By Raena Doty
Interim Asst. Arts & Features Editor
A panel of scientists and artists from the Central Square Theater visited the McCarthy Forum to talk about their experiences working on the play “Young Nerds of Color” Nov. 9.
The play is about the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and how they relate to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The content of the play comes from the synthesis of over 60 interviews by BIPOC in STEM.
The panel included Des Bennett, dramaturg and community engagement manager for Central Square Theater; Kortney Adams, an actor in “Young Nerds of Color”; Eboney Hearn, executive director of the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs at MIT and interviewee for the play; and Melinda Lopez, playwright.
After Adams began the discussion by reading two short scenes from the play, Lopez started the conversation by speaking on how she chose to write the story.
“Why are there so few representations of scientists of color on the stage? And as theater makers and as people who embrace science, love science, practice science, this seemed like a good question to investigate,” Lopez said.
She said she mostly tried to keep the interviews intact when writing because the original interviews were “so compelling, so dynamic, so mind-blowingly fiercely proud” and she didn’t want to change them.
Hearn spoke next on what it meant to her to be part of the interviewing process when creating the play.
“I just remember breaking down. The questions touched me in a way and I couldn’t really formulate answers in a way that I’m used to - just being able to talk - because it was like two worlds were crashing together,” she said.
She explained the “two worlds” were the force of enthusiastic, young BIPOC and the force of despair.
Adams talked about her experience as a BIPOC scientist and artist, and how they interact. She said she always saw a deep connection between science and art in a way that doesn’t always make sense to other people, particularly white people.
The panel then discussed the importance of diversity in STEM.
Hearn said she used to get defensive about that question before her work shifted to diversity, equity, and inclusion training, because it felt like it was asking her to justify her existence in STEM. But she understands now answering helps people comprehend the importance of social progress.
“I see science as a tool for helping us - everybody. And so for me, I think that the questions we’re asking have to also be representative of the people who we need to serve and make things better for. And so for me, diversity is important because there are questions that need to be asked and answered,” she said.
Lopez said the question reminded her of one of the interviews used to write the play.
In this interview, a chemist described being the only person of color at a convention of 300 people. She said this creates a “feeling of being hyper visible, and then at the same time, not being seen for the contributions that you can bring.”
Hearn said “Young Nerds of Color” is not intended to be a story about the trauma of BIPOC in STEM, but rather a call to action to make the world better.
“This is to celebrate the joy of the experience,” she said. “There are challenges, but not all of us are coming from the same experience. As folks of color, we’re actually quite diverse in our upbringings and our experiences and our knowledge, and let’s celebrate that.”