduate and this was something that was very important for our students, because as soon as they would inform one of us that they had been sexually assaulted, we would have to report it and would trigger this event that they no longer had any autonomy over. So that’s just something that people should consider and consider how to navigate that as well.
Jamie Coon 45:12
One thing that Nathan has brought up with me in the past that I think is really astute is sometimes in these situations, you’re put in a context where you may need to out someone in order to report and that can put the person who’s reporting in a bind, that just doesn’t feel very comfortable. And we just prioritize folks to take care of themselves, and make sure that you’re prioritizing your own safety, because that you can never go wrong with prioritizing your own safety.
Kayla Fratt 45:45
Yeah, that sounds like an extraordinarily challenging situation. And yeah, unfortunately, a lot of levels. I’m glad that you brought up as well, you know, the affirming and weather appropriate care in particular, you know, that wasn’t one that I had heard, I had thought out or heard of before, you know, particularly when it comes to things like binders and thinking about just the the potential extreme weather that we’re often exposed to in the field. And I’m sure that’s not the only affirming article of clothing that could be related to that. And maybe there are also situations where extreme cold could be a factor as well. So is there anything else on the field scientist side that we should touch on?
Jamie Coon 46:25
I just think it’s really important. So we talk a lot about barriers, structural, and socio-cultural barriers, and how we can overcome them. But one thing I want to highlight is also thinking about queer joy and queer joy in the field. I always like I was talking with Nathan very recently about there’s something about being out in the field that’s very grounding for individuals who love field work. There’s nothing more joyful for me than being out in the middle of the field, searching for bird nests, and not having to worry about what other people think about my identity. And I’m just being myself.
Jamie Coon 47:02
And we think that it’s super important to make these amazing, life changing joyous jobs available to everybody and inclusive to LGBTQ folks. Because there’s something really incredible about being in touch with who you are, and being out in nature. And so highlighting the importance of queer joy and seeking queer joy in the field and making that available to everyone is something that we think is really important.
Kayla Fratt 47:28
Yeah, yeah. That’s a great, great final reminder. And just to recap for everyone, for again, and I’m basically reading this straight out of your paper, where the graphics, you’ve got a nice little graphic going through all of these recommendations.
Kayla Fratt 47:42
So for the field scientists themselves, you we’ve got one, it’s okay to selectively disclose to be safe from human risks, research and make a plan. Three, choose clothing that is both affirming and weather appropriate for bring something symbolic of your identity to stay connected. Five, be cautious of safety risks when using online dating apps, six, connect to local LGBTQ plus communities seven engage with LGBTQ plus fieldwork offer organizations and eight V knowledge about reporting mechanisms.
Kayla Fratt 48:14
So unless there’s anything else to circle back to within this paper, I think now I’d love to round out talking a little bit about Nathan, you are finishing up your field, your PhD and I would love to hear about, you know what landscape genetics are what you’re looking at, I think that’s going to be really interesting to our conservation dog, folks. And then Jamie telling us a little bit about your habitat restoration work and tell us more about these grasslands you’re working on but we’ll start with Nathan.
Nathan Alexander 48:39
Sure. So outside of all of the LGBTQ advocacy and things like that I am a field ecologist. So my master’s was on landscape genetics of giant kangaroo rats out in California, where we were using genetic samples from small mammals trapped to determine what different landscapes either impeded or assisted with their movement between populations.
Nathan Alexander 49:11
I know that there have been scat, dog or conservation dog applications of this especially in helping find scat where we can get DNA from and identify genetic similarities between individuals. My friend, Aleta has also done this with African elephants and taken genetics from scat. So, you know, it’s sometimes a little less glamorous, but I imagine it’s work that your audience will be familiar with. But yeah, it’s really cool.
Nathan Alexander 49:47
Currently, I’ve also been doing species distribution modeling for gophers, looking at how their habitats have changed since the 1950s. To now did agricultural development and trying to figure out gene flow and population genetic structure of those guys.
Kayla Fratt 50:08
Very interesting. Are there any good places that people can go to learn more about either your work specifically within the landscape, genetic world? Or just are there any organizations that tend to do a lot of that sort of work if people are interested in learning more?
Nathan Alexander 50:24
Yeah, a lot of the work for landscape genetics, falls under the International Association of landscape ecology, and I’m a member of the North American chapter. But there’s actually a graduate course that happens every two years or so called the DGS. Course Based out of University of Idaho, which is a landscape genetics course. And it’s a great rundown. It’s online, it’s virtual. And they have a lot of experts from all over the world. Excellent.
Kayla Fratt 50:53
So Jamie, tell us a little bit about your work. Sounds like a lot of time wandering around the prairie looking for bird nests, which sounds like a lovely time. So what is what’s some of the goals? Some of the goals of that research?
Jamie Coon 51:04
Absolutely. So I’ve been doing this research since 2014. When I started my PhD and I have not been able to stop I’ve continued on with the same research. Now that I have this assistant professor position and I get to bring my own students out into the field. We are looking at restoration of grasslands.
Jamie Coon 51:21
I don’t know if folks know this, but in North America, we’ve lost about 90% of our Tallgrass prairies to habitat loss, mostly conversion to row crops. In some states like Illinois, 99% of tall grass prairies have been lost to row crops. Unfortunately, for the grasslands that we have left, they’re being degraded by invasive species coming in, and through overgrazing by cattle, which really reduces habitat quality for birds. And given that we’re losing all this habitat and habitat we have left has a lot of pressure on it. It’s not surprising to know that grassland birds are the fastest declining avian group in North America, they are doing very, very poorly.
Jamie Coon 52:06
There was a paper in 2019 that came out and said, this group of birds is doing the worst of all birds in North America. And so in my research, we’re really thinking about how can we help these grassland birds coexist with the land uses that exists exist on the landscape, we’ve looked a lot at the impact of invasive species and invasive species removal on birds. We’ve interviewed and surveyed landowners to learn about their attitudes towards birds, and also their willingness to undertake habitat restoration. We have found through our research, that restoration of native grasses and forbs benefits grassland birds in terms of both their abundance and their reproduction. And so there is a lot of promise to improve the habitat quality in the few grasslands we have left.
Jamie Coon 52:56
Of course, we also need to be putting prairies back on the landscape. And so it’s really important to not lose the few grasslands we have left, but we also need to be restoring and adding them back. grassland birds are so adorable, I love watching their behavior and tracking them to their nests, we film them at their nest to learn more about their provisioning behaviors and their other parental care behaviors. And weeds. I spent a lot of time just in the field watching birds. And many times I have been out there looking for a nest and thinking I bet a dog would be able to lead me right to this bird nest. And so I can see some really useful applications of conservation dogs in research where you have these bird nests that are incredibly challenging to find. And that would be awesome to experience.
Kayla Fratt 53:50
Yeah, I mean, I hope so. And I wish so but I think there’s actually been a little bit of looking into conservation dogs, in particular with these ground nesting birds, and so many of them seem to have such excellent olfactory camouflage that it is one of the areas that dogs seem to really, really struggle. I’ve actually had it happen when I’m out on wind farms.
Kayla Fratt 54:12
And I’ve done quite a bit of work on one specific wind farm up in northeastern Nebraska, that I have found the same bird nest at the same turbine several weeks in a row, or multiple bird nests in a day and my dogs have shown absolutely no change of behavior or recognition. Even with pretty decent sized nestlings in, in the nest. And obviously my dogs aren’t specifically trained for it, but they do tend to show interest in in living things when they find them, because they are dogs.
Kayla Fratt 54:45
So I mean, it’s one of those things. Let me know if you get some grant money and we want to explore it, but it does seem like it’s been it’s been challenging in the past for animals that are highly evolved to have olfactory camouflage in particular.
Jamie Coon 54:59
Yeah, and these, these nests are so hard to find, we will take a GPS point of the nest market with flagging come back to the same spot and still sometimes struggle to relocate them. We even with all of that information, and I mean, we have a Jeep GPS point that is accurate to the half meter. And so these are very difficult to find nests. I like a challenge. And I like the high when you find a nest after you’ve been working really, really hard to find it.
Jamie Coon 55:28
But it is like makes it a challenge to study these species. I mean, when you don’t get high enough sample sizes, you can’t draw any conclusions as to how your restoration is impacting birds. But again, I like the challenge, and maybe someday could explore looking for those nests with dogs.
Kayla Fratt 55:45
Well, yeah, thank you so much for all that, Jamie, that sounds like really interesting work. And I hope that you know, even if it’s not you and me together someday someone can can do a little bit more of investigation into how useful dogs may or may not be for the sort of projects because, you know, the other reality is for this sort of thing as you’ve described when all sorts of detection are so incredibly challenging. Sometimes even if dogs aren’t incredibly impressive with their results. If they’re able to find a couple of tasks that you all would have missed that may still be good enough. Nice little final note to end on there.
Kayla Fratt 56:21
Would both of you mind letting our listeners know where they can learn more about your work, follow you on social media, anything like that, and then we’ll let people know.
Kayla Fratt 56:31
Sure. So if you’re interested in gophers and other information pertaining to LGBTQ inclusion and field ecology, you can follow me on Twitter at smammal_bio. And that’s kind of the only place I have currently.
Jamie Coon 56:49
For me, you can find me on Twitter at jamiejcoon. But I’m also on ResearchGate. And I’ve been preferring ResearchGate lately to Twitter. So that’s a good place to find updates. If you want to learn more about awesome bird research, I forgot to mention this earlier. You can also check out the American Ornithological Society. And they are in my experience a very queer affirming organization. So that’s a good one to get involved in.
Kayla Fratt 57:13
All right, well, and for everyone at home, you already know this, but you can find K9Conservationists, find our transcripts, our show notes, all of the links we mentioned, you can sign up for our Patreon and you can sign up for our complete online conservation detection dog course all at K9conservationists.org. We’ll be back in your earbuds next week. Bye!