Thousands of scholars and supporters of science gathered on the National Mall April 22 to protest what some termed as President Donald Trump’s attacks against scientific inquiry and research. They were also supporting those currently working in science-related fields.

Black participation in the STEM programs could be permanently corrupted by Trump’s cuts in scientific funding. (Courtesy photo)

Carrying placards and signs, Blacks who attended voiced concerns that as students of color gain a footing in science, engineering, technology, and math careers, those doors could potentially disappear, further disenfranchising them. The Trump administration’s March budget plan called for double-digit cuts for scientific research bodies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The shift from research priorities like cancer and environmental investigation to military and defense, said co-organizer of the march Liz Homsey, could potentially threaten gains in healthcare and technology fields for generations. But more than the march being against Trump, it was in support of science.

“Science has always strived to remain nonpolitical, nonpartisan – and we’re still striving for that,” Homsey told attendees. “Every single scientist at this event feels that it is much more pro science than anti anything.”

Musician-record producer Questlove (Ahmir Khalib Thompson), one of the event’s co-hosts, however, spoke directly to Trump’s mistrust of facts and evidence in lieu of alternative facts. “The rational scientific thought gets us out of the highest corners and to the most open, wide spaces,” he said. “Many people seem to be forgetting those facts and it’s been frustrating to watch as certain forces in our society try to squelch science or their refusal to believe in it or propose alternative realities and facts. Alternative facts or whatever that is. All that works against science and we need to work for science. More than that, we need to make sure science belongs to the people.”

Rutgers University-Newark entomologist and evolutionary biologist Jessica Ware said it was critical that science remain at the forefront of the nation’s agenda, particularly for Blacks. “The fact I was up there sends a message to folks watching about what science can look like,” Ware told the AFRO. “Talking about my work is obviously important, but it’s equally important that an 8-year-old child will see me and say, ‘That’s what scientists can look like!’ and see themselves in my shoes and know that this can be their job one day.”

Toyan Shepard, a Black molecular biology graduate student from Temple University, said Trump’s proposal threatens to push Black participation in STEM back even further, as many of his classmates rely heavily on government grants to pay for classes and research. “My background has always been rather conservative and honestly, I haven’t been against too many of Trump’s plans, but his attack against the fact, against evidence, against science – is tantamount to saying he believes in a sixth sense or horoscopes,” Shepard told the AFRO. “It’s unacceptable for a world leader to lean on his guts as opposed to the facts.”

Trump’s budget outlined $54 billion in cuts across government programs to make way for an increase in defense spending. U.S. scientists said they fear such a plan would have a major impact on research and science-based policy as well as undermine the importance of science in society and limit future innovation.