WATCH: 2022 Women in Science Conference focuses on intersectionality in conservation work

The conference panels, with local women scientists, focused discussion on the scientific work as women, especially where there is involvement with the local community.

Slide: Diagram of Charting Our Path, Intersectionality in Conservation with Noelani Puniwai pictured in the upper corner.
Above is a screenshot of keynote Noelani Puniwai’s presentation at the 2022 Women in Science panel on March 24. Click on the image to watch the complete video of the conference.

By Jordan Hemmerly.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo hosted the annual Women in Science conference last month. The virtual event, formerly called Women in STEM, zeroed in on intersectionality in conservation work and was led by a panel of leading female scientists and community advocates.

Intersectionality is a feminist methodology used to study social relationships; the panel, made up of local women scientists, focused the discussions on their scientific work as women, especially where there is involvement with the local community.

The full conference is now available for viewing online.

Panelists were Noelani Puniwai, Hannah Springer, Kiana Frank, Yoshimi Rii, Sheina Sim, Rebecca Most, Blaire Langston, Cecile Walsh, Celia Bardwell-Jones, and Halena Kapuni-Reynolds. More information about the panelists’ backgrounds can be found in a previous UH Hilo Stories article.

Noelani Puniwai pictured.
Noelani Puniwai

The keynote address, titled, “Weaving our Pathways to an Abundant Future,” was delivered by UH Hilo marine science alumna Puniwai. She is an assistant professor at UH Mānoa’s School of Hawaiian Language. Her research interests include coastal ecosystems, cultural geography, knowledge co-production, and seascapes.

She says the conference topics of intersectionality of feminist perspectives, environmental justice, place, research, and identity all resonate with her. She wanted to shift the audience’s view of intersectionality into the same abundance mindset she has in her work: passion about cultivating the next generation of students to practice science and mālama ‘āina by connecting with the community’s needs and goals.

“As we chart or weave our own pathways, we need to share spaces, we need to share stories,” she says. “We can be abundant together.” Her address captured her belief in the rigor and methodologies of science and experiential daily practice of aloha ‘āina awakens responsible action for the future of Hawai‘i.

Panel members also discussed leadership, with focus on how, as women of color, their work in scientific fields in Hawai‘i has shaped their values, views, and practices.

Hannah Springer pictured.
Hannah Springer

“The places we are at will shape not only our worldviews, but also our approaches to problem solving,” says Springer, who is a kama‘āina of Ka‘ūpūlehu. She serves on the Ka‘ūpūlehu Marine Life Advisory Committee to restore coral reefs and fish populations through improved collaborative management with the state.

“Living in a place with little [rain], we still know how to manage the water we do have,” she says. “My view of reduced water supply is about the abundance mindset and living in the spirit of abundance.”

Another panel discussed how women in science “enrich the narrative,” specifically addressing how gender shapes their experiences in science.

Rebecca Most pictured.
Rebecca Most

“When [science] is done right, knowledge of place and generational knowledge are elevated on the same equal playing field as contemporary sciences,” says UH Hilo alumna Most who graduated from the tropical conservation biology and environmental science graduate program. “There is a seat at the table where their voices are being heard. Those are parts of solving the problem. When I see that equality I become very proud.”

Bardwell-Jones, an associate professor of philosophy at UH Hilo and chair of the gender and women’s studies program who co-founded UH Hilo’s Annual Women in Science Conference, presented a discussion on microaggressions, injustice, and ethics in diversity in conservation fields.

Celia Bardwell-Jones pictured.
Celia Bardwell-Jones

“One way to think of the environmental justice movement is through the lens of intersectionality,” she says. “Intersectionality became a way of bringing together multiple identities. Your gender identity, your racial identity, and I love the concept of intersectionality as abundance. It’s about how all of your identities intersect in a unique way to provide you with a unique perspective.”

The conference concluded with a discussion led by Kapuni-Reynolds, a doctoral candidate in American studies and museum studies at UH Mānoa, who focused on community work in Keaukaha, specifically the community’s use of lei making to organize during a recent protest about a proposed development in the area.

For background, in 2020, a new landowner proposed constructing a 31-unit eco-resort in Keaukaha. In 2021, a Los Angeles-based architecture firm misrepresented community feedback in an attempt to subvert the protest about use of Hawaiian homelands to promote tourism.

Halena Kapuni-Reynolds
Halena Kapuni-Reynolds

“The time, care, and work it takes to make a lei offers an analogy to think of the time, care and work it takes to organize a community while meeting people where they are at,” explains Kapuni-Reynolds. “Oftentimes today it feels like we are being told to stay in our own lane and to work with the people we know we can work with but that doesn’t cultivate a sense of community.”

“I want to be as inclusive as possible and that requires a little bit of stepping back, listening to what people are saying, sharpening that listening skill, and finding the commonalities that bind.”

Conference sponsors: UH Hilo’s Kaiameaola Club (housed within the tropical conservation biology and environmental science graduate program); the departments of philosophy, anthropology, and gender and womenʻs studies; and the Center for Place-Based Social Emotional Learning.

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PHOTOS: First ever Women in STEM Conference held at UH Hilo

By Jordan Hemmerly, who is earning her bachelor’s degree in marine science at UH Hilo.