Science Careers spoke with
Wantling—who received the
oSTEM Global STEM Service
Award at this year’s conference
last month in Chicago, Illinois—
about what it is like to be queer
on campus and how to make
academia more inclusive.
This interview was edited for
clarity and brevity.
Q: Why did you get
involved in oSTEM?
A: I really liked oSTEM’s mission, which is that we can be out
with queer people and still be
in STEM. I don’t have to compartmentalize part of my identity
so that I can either be a successful advocate or have a successful
career. Now, as vice president
of the KU chapter, one of my
main priorities for this year is to
provide support to our students and build a strong sense
of community, because being queer in Kansas is hard.
There are all sorts of groups that come and protest queer
events on campus. You’re just trying to go to class, and they
are standing there reminding you that there are people who
want to hurt you or kill you just because of who you love or
the way that you present your gender. Beyond campus life,
a lot of KU students don’t have supportive families, so if
they go home, they have to either pretend they’re not queer
or put up with a lot of bullying there, too. In my work with
oSTEM, I want our students to know that although life
out there may be hard, at least as long as they are inside the
doors of our meeting room, they are safe, they are cared
about, and they have people they can rely on.
Q: What is it like to be an
LGBTQ student in STEM?
A: STEM can be competitive,
and people may try to use your
queer identity as evidence that
you’re not as good or as professional as they are. Still, I cling to
the hope that STEM should be
a little more accepting than other
fields, because hopefully we can
acknowledge and respect one
another based on the knowledge
we contribute. I haven’t been in it
for very long, and I may have just
gotten lucky to not run into the
wrong people yet, but so far, I have
been met with almost nothing
but love and kindness. But there
is always room for improvement,
and so, regardless of where my
career takes me, I will continue to
advocate for myself and others.
Q: What can people do to be more inclusive?
A: You don’t know the lives of people around you, so
be very conscious about what you say and how you act.
Don’t make or laugh at homophobic or transphobic
jokes—they are very hurtful. Try to stand up if you
see someone being harassed or if you hear somebody
making a backhanded slight. Be conscious of the
space that you take up. Don’t speak over us, but at the
same time give us support. It’s a delicate line to walk
and a delicate balance to achieve. But if you care,
you’ll learn how. j
Elisabeth Pain is Science Careers’s contributing editor for
Europe. Send your story to SciCareerEditor@aaas.org.
Being out in STEM
I was really excited to be able to start fresh and establish my identity right away,” Elise Wantling says about starting college. “Instead of people seeing me as who I used to be—this very religious and quiet girl who from one day to the next turned into a really loud queer person—people would finally just see me as who I am, which is I’m Elise and I’m queer and I really like science.” Meet- ing other LGBTQ scientists at the 2016 national Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM) conference just after starting college furthered Wantling’s commitment
to being out. Up until then, Wantling had only seen LGBTQ people struggling. But the conference
included “queer people who were successful, and queer people who were happy, and queer people who
had partners and who had lives and who had families,” says Wantling, now a second-year biology student at the University of Kansas (KU) in Lawrence. “It proved to me that things were going to be OK.”
By Elisabeth Pain
“We can be out
with queer people and
still be in STEM.”
sciencemag.org SCIENCE 1214 1 DECEMBER 2017 • VOL 358 ISSUE 6367