Yale Honors Girl Scientist Who Had Cops Called on Her

Bobbi Wilson's lanternflies added to university's collection
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2022 10:10 AM CST
Updated Feb 4, 2023 4:40 PM CST
Cops Called on 9-Year-Old Girl Doing Science Experiment
Bobbi Wilson with her collection of lantern flies.   (Andrew Hurley/Yale)
UPDATE Jan 31, 2023 12:15 PM CST

Yale University has honored the 9-year-old girl whose neighbor reported her to police for working on a science project. The October incident in Caldwell, New Jersey, "touched off a national discussion about racial profiling," per the Guardian, which reports Bobbi Wilson was spraying an insecticide outside her home in the hope of eradicating the invasive spotted lanternfly. Ijeoma Opara, an assistant professor at Yale, later invited Bobbi to meet Black female scientists at the university. She called the girl an inspiration during a Jan. 20 ceremony that saw Bobbi's personal collection of lanternflies entered into Yale's museum of natural history. "Yale doesn't normally do anything like this," Opara said. Bobbi's mother said it "means the world" that the science community has rallied around her daughter.

Nov 14, 2022 10:10 AM CST

Spotted lanternflies have plagued states up and down the East Coast for years, and 9-year-old Bobbi Wilson was determined to figure out a way to get rid of them. The fourth grader from Caldwell, NJ, had been studying the invasive species in school and stumbled upon a TikTok video that suggested a "green" spray made of dish soap and apple cider vinegar to use on the insects, reports NJ Advance Media. But when Bobbi, who's Black, set about using the solution on local sidewalks and trees on the morning of Oct. 22, her science experiment was marred by an elderly neighbor who phoned 911, in a call that Bobbi's mother, Monique Joseph, says illustrates the racism that exists in their mostly white community, reports BuzzFeed News.

Joseph appeared at a town council meeting on Nov. 1 to read aloud from the transcript of the call made by 71-year-old Gordon Lawshe, which she received from police. "There's a little Black woman, walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees," was what Lawshe told the dispatcher, per Joseph. She added that Lawshe then went on to say: "I don't know what the hell she's doing; it scares me, though." Joseph noted that Lawshe also said in the 911 call that the "real small woman"—Bobbi's family says she's under 5 feet tall, per BuzzFeed News—was wearing a hoodie.

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Lawshe, who has lived across the street from Joseph's family for nearly eight years and has served as a co-chair of the Caldwell Republican Party, hasn't yet commented on the matter, per the Progress. Bobbi's older sister, 13-year-old Hayden, also spoke at the town council meeting, noting, "She was not only doing something amazing for our environment, she was doing something that made her feel like a hero. I can confidently assure you that Bobbi will not forget this." As for what Joseph wants out of all this, she said, "I want this to be a teachable moment," noting that Bobbi was afraid to venture outside the day after the incident and remains fearful. She added that "[we need to] ensure going forward little Black and brown children in this town can feel safe." (Read more New Jersey stories.)

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