By Shanna O’Mara
Their boots sank in the mud with every step, their signs wilting from the weight of water, as they marched down Constitution Avenue through the rain. A sea of people flowed through Washington, D.C., en route to Capitol Hill as part of the March for Science on March 22.
Students from Rider’s Science Learning Community (SLC) wanted to express their support for those who have been rejecting the notion of an alternate plan for our earth and environment, an idea now known as “Planet B.”
Brian Kuklinski, a senior biology major, scrolled through his newsfeed on Feb. 1 when an article caught his eye. “Earth Day picked as date for science march on Washington,” the headline read.
“I went to Dr. [Todd] Weber literally the next day and asked if the Science Learning Community could go down to Washington, D.C. and participate in the event,” Kuklinski said. “I told him that Rider took a bus of students and faculty down to the Women’s March when that was happening, and I did not see a reason why we couldn’t do the same.”
Weber, Kuklinski and Cathlene Leary-Elderkin, associate director for Grants Development & Science Literacy, began planning the trip. They asked for financial support from the Student Government Association finance board, which agreed to cover the cost of transportation.
Provost DonnaJean Fredeen and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Jonathan Millen donated money to the cause, allowing the students to purchase matching T-shirts to wear during the march. Students also got together to create signs.
In total, 52 students and faculty members traveled to the nation’s capital to demonstrate the importance of science in society. The message was to “leave science up to the scientists, those who devote their lives to becoming educated on a matter and using facts and clear-cut observations to draw conclusions,” according to junior behavioral neuroscience major Jennifer Londregan.
“Politicians have no place in the realm of science when they can’t stay informed or even use common sense,” she added.
This action came during a time when fact-based concerns, such as climate change, may not have been prioritized. However, Kuklinski said, this was not meant to be an attack on President Donald Trump.
“This was a non-partisan march,” he said. “This march was not against the Republican party, but it was against the policies that are being put in place. Even if there was a Democratic administration right now and they were saying and doing the same things as this administration, I would still be marching.”
Kuklinski cited specific examples of Trump’s “disregard for facts.”
“He is someone that has said that climate change is a hoax that was invented by China, when there is a lot of scientific data that shows that this statement is absolutely false and climate change is real,” Kuklinski said. “He has made Scott Pruitt the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even though Scott Pruitt himself has sued the EPA more than 12 times. He has signed a legislation repealing the Stream Protection Rule, and he also wants to eliminate the Clean Water Rule. He has proposed significant budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Health. He is also still in the works of trying to reverse some other climate change policies.”
Aside from climate change, other issues were represented at the march.
“So many people emphasized fact-based evidence, and how ridiculous it truly is to refute something so concrete and non-negotiable,” Londregan said. “We cannot deny that climate change is changing the world we live in if the evidence is all around us, we cannot deny that vaccines are an incredible public health intervention that changed the course of human history, and we cannot deny that science is important to our lives and the future.”
Even though the actions taken by the new administration sparked the desire to march on Washington, the advocates present did not express blatant disdain for the president, Londregan said.
“Going to the march I expected there to be a lot of anger and strong feelings about the Trump administration,” she said. “I instead found myself surrounded by an overwhelming amount of really passionate, intelligent people who all had incredible things to say. While the atmosphere was intense, it was more driven by passion than by hate or anger.”
Londregan said the key to progressing toward a more educated and socially cohesive future is communication.
“Communication and education are critical at a time like this, because people are blindly believing what the media puts out there without educating themselves,” she said. “I know that I can still make a difference by continuing my education in the sciences, and having important conversations with the people around me.”