To better understand how people make decisions, academics and scholars often turn to theories and models. Game theory, a mathematical model that enables predictions of how people might act given strategic interactions, is one such example. However, game theory only works if both “players” are behaving in a rational manner (Binmore, 2008), and they can only act rationally if each can approach the “game” with equal preparation. If we are not on equal footing, we can’t hope to play the same game. This is shown repeatedly in minority or marginalized communities. When historically, districts have been redlined and education and community improvement budgets slashed, how do we – the societal we – expect individuals to respond rationally in this game theory, and more importantly, in real life?
Because I am currently steeped in the science/academic experience, let’s use science as an example; consider scientific education as the “game”. Science has traditionally been built around a privileged space, and while there has been talk about the underprivileged, they have not always been given a voice.
However, social justice movements are moving into academic platforms to speak to what the sciences can be with inclusion of all voices. A prime example is Jamila Pegues, the first Black woman to receive her astrochemistry PhD in the United States and the first Black woman to receive an Astronomy PhD from Harvard. This past year we saw hashtags like #blackafinstem across Twitter with stories of undergraduate and graduate students alike showing representation and sharing their stories of being Black and Brown in STEM. PEW Research released a report that shows an increase in minorities in STEM, but also highlights the long road ahead.
The social justice movement in academia comes from individuals who speak up and share about how they were able to gain access to information, tools, and resources. These are the people who were able to play the game. The make-up of the environmental and natural sciences is changing, which is good, but still, we cannot reduce people to only a handful of choices or strategic interactions (such as game theory). We cannot pretend that all people can simply choose to thrive or survive without also making sure that all players have the same access to the tools and background knowledge that enable those choices.
Our individuality and life stories are what make us adaptable to different situations, but there needs to be an understanding of how individuals are affected by access (or lack thereof) to resources and information that are needed in a game setting and in real life decision scenarios. When we start incorporating diverse experience, knowledge, and values into the proverbial game, then we allow everyone to be on the same footing.