Name: Deah Lieurance
Position: UF/IFAS Extension scientist in the Agronomy Department and coordinator of the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas
Hometown: Dayton/Greenville, Ohio
Years with UF/IFAS: 9 years
Describe your role at UF/IFAS:
I do invasion risk and status assessments of non-native plant species to determine if they should or should not be recommended for use in Florida by UF faculty and staff. I also conduct research that aims to improve our ability to prevent biological invasions in Florida and the Southeastern United States. Prevention is critical when considering the tremendous negative impacts invasive species have on Florida’s natural areas, biodiversity, and economy. My research strives to identify the species that pose the greatest invasion threat before they get here.
You’re also a champion for promoting inclusion, diversity, equity and access (IDEA) in scientific fields. What sparked this motivation in you, or was it a gradual process?
As a woman and member of the LGBTQ community, diversity, equity, and inclusion have always been important to me on a personal level. As I’ve moved through my career, it’s become safer to speak out for my community and others. It’s refreshing to see the advances that have been made in recent years, but it is important to keep going, especially in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, the mass disappearance of Indigenous women, and so many other issues affecting marginalized communities. I just hope that the work I am doing makes even a small difference in Academia and beyond.
I was selected to lead the Agronomy Department’s IDEA committee as its first chair. We’re currently working on ways to reduce bias in hiring processes and recruiting to promote diversity in the department. I’m also the co-chair of the North American Invasive Species Management Association’s (NAISMA) IDEA committee. On an international level, we are working to promote indigenous voices in invasive species management, look for ways to change problematic and offensive common names, and offer diversity and inclusion scholarships to attend our annual meeting.
Explain your recent work related to this topic with the journal “Biological Invasions.”
I recently participated in the publication of a series of articles in the journal Biological Invasions, led by Laura Meyerson from the University of Rhode Island, that aimed to identify and address concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion in the journal. We published four papers as a result of this work, including the editorial I led with Meyerson, Sara Kuebbing (University of Pittsburgh), Matt McCary (Rice University), and Martin Nuñez (University of Houston), titled “Words matter: how to increase gender and LGBTQIA+ inclusivity at Biological Invasions.” In it, we outline the need to use gender-inclusive language in papers and editorial communications and provide guidance on how to do this. We also explain the importance of retroactive name changes for trans and non-binary authors; this benefits any authors who change their names, including for marriage or religious reasons. We believe that increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion at our journal will lead to a better understanding of invasive species around the world and will make all members of the invasive species community feel welcome.
How can you see the message of the editorial being translated across other scientific fields?
Big picture, we hope our efforts will provide a model for other journals to address similar concerns and ultimately help improve the global exchange of knowledge across scientific disciplines. In fact, the gender-inclusive language recommendations outlined in the editorial can be implemented here within IFAS in our Extension communications.
What has been your observation of how the landscape has evolved throughout your time as a scientist?
I’ve been a part of the academic community since 1991, when I started my undergraduate degree. I have witnessed and experienced many things that would not be tolerated today. Thankfully, the climate has improved immensely for many marginalized groups, but there’s still work to do. I’m encouraged by the number of folks from all generations and backgrounds joining the conversation and I think this is how real institutional change will happen.
RELATED: Lieurance was recently awarded the Rita Beard Visionary Leadership Award from NAISMA.