chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.


DEIB Corner: What’s in a Button?

Ravay Smith and Kathleen M Whitby


  • SEER values each person’s individuality and recognizes that we all do better when we connect with one another.
  • Attending a SEER in-person conference gives you opportunities to build new relationships and deepen existing ones.
  • Pinning an ice-breaker novelty button to your name-badge, lanyard, or lapel can help initiate or continue those connections.
  • Come join us in Chicago, April 3-5, or Seattle, October 23-25, and find the answer to: “What’s in a button?”
DEIB Corner: What’s in a Button?
Abraham Gonzalez Fernandez via Getty Images

If you’ve attended one or more of the post-pandemic Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) Fall or Spring Conferences you may have seen people sporting small pin-backed “novelty” buttons on their name badges, lanyards, or lapels. You may have even witnessed some lawyer’s enthusiasm when they noticed the buttons at the registration table and asked yourself “what’s with the buttons?”

We respectfully suggest that the better question might be “what’s in a button?” And the answer, we offer, is “bringing, and being, and showing, more of your whole self to others.” We will explain. But first, a little history.

March 2020 marked the beginning of interruptions to the normal life we knew before COVID-19. During the pandemic’s shutdown and the months of reduced gatherings that followed, SEER’s in-person conferences were postponed and then rescheduled back into their original destinations to avoid contract penalties. This included the intended Fall 2020 conference location in Nashville, Tennessee.

By the time in-person conferences resumed and SEER actually made it to Nashville in the fall of 2022, the state of Tennessee had passed a number of laws that many of our members felt adversely impacted LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. This in turn affected the willingness (and even the ability) of some to attend the conference and the SEER Council meeting that followed.

The Nashville conference planning committee, along with SEER leadership and our wonderful ABA staff, were unified in a desire to demonstrate support for the wholeness and humanity of every person who might travel to Nashville for our conference, especially those targeted by Tennessee’s new laws. To that end, they made a concerted effort to incorporate diversity into every element of the event: speakers, receptions, marketing, décor, etc.

Now we’re sure you’re asking yourself, “what does any of this have to do with pin-back buttons?” And/or “why on earth have the things proliferated at the conferences held since Nashville?”

Well, to tell the truth, during the pandemic one of the authors developed a mild obsession with smiley-face buttons, adding them to clothes as a “cheer up” gesture and to beanie/stocking hats to hold face mask straps off ears. One night she went surfing on a well-known e-commerce vendor’s website for lightweight (and thus easily transported) indicia of LGBTQ+ support, thinking she could contribute something to the welcome efforts for Nashville. And after a click or two, allyship and diversity support buttons were winging her way.

Those couple of bags of buttons ultimately made it onto the Nashville registration table, where they joined items procured by SEER staff such as a wheel of ABA lanyards in multiple colors, pronoun-choice badge ribbons, tiny rainbow heart stickers, and LGBTQ+ flags. Conference attendees seemed to appreciate the efforts, so they continued, and even expanded a bit, during the Spring Conference in Denver and ultimately the Fall Conference in D.C.

A funny thing happened, though, between Nashville and D.C. The other of us noticed the focus on LGBTQ+ diversity at Nashville, valued it highly, but then asked: “what about the rest of us?”

SUCH a great question! We are all individuals. We are each unique. We all have a multiplicity of backgrounds, interests, and identities. As a progressive Section within the bigger ABA, we want those multiple aspects of ourselves acknowledged and validated. And it is not possible to fit all that onto a button.

That said, we all share overlapping affinities—none of us is an island of one. Allowing, and indeed encouraging, each of us to show a little of our “real self”—to highlight something we believe in, or adhere to, or treasure, or even just find amusing—enriches all of us. Because the more we know about each other, the more we can see, feel, and trust in the shared elements of our humanity. At such a critical time in our society, we can no longer afford to default into an “us” and “them” posture—we have the opportunity (and perhaps even the duty) to be “we” and work to change centuries of old narratives. The more we institute small changes and open up dialogues surrounding diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, the better example we can be as a Section and organization to our colleagues, clients, and communities. Because when we see humanity in one another, it reflects outwardly, and the world gets better.

By the time SEER gathered in D.C. last September for the Fall Conference, the button choices had multiplied. The goal was to offer everyone an opportunity to display a little bit of themselves—to wear ourselves on our sleeves, so to speak—even through something as goofy as a science pun. After all, as environmental, energy, and resource professionals, we work with a fundamental focus on the realities of science (plus a lot of us are nerds at heart).

The buttons may end at some point, as tools can lose their effectiveness over time. But if they do, hopefully we’ll have found some other way to communicate their key message. So, to answer the original question: “what’s in a button?” It depends! What’s in the button can vary, but who wears it, the pride that beams from it, and the genuine connections that result from it are what really matter.

We look forward to seeing you at the 2024 Spring Conference in Chicago, April 4–5, and/or the Fall Conference in Seattle, October 24–25. If all else fails, you can talk to us about our buttons!