Oxford joined over 600 cities in 69 countries in hosting a March for Science event on Saturday, April 22, internationally recognized as Earth Day.
The satellite march in Oxford was attended by hundreds and featured a slate of speakers from the university community, including the mayor of Oxford, Miami’s provost and an Associated Student Government (ASG) cabinet member.
That guest list was the handiwork of Dustin Hornbeck, a first-year doctoral student in Miami’s educational leadership program. Though the flagship March event occurred in Washington, D.C., Hornbeck was inspired to coordinate an Oxford edition after seeing a friend do the same at the University of Michigan.
Hornbeck, a former high school history and government teacher who also led his school district’s teachers’ union, admits to not being a “huge marcher,” but felt compelled by recent political actions to take action.
“Trying to join people together as a community of citizens who share common ideals, about the idea that science is a good thing for humanity and that the environment ought to be protected, was what I really had in mind,” Hornbeck said.
In mid-February, Hornbeck enlisted sophomore Max Leveridge, president of Miami’s Environmental Appreciation Club, for help planning the march. Leveridge was uniquely qualified for the job, as a triple-major in environmental earth science, environmental science and sustainability, and he needed no convincing from Hornbeck.
“Science in and of itself is extremely important because it allows us to look into why the world is what it is, why stuff happens why it does,” Leveridge said. “For Oxford to get behind that, it shows unity between the community and the university.”
Together, Leveridge and Hornbeck coordinated details of Saturday’s event, which began with participants meeting outside Armstrong Student Center at 11:30 a.m. Participants marched to Slant Walk, with Hornbeck leading chants via megaphone along the way. The crowd clustered in the grass along Slant Walk, braving windy weather for an hourlong rally.
Among the speakers were Kate Rousmaniere, Oxford’s mayor and a historian, university provost Phyllis Callahan, ASG Secretary for Academic Affairs Trent White, geologists Jason Rech and Jonathan Levy, biologist Michelle Boone and professor emerita of interdisciplinary studies Muriel Blaisdell.
White and Callahan stressed the importance of science in modern society in their speeches.
“No matter what our students choose to do, they will forever be affected by things like Alzheimer’s, cancer, the effects of concussions … We cannot fix these problems without research and we cannot fix these problems without money for research,” White, who is studying to become a teacher, said. “This is what science does for us. This is why science is important. Our students all need to know that science tells us how to live better on this planet, to make this planet work better for us.”
Callahan, who is trained as a neuroendocrinologist and also participated in the march portion of the event, concurred.
“Science impacts virtually all aspects of our lives and our future,” Callahan said. “So as a society, we must recognize and promote evidence-based policies in support of science — not just on one designated day, but every single day.”
Hornbeck was determined to keep politics out of Saturday’s proceedings, saying he turned down politicians who asked to speak at the rally in order to maintain nonpartisan status.
Speaker Levy, who heads Miami’s Institute for the Environment and Sustainability (IES), said the march was not intended to be political.
“[The march] doesn’t have any specific political action built into it. It’s not meant to alienate anyone from any specific party. The idea of supporting science, you would think, would be a nonpartisan issue,” Levy said.
Nevertheless, Levy acknowledged, the perceived need for an international show of support is unprecedented.
“Fifteen years ago, I think, we would have been pretty surprised that we would have needed a march for science to go along with Earth Day,” Levy said. “This phenomenon of the government turning away from science is something that is not new, but has become more important, more critical and is being done to a greater degree than has been done before.”
For his part, Levy’s Shideler Hall colleague Jason Rech expressed frustration with the Trump administration’s treatment of scientific issues during his speech Saturday.
“Science is not just this long laundry list of facts. It’s a way of knowledge. It’s a way that we organize material and tease out alternate facts, that we test them over time and figure out how to move society forward,” Rech said. “For a climate change scientist, I really don’t know how to respond when I hear comments that climate change science is a hoax perpetuated by a foreign government.”
Sophomore physics major Ben Amend said Trump’s “general dismissal, even outright denial” of scientific issues such as climate change brought him to the march.
Amend carried a sign designed to look like a Tweet from Earth (@ThirdRockFromTheSun) to @realDonaldTrump: “The concept of global warming was created from evidence collected by thousands of climate change scientists.”
Amend’s was one of many signs carried by attendees Saturday. Other slogans included “There is no Planet B,” “The oceans are rising…and so are we,” “Science is hope — don’t deny it,” and “Without science, it’s just fiction.”
The crowd also joined in chants such as, “I don’t care what they say, objective facts are here to stay,” and “Science, not silence.” The most common refrain involved Hornbeck prompting, “Show me what democracy looks like,” with the response, “This is what democracy looks like.”
Amend said he was encouraged by the experience.
“It was comforting to know that there were so many people in this area who agreed on the importance of science in education, government, and society [and] were also willing to publicly march in support of it,” Amend said.
Junior chemical engineering major Jack Parrish was pleasantly surprised by Saturday’s showing.
“There was a lot more people than I might’ve expected going in,” Parrish said. “It wasn’t just one demographic; there was lots of students, lots of members of the community, some kids from high school, all coming together to support a cause that they feel strongly about.”
Hornbeck, too, was pleased with Saturday’s turnout, which he said took priority over the 2,500 people who expressed interest in the march via a Facebook event.
“I think where the rubber hits the road is where things are important, where people actually mobilize themselves to come together,” Hornbeck said. “Social media’s a powerful mechanism, but clicking something is a whole lot different than leaving your home and going and showing people that you stand with them in solidarity. Otherwise we could all Skype in to a march and you don’t even have to leave your house. That’s not activism so much, in my opinion.”
Parrish said the show of citizen activism was welcome, if somewhat rare.
“We put ourselves in a sort of bubble at Miami. You can just kind of ignore what’s going on around you, just stay inside the bubble where you feel comfortable and safe,” Parrish said. “I think it’s important to realize that we’re a part of something much bigger and we are the future of the country, being college-educated young people.”
And he was grateful for the opportunity to get involved.
“To be part of something like [the march] was special,” Parrish said. “Regardless of whether it was effective or not as a way to get my voice out there, I think it was important to take part, just as sort of a statement.”