Institutional Discrimination in Science

Falling Walls Circle Tables are lending the spotlight to world-leading scientists, science strategists and policy-makers from academia, business and politics discuss how we can apply science, research and innovation to get the world moving again.

The killing of George Floyd has triggered global protests challenging institutional discrimination and racism. In this Falling Walls Circle Table, the panellists shattered the myth that academia is either objective or impartial. Watch how this panel examined research’s complicity in racism, and the necessary ways forward to reform our institutions.

The history of race is interwoven with the history of science. In modern science, people of colour are hindered through barriers to entry, as well as barriers to progress. But racism also impacts how research is carried out: the questions it asks and answers, and the stories it tells.

How do we begin to improve science’s relationship with race? We hear about the efforts South Africa has made to completely reform academia by actively confronting barriers to representation. This includes the importance of symbolic gestures – such as the naming of buildings – as well as community provisions, and adequate financing.

However, any question of “Institutional Discrimination” and “Racism in Science” cannot end within the scientific community alone. Discrimination and Racism directly intersect with other forms of inequality, such as gender and poverty. Ultimately, institutional discrimination in science cannot be addressed in isolation. As Adam Habib explained, “you can’t think of… deracialising science without deracialising society.”

Nuala became a familiar face on Australian television as Entertainment Editor and Europe Correspondent for top-rating breakfast show, Sunrise. During two decades in television, she reported from across the globe and interviewed some of the biggest names from showbiz, science, and politics. Somehow, she also managed to find time to be admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor and even study drama. Nuala played the lead role of Gerda in the Sydney Theatre Company production of The Snow Queen. In recent years, she became a registered psychologist, and now works at a Melbourne hospital and in private practice

Adam Habib is an academic, researcher, activist, administrator, and well-known public intellectual.

A Professor of Political Science, Habib has over 30 years of academic, research and administration expertise, spanning five universities and multiple local and international institutions. He is currently the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and incoming Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. He is a former Chair of Universities South Africa, which represents vice-chancellors and higher education in the country. He has also focussed on building African research excellence, and together with the University of Cape Town, Wits initiated the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).

Tolullah Oni is joint lead of the Global Diet and Activity Research Group, University of Cambridge, Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Founder & Principal of UrbanBetter | Oni et al.

A public health physician and urban epidemiologist, her work supports a coordinated approach between science, policy and societal role players, identifying creative and long-term strategies to address complex urban health challenges in rapidly growing cities. She has served as scientific adviser for several organisations including Future Earth and the International Science Council and is an editorial board member of Lancet Planetary Health, Cities and Health, and the Journal of Urban Health. In recognition of her work, she has been profiled in the Lancet journal, Science magazine, and the British Medical Journal, and is a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, Next Einstein Forum Fellow and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.

Mary Robinson served as President of Ireland from 1990-1997 and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002. She is Chair of The Elders, a member of the Club of Madrid and the recipient of numerous honours and awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States Barack Obama. Between 2013 and 2016 Mary served as the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy in three roles. 

A former President of the International Commission of Jurists and former chair of the Council of Women World Leaders she was President and founder of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative from 2002-2010 and served as Honorary President of Oxfam International from 2002-2012.

Mary Robinson serves as Patron of the ISC, and the Board of the Institute of Human Rights and Business, is an Ambassador for The B Team, in addition to being a board member of several organisations including the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the Aurora Foundation. She was Chancellor of the University of Dublin from 1998 to 2019 and is now Adjunct Professor of Climate Justice.

Anthony Bogues is a writer, curator and scholar, the Director Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice, and the Asa Messer Professor of Humanities and Critical Theory at Brown University. He has written extensively on African and African Diaspora political theory and intellectual history with a particular interest in the evolution of knowledge and science systems with regards to the relationships between science, society, and race . He was an Honorary Research Professor at the University of Cape Town and is a visiting professor and curator at the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Center, University of Johannesburg. He is the author/editor of nine books in the fields of political thought and critical theory, intellectual history, and Caribbean art.

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