Driven by past experiences, Jennifer Merems earns Diversity Award for fight against harassment

Merems pushed to address sexual harassment in the wildlife field

Jennifer Merems’ remarkable leadership in promoting diversity in the wildlife profession, born from her personal experiences, has earned her The Wildlife Society’s Diversity Award this year.

Merems, a doctoral candidate in the department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has contributed to making the wildlife field safer for women. She worked with TWS president at the time Carol Chambers, to put together a chapter-wide training session on sexual harassment in STEM fields.

The idea was born from her past experience. When Merems was a PhD student, she received sexist comments after presenting research on the impact of wolves on elk in Wisconsin to a group of hunters. “She returned hurt and righteously angry,” said Merems’ advisor Timothy VanDeelen, in a nomination letter. “We processed it a bit, but then in a manner that has my everlasting admiration, Jen, leveraging her own motivation and experience, channeled her hurt and anger into efforts to raise and address the problem of sexism and exclusion in our own professional circles.”

Merems started within her own lab group. She reaching out to women professionals whose discussions and experiences could inform their group about sexism in the field. Then, she and her lab organized a plenary on the topic of sexism and inclusion for the TWS Wisconsin Chapter. They also put on the sexual harassment training at this meeting, which was led by University of Wisconsin colleague Erika Marin-Spiotta.

“It is rare to see such dedication and creative hard work on an issue as urgent as increasing diversity in the wildlife field,” VanDeelen said. “It is rarer still, by a wide margin, to see that level of effort and dedication on the part of an early career professional with pressing professional concerns of her own.”

Merems contributed to diversity in the field in other ways since she was a student. She has been involved in TWS’ Women of Wildlife program since she joined TWS as a student in 2013, and she has promoted diversity through training and outreach to Native American high school students when earning her master’s. Merems, herself, has Mexican and Native American familial connections.

Merems has also had a challenging past, having lost her mother at a young age. “Despite these challenges and their emotional burdens, Jen has shown a commitment to lifting up others throughout her career by serving on many diversity, equity and inclusion committees and efforts, hiring underrepresented students as technicians, and ensuring that those technicians had fair wages and working conditions,” said Anna Brose, Merems’ colleague in the VanDeelen lab.

Now that she is an early career professional, she continues to work on diversity in the wildlife profession. She has accepted a leadership position in TWS’s Early Career Professional Working Group, where she has championed diversity activities. She has also co-chaired the Wisconsin chapter’s diversity committee.

Now, as the Wisconsin chapter’s secretary, Merems has organized and participated on a panel discussion to expand inclusion in the profession by addressing racial and disability challenges. She also attends monthly calls with TWS’ Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Awareness Working Group.

“I think that Jen should be recognized, congratulated and admired for her work,” VanDeelen said.

Header Image: Jennifer Merems earned the 2023 TWS Diversity Award. Image Credit: Courtesy Jennifer Merems