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Morgan Irons

About Morgan


Soil Science Ph.D. Candidate, Lehmann Lab

School of Integrative Plant Science

Graduate Research Fellow, National Science Foundation

Graduate Research Fellow, Atkinson Center for Sustainability

Fellow, Carl Sagan Institute

How do you bring pride to your research, teaching and/or outreach?

I bring pride into my work by being open and honest about who I am and continuously working to create and contribute to accessible and sustainable safe spaces where people can be their full selves. Feelings of safety and acceptance and having a reality that matches those feelings can lead to people bringing in more of themselves to their environment and to their interactions with people and their work. This leads to amazing opportunities for growth, exploration and innovation. It is a continuous learning experience for me that involves making space for active listening, educating myself, and accepting and learning from being uncomfortable at times. I have learned in my research, teaching and outreach experiences that people are more willing and are able to be themselves when spaces are created that are not exclusionary, but are accepting and celebratory of differences and have structures in place that protect people’s rights to feel and be safe.

Can you please share an example of a joy and/or challenge of being an LGBTQIA+ academic in STEM?

It has been an absolute joy to connect with researchers who are also LGBTQIA2S+ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or gender expansive, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual and two-spirit] in my lab, across campus and at academic conferences. Having an environment or at least safe spaces where my colleagues, friends and myself can be open and honest about who we are has given me the courage and support I need to help create spaces in my office, lab and department where myself and my colleagues who are also LGBTQIA2S+ researchers can bring our full selves to our work, teaching and outreach. Identities are not boxes or distinct labels that only affect us in our personal lives or just in our work lives; identities are fluid and affect all aspects of our lives. By feeling I can share my full self with people at work, I am able to be more at ease and contribute more of my energy to my work instead of worrying or having anxiety about my safety. I recognize how lucky I am to be able to experience that, as not everyone can say the same. My mind goes to Maître Gims’ song La Même (English translation): “We take boxes, we place the people that we’ll never, never understand deep down inside of them. Being that mankind is made of a thousand boxes, those boxes that we take are never big enough…. I’m too complicated, I’ll never fit it. In your little squares, I live my life from day to day. And so I always zigzag with those black shades. I hear people wonder: ‘When will the mask fall off.’”

You have spent many years now in science and, in particular, the academic world. What kind of changes would you like to see in these spaces?

Departments and institutions should put more energy, money and institutional infrastructure toward resources and trainings that actively work to show students, staff, faculty and visitors that change is happening for the better. Some examples of resources include having accessible nonbinary bathrooms on campus and a map of where they can be found and a map of key identity-related facilities and/or safe spaces that are also accessible and given proper support and resources. Mandatory yearly trainings for faculty and staff should include topics such as Title IX, pronouns training, bias training (i.e., implicit bias training, diversity and inclusion training), and safety trainings for departments to know how to support students who may go into areas that may lead to safety issues due to local bias and prejudice.

How has being LGBTQIA+ or any other aspects of your identity influenced your experience in science or academia?

I have become more aware and mindful of the environment and climate of my department and institution as well as how I approach outreach and teaching. Based on my own experiences, there are moments in my academic career when I have been in an environment or situation where I become hyperaware of my identity or an aspect of myself that is not shared by the people “in the room.” In those moments, I had to actively decide if I was in a safe enough space to be myself or put on a persona, which is not fair, and for some people, the choice is not possible. It is not up to the person to change themselves to fit an organizational climate that is exclusive or not accepting. It is on the institution and leadership to make that change. I want to make sure people who come into my classroom, who are my mentees or who come after me into these spaces do not feel that they must make that decision.