Quinndy Akeju is a health expert, Afroactivist and coordinator of the community of black-African and afro-descendant people in the Basque Country (Spain). Nowadays, she is about to finish her Nursing studies.
1.- In your LinkedIn profile you define yourself as a Nursing student, Lecturer, Afro-activist, Dancer, Choreographer and Content Creator. As a profession you have chosen the science of care and being a nurse, something that you had clear since childhood. Could you tell us a little about it?
Yes, I chose care, the science of care, which is nursing. Something that was clear to me since I was little and, also, it was clear throughout my adolescence. Now I do realize that it arose from a need to put care at the center. I feel that, many times, in this society in which we grow up (I grew up in the context of the Spanish State) I feel that these issues have always been addressed, not only on health, but also extrapolating to other vital areas, from treatment and not from the care. If we look at the health system we see that it is built on the treatment of diseases. If your head hurts, I give you a paracetamol instead of, for example, prevent that headache (to know how to take care of ourselves to stop, so to not somatize this stresses and anxieties, for example with self-care), for example, if it comes from stress. We also see it in our interpersonal relationships. A very clear example is in the care of our interpersonal relationships, which is often overlooked. And speaking of, for example, a friendship, if something happens we always solve it. But have we ever considered how to take care of all the processes in which we are (with this friend or this person with whom we have woven a friendship) so as not to reach conflictive situations? Situations that are unavoidable but in which that conflict can have less intensity or impact.
We must claim care as the centre of our lives and I think it could result in an incredible social change.
2. Taking into account the scientific field of nursing in which you are currently, what do you think could generate more interest on a social level? or what do you think is most necessary to make it visible?
Regarding the scientific field of nursing, I believe that it would generate interest (or that there is a need) to make visible the role of care in certain groups. Care for people in certain situations, the majority (speaking of this context), in situations of vulnerability and in situations of difficult access to healthcare. Besides, I also believe it’s something that I think about a lot. As a student, I also believe that we should make use of other cares and not just the conventional ones that we have always been doing. The nurse bandages your foot, for example. How many times have we used music therapy? How many times have we used to care that does not come from the West, that also comes from countries of the so-called global south? Doing non-Western care I also think is important because in addition to having many benefits, many people are more comfortable using non-pharmacological methods or natural pharmacy methods, such as natural remedies, which are mostly non-Western and that would also raise the health level. Or, as it were, would build a much healthier and much more cared for society.
3. What was your experience learning science in school? What kind of science do you think girls and boys are learning today? Do you think is it enough? What is being left out of the curriculum that you consider important as learning?
I can say that my experience learning science in school was not very pleasant because in most of the classes, in biological sciences, for example (which was something that I opted for from a very young age), there was always a tendency to stereotype black people. We know that these stereotypes are born out of ignorance, because the black race, or races in general, do not have any biological basis, they are a social construct. The fact that black people were constantly stereotyped among other races and that I, on many occasions, was the only black person in the classroom, led me to somehow develop a kind of rejection of science because I grew up here; This was revoked in my adolescence when I built my identity and said: ” “Hold on! It’s enough!”
4.-As an Afro-descendant nurse, you are very aware of the racist stereotypes and barriers that we unconsciously (or consciously) incorporate during our education. You are working on the decolonization of thought and practice within medical and health teams. What does this work consist of?
These stereotypes are created, but something has to be done, someone has to be there also to deny them. And, in some way, this thing that happened to me should not happen, nor happen to the next generations. I think the type of science that boys and girls learn has evolved a bit, but it continues in the same line with respect to what I just said. And it becomes super necessary to include in the curriculum all these non-Western Sciences that, for example, come from other continents that are not taken into account in research studies. It is necessary to take into account all the representativeness and references in the Sciences of other continents, to make a conglomerate of all that, to learn that science has not only been built here. I think it becomes necessary to also recognize all the work that women and men who have been in the scientific field for many years have done, to show that science is also diverse, that in science there is a multitude of bodies, a multitude of ideologies, multitude of jobs. It is not only a question about the decolonization of thought and practice within health. I can say that it is simply about unlearning all these practices and ideologies that have been ingrained through medicine to harm. To harm in some way to people, in this case, Afro-descendants and Africans. We know that medicine has a very murky past with African and Afro-descendant people. From the experiments in which untreated syphilis was injected into black men, to the revered chief, and now called the father of modern gynaecology, Marion Sims, who performed open surgeries without anaesthesia in the uterus of black women. All this, although we may not believe it, has generated (this is a sensation), some stereotypes that affect the African population daily and in a very harmful way: Such as generating the idea that black people suffer less pain and have a much higher pain threshold than white people and that, therefore, in any intervention that is going to be done we are going to ignore the symptoms or we are going to tend to think that African people exaggerate their symptoms. Or even, for example, to ignore that the cultures and the beliefs and ethnicities of African people are themselves different. It is also something to reflect upon, the fact that ignoring the skin colour on many occasions is a factor to take into account especially in dermatological diseases. And I say this because on many occasions it is not taken into account, especially in Dermatology: we learn to distinguish between dermatological diseases, but always with white skin. And we forget that there are darker skin types that also suffer from dermatological diseases, but they manifest themselves in different ways.
To a large extent, we have to unlearn and relearn certain behaviours or ideologies that have been implanted by the history of medicine and science in order to carry out better care for people, in this case, Africans and Afro-descendants, into clinical practice.
5. In 2019, Zintia Álvarez Palomino published the first book in Spain that talks about the role of “Black Women in Science” and makes explicit the great contribution to science and humanity that these invisible women have made. From your experience and as a nurse, what can you tell us about the existence of female references in science in our society? Do you think you can become a role model for other young women?
I think that, generally speaking, there are very few female referents. That is, not that there are few, it is more that those that exist are not visible. And this occurs much more often with black women, because it is the invisibility of invisibility. I also think that, apart from all the urgencies that exist in science, a very important one is the visualization of female referents (and also the female African action) because many of us do not have them. I grew up without references in science, so I thought that I walked this path alone, and it is serious to feel that feeling of isolation at such an early age. It has a very, very large psychological impact (and I think it is of vital importance) seeing yourself reflected in certain referents. To welcome, to give shelter, in some way, to all generations of African girls and boys, Afro-descendants who want to enter science or who have the dream of entering science and who feel that, “Hey! I can do it!”. That, “look! she is here!” or “look at this girl here!”. It is urgent to put African women, and also African scientific men, on the map. I don’t know if I can become a role model, or not, and the truth is that there are people who consider me to be a reference, but I think it is very great for me. But the truth is that I myself, am building a path that people who have passed through here have already given me. People who have already been doing activism in science. Zinthia Álvarez Palomino is one of those people, with her book Black Women in Science. But I am walking and wherever that path takes me, it is welcome. Whether it is to become a role model or not (as if it is for anything) I really am there. I do my job and I am very happy to be able to continue here doing what I am doing and also incorporating different perspectives into scientific discourse.
6. From your personal perspective, what do you think science should have to be inclusive (avoiding invisible barriers and/or biases of a sexist, racist, colonial, empowering type, etc.)? What guidance would you give to teachers/educators when teaching in contexts of diversity?
I believe that science here has to open its ears and listen. To stop talking in some way and listen to people, to those female scientists who have been silenced for many years. And then incorporate everything heard into the discourse. And in this I include sexist, racist, colonial, capitalist, capitalist biases …, I include all kinds of biases and all kinds of systematic and invisible barriers that also worsen the quality of science. Because due to biases, there are mistakes, and those mistakes lower the quality of science.
I would tell the teachers to read about black women. I am talking about black women and men. But they should read about all these biases I mentioned above. Really, the male and female teachers are in a powerful position in which they will directly affect the lives of people affected by these biases. And it is vital that they know them and that they try to avoid reproducing, in some way, all the colonial dynamics that have been installed that, in the end, are perpetuated consciously or unconsciously. Ideally, you should be aware, that you know where it all comes from, and that from there you start working on it so as not to perpetuate it.
7-A name of a living scientist that you want to recommend to us and something you would like to add to finish this interview?
I want to recommend Taiwo Jennifer Akeju, she is a chemistry student who is working very hard, she is my sister, hahaha. She is a scientist who, to be honest, I admire a lot, I admire her a lot because she works hard, etc. She has amazing research papers in English and Spanish as well and I think all the work she puts in deserves recognition.
To end the interview, I would like to say that I am delighted that there have been proposals like this, coming from UManresa, proposals from the “Communities for sciences ”in which inclusivity is promoted, but a real one not a symbolic one. Because it gives me the feeling that, many times, when one speaks of inclusiveness, it remains as in words, and it does not materialize in acts or in anything that can cause a real change. Instead, these projects give me a feeling that I can finally have faith that things are going to change and with total positivity. Thank you very much for counting on me and I hope to continue working with you. A hug to all!
The launch of the “Community Living Labs” focused much of the work of the group of the Communities for Sciences (C4S) – Towards Promoting an Inclusive Approach in Science Education” project researchers during the General Assembly of its consortium, held in Brussels on 17th and 18th November 2021. Community living labs are pilot tests that different project organizations promote in their local environment with the aim of using science as an integrative tool for people from communities at risk of vulnerability. Participants took advantage of the international meeting to agree on issues such as tools for collecting data from research fieldwork, compliance with ethical and legal requirements, communication of results, the real impact of inclusive science initiatives at the local level, critical self-questioning, and the review of one’s own practices and institutional roles to consistently promote the values of inclusion or coordination between different initiatives.
The Kanal campus of the ErasmusHogeschool Brussels hosted the assembly, which was held in the space of the “Wonderlab”, a science laboratory of the Belgian university specifically designed for the training of future teachers and educators in the teaching of science in the early ages. This is a facility like that managed by other institutions involved in the project, such as Lab 0_6, located on the Manresa campus of UVic-UCC, the Giocheria in the Italian municipality of Sesto San Giovanni or Galileo Progetti Kft. The science spaces managed by the entities participating in the C4S share the desire to encourage a positive experience of science among children aged 0 to 16 and to entrust them with the habit of asking questions about the environment, raise hypotheses to answer them and test them from direct experimentation with materials and natural phenomena. In all cases, they go beyond strictly academic work and carry out activities specifically aimed at groups of schoolchildren and, in some cases, also children accompanied by their families, in a balanced combination of research, university teaching and pedagogical practice.
The C4S project allows these science laboratories, linked or not to university institutions, to consolidate their role as spaces for research on inclusive science education. In addition, the collaboration within the framework of the European Horizon 2020 program allows them to generate positive synergies with universities that train teachers and educators and/or that have research groups in Education in different European countries. It is hoped that this joint work will lead to conclusions and guidelines for a more inclusive science education to be incorporated both into an academic plan by universities and, from an organizational and strategic point of view, by the technical and political leaders of the public authorities. It is also a goal of the project to mobilize communities at risk of being vulnerable so that they can actively participate, while making visible their contribution to the scientific community.
In October 2020, C4S began its work and is expected to last until September 2023. During the first months, it has organized meetings, workshops, and online training days, both aimed at its members and open to educators interested in inclusive science education as well as interviews with experts of diverse profiles in science and opinion articles or analysis for different media. He has also carried out a thorough review of the scientific literature and of existing children’s books on the subject, as a prelude to local experiences or Community Living Labs that should become the groundwork for the fieldwork of shared research.
About fifty people from various countries and linked to the fields of research, science and education participated last September in the workshop “Pictures and Stories of collaboration”, as an activity of the project “Communities for Sciences – Towards project promoting an inclusive approach in science education” (C4S). The workshop was organized by C4S project partners and consisted of two different sessions with the goal of fostering initiatives aimed at co-participation and cooperation with social actors within contexts of diversity and community-engagement.
The first part of the session was led by Kaat Verhaeghe and Bert Wastijn, from Erasmus Brussels University of Applied Sciences and Arts, who presented a workshop on “NICCO”, an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and narrative coaching method to support professionals to embrace the multiple perspectives that influence their work and organisation. This way of coaching aims to enable professionals to work in contexts of diversity and to enhance the preconditions needed to do so.
The second part, with a more dynamic format, consisted of an open discussion in which the panelists Eric Asaba and Margarita Mondaca, from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm (Sweden), shared experiences, lessons learned, and recommendations on “Photovoice”, a visual method to engage communities in own local context. The Photovoice workshop was coordinated and planned from IB University of Applied Health and Social Sciences and the Department of Health Sciences (Lund University).
In conclusion, and as a final balance, the participants highlighted a recommendation and a lesson learned, and positively valued the possibility of establishing a collaboration framework with the “Communities for Sciences – Towards project promoting an inclusive approach in science education”.
To close the workshop, the project’s coordinators Lluïsa Sort and Gabriel Lemkow of the Manresa campus of University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia, thanked the panelists and attendees for their participation and their work in their respective projects, hoping to hold a new face-to-face session in autumn.
To begin with, could you tell us a bit about your C4S team in Milan? Who you are, what your team members expect to provide, expertise, interests…
Our team consists of professors, researchers, pedagogists and educators with long experience in the field of ECEC, inclusive education, especially with children and adolescents with disabilities, special educational needs, or disadvantages of different natures and extent. The scientific coordination, as regards the University of Milano-Bicocca, is held by Luisa Zecca (who is the scientific head for the Hub), full professor in the field of Didactics and Educational design research, Roberta Garbo, researcher in the Inclusive Education field and delegate of the Rector for disability and specific learning disorders, and Valeria Cotza, assistant researcher and PhD student in Education; as regards the other Hub component, the Municipality of Sesto San Giovanni, this coordination is held by Alessandro Porcheddu, psycho-pedagogist and socio-educational specialist, and Simonetta Vimercati, educator, who both work in the service of GiocheriaLaboratori. The team expects to provide an extensive network of different skills, expertise and interests: for this reason, it also relies on a large number of collaborators and experts in the core areas of the C4S Project. The main expert collaborators, as regards the University of Milano-Bicocca, are Matteo Schianchi, researcher in pedagogy and special education, Monica Roncen, pedagogist expert in ECEC and Socio-Educational Services Management , and Edoardo Datteri, associate professor and philosopher of science. As regards Sesto San Giovanni, they are Laura Plebani, Alessandra Barbanti and Anna Cuccu, educators at the same service of GiocheriaLaboratori. Furthermore, the team also started a collaboration with Enrica Giordano, former professor of didactic of physics at the University of Milano-Bicocca, and Alessandra Bai, responsible for disability in school education of the Municipality of Sesto San Giovanni.
In one sentence, what do you think that the plurality and diversity of actors (from different backgrounds) participating in the project can provide to your settings and to the C4S project?
First of all, the plurality and diversity of actors involved will consolidate the circularity between research-training and public engagement. We imagine an impact on the network of services involved, especially in the way taking charge of students is finalised, also in order to develop prevention activities. Furthermore, we imagine that the project can have an impact on processes of integration of work between institutions, which we think has a direct implication on the life of communities. In addition, the training of educators, teachers and more generally practitioners should lead to an increase of competence in designing inclusive science environments and conducting workshops in this field.
How do you expect to implement the C4S project and activities in your territory? How do you expect to develop them considering your specific context/population/local needs?
Our team has embraced the perspective of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) and the Universal Design for Learning, based on the ICF model. Our Hub is organised in working groups according to 3 directions: 1. networking; 2. teacher education; and 3. participative action-research. The first objective is to interview stakeholders in order to reconstruct both best practices and life stories; indeed, for this purpose, the UNIMIB team designed an interview outline. The second objective is to co-design and co-evaluate playground experiences and scientific laboratories, also by involving teachers and stakeholders in training paths, with the additional aim to develop multi-professional and multidisciplinary tables of professionals who look after children with disabilities. The third objective is to consolidate the network with the Directorate of the 0-6 Toddler and Infant School “Bambini Bicocca” Pole, which is provided with scientific ateliers for biological, ecological and environmental education within the nursery school and kindergarten. To develop these objectives, we are considering three levels of needs: 1. social cohesion needs of the territories (i.e. identifying the critical points in the system of services, work, schools, health, public administration and communication that do not allow children and adolescents and their families to be supported in a coherent way); 2. needs within organisations (i.e. being sure that organisations have material resources and competences to promote inclusive education); 3. needs of individuals (i.e. bringing together the assessments of individuals and families who care for children in conditions of vulnerability). People’s needs are outlined in individual portfolios, where specific indicators are defined on the basis of the ICF; instead, organisational needs are identified by the top management. The Hub team supports the processes of building specific development and learning objectives.
How do you think that an inclusive approach to science education can change societies? How do you think can make people more critical and empowered?
First of all, one of our specific objectives is to develop a research model that improves the competences of professionals involved in educational interventions, combining research and professional development and analysing teaching and learning practices and experiences, also to raise critical thinking and awareness on inclusive science education models in different environments. This model will allow the establishment of working groups and the co-design of pilot activities for a real equity and inclusion, through a workshop approach that allows collaborative small groups and peer-to-peer knowledge exchange. To make this, our team adopt a systemic and inclusive approach that cares about gross injustices and other sources of social disadvantages, through which to recognize the multi-problematic and multi-faceted nature of dimensions and situations; by assuming this perspective, people might be able to redesigning learning environments in their manifold aspects (physical, relational, social, and cultural), in order to grant accessibility, activities and participation. Within this framework, we will pay attention not only to severe disabilities, but also to learning difficulties and disadvantages, that lead to enormous inequalities in educational contexts.
Bambini Bicocca is a spin-off of UNIMIB, an innovative Toddler and Infant School. It is an experimental school, which promotes the active participation of parents and families and stimulate children to take part in sensory, cognitive (like in science) and expressive (like in music) experiences and activities. It experiments innovative approaches to the educational robotics and technologies for the inclusion and to the linguistic and musical learning. Moreover, it carries out research on multimedia tools for didactic planning and documentation.
The B.Inclusion Service, which is the Disability and DSA Service of UNIMIB, is addressed to freshmen and students with disabilities and specific learning disorders. The Service provides support for the university admissions tests and distributes different services, such as: accompanying within the university campus, coaching during the exams, equivalent tests, compensation tools, etc.
The Laboratory of Robotics for the Cognitive and Social Sciences (RobotiCSS Lab) of UNIMIB is a multidisciplinary research laboratory dedicated to analyse the roles that the robotic technologies play outside the robotics, with particular reference to educational robots as tools for the scientific research and to their social applications.
The “Antonia Vita” Association in Monza (Carrobiolo) offers multiple educational services, including a Popular School, to contrast the socio-cultural disadvantage among young people by tackling early school leaving. It provides educational work for adolescents and also support for families, networking with the schools and other educational and social services.
Farfalla Project is an open source application, which allows to personalize the reading and the navigation of the web pages (farfalla-project.org).
Bambini Bicocca Scientific Atelier. Bambini Bicocca is an innovative Toddler and Infant School (3 months – 6 years), which experiments innovative teaching and learning approach through the Scientific Atelier (especially on biology and educational robot) and welcomes children with Charge syndrome and autism spectrum. The school is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
GiocheriaLaboratori Kids Center. GiocheriaLaboratori is an educational service of the Municipality of Sesto San Giovanni, which designs and implements inclusive and non-formal scientific learning laboratories for and together with children aged 3-11 years.
“Antonia Vita” Popular School. “Antonia Vita” Association in Monza offers multiple educational services, including a Popular School to contrast discomfort and early school leaving of students aged 13-17 years, helping them to achieve the middle school diploma.
Kaysara Kkhatun has nearly two decades of working in the academic, NGO and private sectors. In that time, she has gained substantial experience on tropical land use and forestry alongside sustainable development and poverty alleviation more broadly.
Her work to date involves two main activities; one is to undertake interdisciplinary social and environmental research on the impacts of land use and land use change on climate/environment, food security and natural resource management and conflict. The second aspect is to develop sustainable strategies in the sector with NGOs, national governments, and other stakeholders. Both include working – in an inclusive manner- with indigenous peoples and local communities towards improving national and local development whilst attempting to maintain environmental integrity. A strong aspect of her work is understanding national/international policies and economic activities, that act as indirect and direct drivers of land use change and deforestation. In that vein, she has obtained several fellowships, where she has developed projects with case studies in a number of tropical regions e.g., Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, India and several sub–Saharan African (SSA) countries. Examples of case studies include oil palm in Ghana and Indonesia, cocoa production in Ghana, avoided deforestation in Tanzania, Biofuels in SSA, to name a few. Many have a focus on research and yet at the same time are policy driven.
These have on occasion provided input in real time to policymakers and continue to make a positive and lasting difference to communities, and broader regional/national priorities. In one project, findings acted as direct input to Ecuadorian environmental legislation in 2016 on the implementation of equitable payment for ecosystem services schemes, and water, land and food management in the Guayas region. Additional work experience includes transdisciplinary projects in Tanzania, Peru, Costa Rica, as well as several consultancies in land use, with strong agroforestry and climate change themes and their impact on the environment, local governance, and poverty alleviation. These involved continuous facilitation skills, capacity-building and multi-stakeholder engagement. The above projects have a strong outreach and inclusion components (with business, government, community etc).
She has also been active in science outreach to schoolchildren, worked with students from the gifted and talented program, and been involved in various bi-national learning exchange and engagement institutes. She also sits on a few advisory panels on socio-economic issues around conservation and land use.
Do you think that there is a lack of science education in our societies? Do we need a more day to day approach to science?
That depends on what kind of science and where you are. The UK is quite good in some citizen science initiatives in including the public, for example in terms of flora and some wildlife.
High profile scientific issues such as climate change, deforestation, and human rights are visible in education and beyond. However, there is also a great deal of misinformation surrounding these. In the former for example, different views are presented on TV and many other media, and these can appear to have equal weighting in accuracy, as they are given airtime alongside scientific findings.
It also seems there is a generational knowledge gap. In my field, younger people are more likely to be knowledgeable about climate change, human rights, and unethical food/clothes production. These issues are also included in school, which were not to the same degree in the past.
Do you think that science education can change societies? Can it make people more critical and empowered?
Yes- absolutely. Carl Sagan wrote in his book“The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, that by understanding one’s environment, people develop the ability to question it and by default their leaders- hence education broadly is seen as a threat. I have also seen this growing up. The relationship people have with nature, is very much dependant on their knowledge of it, and what kind of interactions they have or have had with it, whether it was one of superstition and fear or something more positive.
In my work on reducing deforestation and sustainable forest management, communities who were actively engaged in conservation, agroforestry, and other initiatives, and saw benefits for their long-term livelihoods, felt a sense of ownership and took pride in their ecosystem and its surroundings.
Do you think that science is an exclusive field? Have you ever felt that science was something strange to you? As an Asian descendant, have you missed science role models?
I do indeed feel that science is exclusive – particularly working in the field or being able to in the first instance. There is the gender issue, which is well documented, but also issues of class, and race. Very few working-class people are visible in research in Universities anywhere. When you look at the hierarchy in academia and perhaps science more broadly you will certainly see fewer women than men, and even fewer people from ethnic minorities further up the ‘food chain’. Obviously, different disciplines will impact the gender issue, however class, and race – not so much! In developing countries, it can be even more profound, as scientists are very often from the elite classes, and very few are from indigenous groups, who are from the areas that much of my research themes take place in. Surprisingly, the gender issue is of course an issue but does not appear to be any bigger than in the European context.
I have not particularly focussed on role models with similar ethnic backgrounds as myself. My science role models have been the likes of Carl Sagan, Benoit Mandelbrot, and Albert Einstein- clearly male and white – and are superstar scientist, opposed to a regular scientist like myself. I have admired them for more than their scientific abilities. The race aspect is something I have only reflected on in hindsight- so to your question, the answer is probably yes. I have had more diverse role models growing up but more from the humanitarian, art, and literature side than science I would say- perhaps this is telling in itself.