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Paloma Medina: The Diversity of the Natural World

Paloma Medina, a Science & Justice Training Program Graduate Fellow at SJRC, contributes to the field of population genetics with a distinctly feminist mindset.

By Bradley Jin, SJRC Communications Intern, UC Santa Cruz undergraduate in Sociology and Feminist Studies

Biology has been integral in the formation of what is ‘natural.’ Concepts of the natural have shaped many of our understandings of what is normal in terms  of race, sexuality, and gender. The history of population genetics is not immune to the prejudices carried by the people who seek to understand population diversity. Moreover, genetic population studies have been used as justification to promote systems of inequality. To learn from and change this history, Paloma Medina, a Science & Justice Training Program Graduate Fellow at the Science & Justice Research Center, works with queer community members to inform the applications of her research in population genetics. She works in what is known as ‘queer ecology.’ Queer ecology has many definitions, but it can be loosely described as the interdisciplinary practice of biology that focuses on the gender and sexual diversity found in nature. Queer ecology is a way of practicing just and fair science.

Medina is inspired by the diversity she sees in nature and many biologists share her mindset. She leads a queer ecology research cluster reading group at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Here, graduate students meet to read about and discuss the variety of the natural world. “Biodiversity is almost sacred to biologists. When I tell them about sex and gender diversity in the natural world, they’re like ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’" In the Queer Ecology Research Cluster, Medina seeks to move beyond the critique of science and elevate the stories of queer animals, of which there are many.

For Medina, the side-blotched lizard is a striking example of biodiversity in the animal kingdom. Medina relates that “they have different coloration patterns on their neck that coincide with their lifestyle strategy.” Here, ‘lifestyle strategy’ is almost synonymous with gender expression. This pattern of coloration communicates the behavior of the individual lizards to others. Aggressive males are marked one way, non-aggressive males another. It forms a sort of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ style of dominance. This species, among others, challenges the concept of dichotomous, ‘biological and natural’ gender and sex. Animals like the side-blotched lizard inspire Medina to think of ‘queer’ animals as a reflection of the diversity of human identity.

Along with running the queer ecology reading group Medina has given presentations on biodiversity at the Brain Mind Consciousness Society at UCSC and at the Queer U conference at the University of British Columbia. Having given both lectures and workshops, she states,  “I think students get more out of a workshop than a lecture because students can engage with other students and converse about ideas in a workshop setting. Of course the two styles are not mutually exclusive, but allowing the opportunity to talk about and relate to ideas is critical to learning and expanding.” In addition to workshops, Medina is working with the Youth Group of the Santa Cruz Diversity Center on an illustrated novel. The novel will tell the story of a clownfish who transitions from male to female when the matriarch of their colony leaves.  She hopes this project will elevate the voices of queer and trans youth to a broader community.

 

 

Paloma Medina is a Science & Justice Training Program Graduate Fellow at the Science & Justice Research Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz. At the Center Medina strives not to practice science as justice, or justice as science, but instead view them as the same thing. For her, science is justice, and justice is science. Technology and science intersect with society to such a degree that they are inseparable.

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Science and Justice Courses offered Spring 2018

UC Santa Cruz offers a wide range of courses across its many disciplines whose curriculum questions the relationships between science, society and justice. The below list of courses (undergraduate and graduate, face to face and online) are taught across all five academic divisions. To add your course: email us at scijust[at]ucsc.edu

 

Undergraduate Courses

ANTH 106 Primate Behavior and Ecology: The nature of primate social systems and social bonds is examined in the light of evolutionary and ecological concepts. Students cannot receive credit for this course and course 206. Prerequisite(s): course 1. V. Oelze

ANTH 110U Anthropology of Science: Examines science and technology through an anthropological lens, focusing on ethnographic studies of scientific practice and relations between science and society. We will look at studies theorizing core scientific elements, and focus on qualitative, empirically-based studies of scientific practice.

ANTH 134 Medical Anthropology – An Introduction: Cross-cultural study of health, disease, and illness behavior from ecological and ethnomedical perspectives. Implications for biomedical health care policy.

ANTH 146 Anthropology and the Environment: Examines recent approaches to study of nature and the environment. Considers historical relationship between nature, science, and colonial expansion as well as key issues of contemporary environmental concern: conservation, environmental justice, and social movements.

ANTH 190X Special topics in Biological Anthropology: Taught annually on a rotating basis by various faculty members. Precise focus of each year’s course varies according to the instructor and is announced by the department. (Formerly Special topics in Archaeology-Physical Anthropology.) Prerequisite(s): course 1. May be repeated for credit. The Staff

Topic (Neanderthals): This course will use primary academic research to explore the social behaviors, technology, anatomy, and genetics of neanderthals and in the end, we will gain a more holistic understanding of exactly who neanderthals were.

ART 80B Environmental Art: Examines ways artists engage, interact, and comment upon ecology and nature in their artworks by examining environmental art from the 1960s through the present. (General Education Code(s): PE-E.) Instructor: Elizabeth Stephens, *Students from other disciplines are encouraged to enroll

ART 125 Environmental Art Studio: Introduces students to environmental art and design through basic concepts, techniques, and studio practice. Students are billed for a materials fee. Prerequisite(s): Three courses from: Art 15, 20G, 20H, 20I, 20J, 20K, 26, and Computational Media 25 Enrollment restricted to art majors. May be repeated for credit. Instructor: Elizabeth Stephens, The Staff

FMST 133 Science and the Body: Contemporary technoscientific practices, such as nano-, info-, and biotechnologies, are rapidly reworking what it means to be human. Course examines how both our understanding of the human and the very nature of the human are constituted through technoscientific practices. Prerequisite(s): courses 1 and 100. Enrollment restricted to juniors and seniors. (General Education Code(s): PE-T.) Instructor: Karen Barad

LIT 80K Topics in Medical Humanities: Medical Humanities designate an interdisciplinary field of humanities (literature, philosophy, ethics, history, and religion) concerned with application to medical education and practice. The humanities provide insight into the human condition, suffering, personhood, and our responsibility to each other; and offer a historical perspective on medical practice. (General Education Code(s): PE-T.) Instructor: W. Godzich

Graduate Courses

BIOE 262 Facilitating Change in Coastal Science Policy: Skills-based course in effective leadership and communication, including stakeholder engagement, facilitation, conflict resolution, team building, and introduction to project management. Communication training includes identifying audiences and objectives (public, philanthropy, policymakers, managers, scientist practitioners) and leveraging non-traditional communication platforms. Enrollment by application and restricted to graduate students. Enrollment limited to 16. M. Carr, K. Kroeker. Learn more at the course website!

FMST 214 Topics in Feminist Science Studies: Graduate seminar on feminist science studies. Topics will vary and may include: the joint consideration of science studies and poststructuralist theory; the relationship between discursive practices and material phenomena; and the relationship between ontology, epistemology, and ethics. Enrollment restricted to graduate students. Enrollment limited to 15. Instructor: Karen Barad

SOCY 268A Science and Justice: Experiments in Collaboration: Considers the practical and epistemological necessity of collaborative research in the development of new sciences and technologies that are attentive to questions of ethics and justice. Enrollment by permission of instructor. Enrollment restricted to graduate students. (Also offered as Biomolecular Engineering 268A and Feminist Studies 268A and Anthropology 267A. Students cannot receive credit for both courses.) Enrollment limited to 15. Instructor: Kristina Lyons


Offered Summer 2018

Undergraduate Courses

LIT 61U Introduction to Speculative Fiction: Close reading of speculative and science fiction texts (short stories, novels, and films) with the aim of developing critical methods for the analysis and interpretation of SF as a critique of science, technology, and culture. Course will explore themes like encounters across species; novelty and change; expanded concepts of life; and the role of technology in human development. (General Education Codes: PE-T). Offered during summer session as online. Z. Zimmer