Alumni Forum Recap
Alumna discusses diversity in both science and the museum community
Dr. Andrea Motto ‘97, manager of public and youth engagement at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, explained that growing up in a working class immigrant community and continuing her education at Bluffton helped guide her to be a social justice warrior during her Oct. 10 Forum presentation, “Privilege, Resilience and Equity in Science Education," at Bluffton University.
Motto explained that coming to Bluffton University can be a culture shock for some students who are used to being among people of all different races while for others, this is their first time being within a group of people who are the same race. Being from Lorain, Ohio, Motto explained how the city was “low in money, but they were rich in culture.”
Lorain’s community is made up of 26 percent white, 26 percent African American, 39 percent Hispanic and nine percent multiracial citizens, leaving the school district to be in the top two percent of the most diverse school districts in the state of Ohio.
“I found a lot of value coming from this place,” explained Motto. “I learned not to be ashamed of where I came from; I learned to be compassionate to those who never had the opportunity to get beyond those circumstances.”
Growing up in a diverse family and community helped prepare Motto in so many ways but did not prepare her for the challenges she would face once coming to Bluffton University.
Motto explained how she felt different and alone on campus. She didn’t fit in with the way she dressed, and she wasn’t used to being on a primarily white campus, even mentioning how “there was more diversity in her first cousins than the campus”.
This issue of diversity would follow Motto throughout her various jobs and experiences. After working for COSI for nine years and even living in Brazil to learn more about how science centers can be embedded within communities, Motto went to New York to work with the New York Hall of Science where she faced experiences that had contributed to why she became a social justice advocate.
During her time with the Hall of Science, Motto would travel to other museums as a consultant and show them how to bring diversity into their workplaces. Motto recalled that one museum she went to had two separate youth programs for students, offering different experiences for students based on their race. Motto mentioned the white students were upstairs teaching science while the students of color were downstairs in the animal labs cleaning the cages.
As part of Motto’s job, she addressed this concern that she saw. Motto felt she needed to explain how this was problematic, and when she met with the director of the museum to discuss the issue, she found out that the director believed that “some kids are a little too ghetto to work in museums.”
This incident was the driving factor in Motto’s pursuit for her PhD where she would research why and how these issues of diversity happen in museums and how she could contribute to resolving these issues.
“Sometimes I still feel like I have to protect my students from the stuff that is around them. No matter how hard they work, there will always been an extra step they’ll have to take.”
Now, Motto works as an advocate for these students who often do not get the same opportunities and experiences as other students who are white and she also helps other people in the science community to acknowledge and address the problem at hand while becoming advocates themselves against the injustice that is happening within museums.
Ultimately, Motto says museums lack diversity because science lacks diversity. Feeling responsible for speaking up for the issues that certain people face within society, Motto says what we need to do is “make changes within the systems, not with the people.”
-Jena O’Brien, public relations student assistant
Sometimes I still feel like I have to protect my students from the stuff that is around them. No matter how hard they work, there will always been an extra step they’ll have to take.