When We All Have a Place at the Table

790 President Werner-WashburneThe last week of August 2013, thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. There were marches, speeches, and evidence of coalition building between communities as national leaders in the civil rights, labor, housing, education and LGBT communities joined together to inspire another generation of action.

The sixties and seventies were an era of such significant political change. I was 14 years old when Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Later that year, John F. Kennedy was assassinated and in 1964 the Civil Rights Act passed. In 1968, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy would both be killed within three months of each other. Witnessing all of this, even though I was such a young woman, life itself felt fragile and perilous.

SACNAS Emerges Alongside National Movements for Civil Rights

SACNAS was founded in this national whirlwind of change and movements for civil rights, social justice, laborer’s rights. In 1973, the 780 year SACNAS was founded, Richard Nixon started his second term—which he would not complete—and the Vietnam War ended. In 1973, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) took over Wounded Knee, South Dakota and a month later, the Watergate scandal was uncovered. Four years after the founding of SACNAS, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society was also founded.

In 1973, Cesar Chavez was at the peak of his work with the United Farm Workers. Around the country, people did what they could from a distance—not eating grapes or lettuce from farms that did not provide fair wages and safe working environments.

There was a sense that each day was important. In communities of color across the nation, people were coming together to demand change. It was in this moment that a small group of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American scientists, mathematicians, and engineers saw that not only were social justice, opportunity, and inclusion essential for our country to achieve its potential, but also that change depended on the commitment and action of individuals. These were people dedicated to learning and discovery – and, on their paths, one thing they discovered two things: 1) they were few in number and 2) doors were either difficult to open or locked to them.

Forty Years Forward

Forty years later, SACNAS is still a home; a place where we don’t have to put up our defenses to enjoy and celebrate science, our cultures, and our community. SACNAS is where teams form and students can see many exciting pathways and begin to follow their dreams.

In 2013, we are scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, social scientists, psychologists, and more. We come from every race and ethnicity—while focusing on lifting our communities of Hispanics and Native Americans, we know that a high tide raises all ships. We have made progress but, when you look around you—in your college classrooms, in the board rooms, and in government—you can see there is still much to do.

I hope we all have a dream—for the students from Mescalero, Shiprock, and Pine Ridge, from Española and Fresno, for students from Miami and Washington, DC and all over the United States—that the next 40 years be the best we have ever seen.

SACNAS will help lead our country in finding ways to resolve our biggest problems and answer our greatest challenges through the broad reach of STEM education and discovery and by bringing distinct perspectives and solutions from all of our cultures to bear on major issues. SACNAS is the incubator for great research, discovery, and innovation.

Starting today and 40 years forward, let us celebrate all the breakthroughs, companies, patents, papers, and leaders that come from our organization…our family. Let us stay focused, embrace who we are and what we bring to the table, and make the diversity we have be both the foundation and the motivation that rockets us to the future.

The Founders had immense dreams and vision. They deserve our thanks and we honor them by recommitting ourselves to dream of a world where we all have a place at the table.

Dr. Maggie Werner-Washburne
SACNAS President
Regents' Professor, Department of Biology, University of New Mexico

Read More Messages from Maggie

Inaugural letter

June 2013 letter

July 2013 letter

August 2013 letter