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Message to EES community on the recent traumatic injustice

The recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, only a few of the latest in a long string of heartbreaking injustices inflicted upon the Black community, are causing a great deal of anger, pain, and suffering for a wide range of people. Things were additionally challenging due to this pandemic that is disproportionally affecting Black and other underrepresented communities. These horrific events have made it even more difficult for many to carry on, especially for those who are regularly confronted with biases and injustices. In the face of such overwhelming trials, what can we, as a department do?

We can and must all do better!

We must acknowledge that privilege is a real thing. Until we acknowledge its existence and work to correct its manifestations, we will not move forward.

We are fortunate enough to be at a University, a place where it is possible to work closely with people of widely different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. By embracing those differences, we strengthen our culture.

The work of our department is to integrate a variety of scientific disciplines to better understand the Earth and its environment. We already know how to work with varied points of view to form a cohesive method to solve problems. We need to take those skills and apply them to the way we approach each other and issues of race and injustice that affect members of our community.

  • Let us strive to make every individual feel welcomed and appreciated.
  • Let us all learn to be more understanding and lift up others with different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences.
  • Let us work together to confront bias and move toward systematically welcoming, promoting, and striving for equity, inclusivity and diversity.

Everyone who is facing the pain and trauma associated with these recent events or other incidents of injustice or aggression needs to know that we are here as a community to support them. Now and always. To do this we must all work to become better supporters. There is so much that we can do and must do to examine the culture of our department, and to improve our department, but where do we start? We can start with three overarching actions:

1)            Listen more.

Department leadership has been hearing increasingly from students and faculty over the last many days and more about the challenges you have been facing, and potential opportunities to make our community a better place. We all have a duty to each other to listen, read broadly, and educate ourselves, not purely in our science, but also in our individual biases, systemic biases, and ways to support our colleagues. At the department level, we can and will do more to create venues for sharing resources and training within our community.

There are many self-education resources we should know about and utilize. Please review the excellent resources that Dr. Julie Libarkin shared within her May 30, 2020 email to the department. In addition, please see that the College of Natural Science Diversity Equity and Inclusion team has compiled a list of self-education resources, and the Dean and College Diversity Advisory Committee have distributed even more with their recent statement in response to current events.

2)            Speak more.

We must acknowledge that it is hard to speak about racism, and every other form of discrimination, but speak about these topics we must. Silence is not the answer. We need to support each other and particularly the people of color and other underrepresented groups including those in the LGBTQ community who are suffering now and have been suffering for a long time. We also need to support the international and/or Asian members of our community who have been facing discrimination and hostility associated with the COVID-19 crisis or geopolitical issues. We need to talk about the systems that are failing people of color at every level, including our own department. We need to build trust in our department culture so we can openly share ideas and experiences. Having hard discussions on racism and discrimination issues is therefore a must.

3)            Do more.

Many of us have felt powerless and paralyzed in the face of the challenges entailed in promoting justice, diversity, equity, and inclusivity, especially in our work spaces. If we want to do better, we must not let fear of making mistakes prevent us from moving forward. And, along with this, we need to practice kindness in helping others see and understand their mistakes. We need to pull together, be kind and empathetic to build an inclusive home for everyone in our department.

We recognize that despite these overarching good intentions, our department as an organization has few concrete examples of anti-racist and anti-discrimination actions to date. Hence, we must all do more. It is all of our responsibility to put our words into actions and promote justice, diversity, equity and inclusivity in all of our spaces. Here are some examples of recent actions from our community aimed at creating a more inclusive department:

  • The GSO wrote and presented a proposal to add elected student representatives to the department DEI committee.
  • Graduate students advocated for inclusivity in the graduate awards process.
  • Staff developed materials to advertise and increase participation in departmental awards.
  • Faculty voted to remove the requirement for the GRE in graduate admissions to lower barriers to disadvantaged students.
  • The graduate committee allocated funds to remove barriers for international student entry to the US and advocated for their participation in teaching.
  • Faculty developed relationships with minority-serving institutions and wrote proposals to fund approaches to increasing racial diversity of the graduate student body.

These examples are just the first steps on the road to improving our department culture. We encourage all of our community members to offer their ideas and actions for how to address racism and bias in our community. This will take all of us sincerely striving to create safe spaces where people can feel able and safe to share ideas.

We must all make an enduring commitment, especially those not yet active in anti-racism work, to individual and collective action within our department and beyond to address and try to dismantle racism and discrimination in our community.

Lastly, we must all acknowledge the multi-faceted impacts of racism and discrimination events, and that these impacts cannot be contained or compartmentalized. This means making space to allow these events to affect our work and our productivity. Especially now, we must practice extreme patience, empathy and kindness with each other.

Let us all do better. We must!

Sincerely,

David Hyndman (he/him), Chair
Susannah Dorfman (she/her), Co-Chair, EES DEI Committee
Jay Zarnetske (he/him), Co-Chair, EES DEI Committee

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Contact

Department Chair:
Dr. David W. Hyndman
  (517) 355-4626

Department Office:
 Natural Science Bldg
288 Farm Lane, Rm 207
East Lansing, MI 48824
  (517) 355-4626
  (517) 353-8787
  geosci@msu.edu