Daily Herald opinion: Congratulations to Fermilab director Lia Merminga, another 'first' woman
Congratulations to the board of the Fermi Research Alliance for choosing who we presume to be the right person to lead the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, regardless of gender. Lia Merminga, an eminently qualified physicist, will be the first woman to become Fermilab's director when she takes the seat on April 18.
It's inevitable that the first nonwhite male to assume a particular position of power in any field will be duly noted. It will take the second woman to lead Fermilab, however, before future directors will be classed only as scientists and not by gender.
One wonders when the "first woman" classification will finally become an anachronism (first woman to lead Fermi, first woman NFL ref, first woman to be U.S. president), but with every "first woman" achieved there are always still more ceilings to break. The triumph by a woman like Merminga lifts up all women, but also serves as a reminder that America has yet to make the highest and best use of all its citizens.
"Firsts" are happening every day in families and communities, but gender has kept many qualified women from achieving the top in their field -- either by being passed over or by not given the same access to education and employment from the beginning.
We are not at all suggesting that Fermilab and the U.S. Department of Energy were guilty of these prejudices in the past. What we're saying -- to everybody -- is that in all walks of life, selective opportunity based on gender, race, religion, sexual preference or however Americans identify by tribe, actually hurts the nation.
By celebrating "firsts" we are changing that tune, saying that we as a nation are incrementally coming to value the different experiences and thought processes that diversity brings to the table. Firsts tell our children that everyone's contributions are welcome and that the nation recognizes a level playing field isn't just fairer, it's necessary to our future.
In the U.S. Capitol Rotunda is a white marble monument of three suffragist pioneers, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, none of whom lived to see women get the vote. Called the Portrait Monument, it was dedicated with great fanfare in 1921, six months after the 19th amendment was passed -- and moved underground the next day. It languished in a crypt until 1997 when it was reinstalled. The $75,000 required to move it was given by donors.
The three busts emerge from marble, while a fourth uncarved pillar behind the busts is meant to represent all of those who would continue fighting for women. Stanton, Mott and Anthony would applaud Lia Merminga and Fermilab, as we do today. But they would also be acutely aware the job of equal opportunity in this country is not finished.