Early in 2021, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) posted an annoucement about a new type of funding opportunity, called LEAding cultural change through Professional Societies (LEAPS) of Biology.

The NSF is is committed to supporting efforts that use evidence-based practices to remove barriers for individuals historically excluded from science (based on gender, gender identity, disability status, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or race). But how can these changes be implemented? LEAPS works through professional societies – organizations that span institutions and draw together individuals with shared research and teaching interests. Professional societies also organize conferences, confer awards, publish journals, and support career development.

A group of us saw this funding opportunity, sent around some emails, and realized that we wanted to write a proposal for this program, which we submitted in May. The plant science organizations involved are: American Phytopathological Society (APS), the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB), the American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT), the Botanical Society of America (BSA), the International Society for Molecular Plant Microbe Interactions (IS-MPMI), the Maize Genetics Cooperation (MGC), and the North American Arabidopsis Steering Committee (NAASC).

Then, in July, we got the news we were hoping for. Our project was fully funded!

Three panels desribing the three phases of the ROOT&SHOOT project as described in the text.

Here is a little bit of the description of what we plan to do.

We present a bold project that is radical and innovative in its structure and scope: together we will get to the root of the systematic oppressions that lie within our organizations, so that they can regrow as truly inclusive spaces. We will reimagine, remodel, and rebuild the organizations that support students and practitioners of plant science to mitigate many of the lingering structural inequities that must be addressed before our communities can more accurately reflect the demographics of the US population. The overall outcome of this RCN will be to cultivate a new future for plant science, and beyond.

Our objectives are to 1) make a Bold Start by establishing an inclusive operational path for the RCN, and immediately addressing known climate and cultural deficiencies together; 2) to Dig Deeper by developing and implementing tools for self-assessments of community cultures and structures, and 3) to Reach for the Sky by identifying areas for equity action, and designing, implementing, and assessing interventions.

What does this mean in real life? The NSF is funding these organizations to hold up a mirror and critically examine what we do. Through this funding, we will bring in experts in equity, diversity, inclusion, justice, accessibility, who can help us understand how our practices can hold people back, or help them succeed.

We will have opportunities for people to contribute in myriad ways, many with small stipends to support their time. We will also be sharing learning opportunities with our communities.

It’s going to be an exciting, wild, creative, stimulating period and I hope you can join us on this journey!

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