An open letter from the Soil-Plant-Atmosphere (SPA) Research Laboratory to all communities that we intersect
The SPA Lab stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the UO Black Student Collective. We support their demands and we will work to counteract the bias that Black people face in academic settings. We come from different academic, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds. We intersect various communities nationally and internationally. Although many of us have experienced systemic bias, none of us knows from personal experience the full weight of systemic racism. We acknowledge that as non-Black people we have benefited from systemic racism in America. Police brutality against people of color is not new. The inadequate response of governments and universities is also not new. But the growing frequency and intensity of blatant racially motivated violence has now brought us to a historical tipping point. Black Americans face an impossible situation. We must listen to what they have to say. We must learn from them and stand with them. We must be better and do better to create a more just world.
We are not scholars of race, but these subjects permeate every fiber of the social-ecological systems at the center of our research and teaching interests. For example, our laboratory focuses on climate change impacts and solutions. People of color are much more concerned about climate change than white people because they are most likely to feel severe impacts of climate change. It is estimated that over 23 million Black Americans (and as well as many more Latinx folks) are ready to take action to prevent an irreversible climate crisis. They contribute significantly to the environmental work that we need to do as a global community. But how can they prioritize such a mission if they have to fight for their lives on a daily basis? We must commit to taking action against racism and all other forms of oppression in order to pursue our scholarly goals.
We make a commitment to working on our own biases to improve our research program, teaching philosophy, and public service roles. Beyond our academic mission, we will take actions in our daily lives to lift the voices of those who are most oppressed. We list here some information compiled from colleagues whose scholarship focuses on race and equity. We have used this work to develop concrete actions that we will implement immediately. Engaging in these conversations is difficult, but it is also essential to improving science as well as our chances to achieve a sustainable future.
To contribute to a more informed community about systemic racism we commit to the following:
- To create a code of conduct where we explicitly state our policy for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in our group and on our campus;
- To educate ourselves and dedicate the first lab meeting of each month to discuss racism, sexism, and their intersections with other systemic biases in academia;
- To assess how our research relates to the environmental injustices experienced by people of color, or other minorities in each of our ongoing and future projects;
- To review the syllabi of the courses we teach and to increase representation of Black and other underrepresented researchers’ work in the literature that we cite;
- To regularly participate in diversity and equity training to improve our teaching and mentoring on matters of inclusion;
- To maintain a growth mindset and to create a mechanism to assess our progress and hold ourselves accountable for these actions;
As for the broader scientific community, we acknowledge that there are also many hurdles in academia for other minorities, including students and staff with visible or invisible disabilities. As a group, we strive to accommodate special needs in our classroom and laboratory as a way to foster diversity and inclusion. For the particular issue of systemic racism, here we reiterate the opinion of our colleagues whose expertise covers issues of justice by we urging you to recognize five critical points:
1) Improving the participation of underrepresented groups is not only a matter of justice, but also a necessary step towards building a better scientific process. Diversity is “the strongest predictor of a field’s impact”1; yet, the proportion of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans completing science BS, MS, and PhD degrees is lower than that of the overall population2. A coherent picture emerging from data is that lasting positive change is possible. Decades of activism to address gender inequality have demonstrably benefitted society3, as the increasing representation of women enhanced the impact of the entire scientific community4. We still have a long way to go with respect to equality in racial and ethnic backgrounds (especially for women)5, but concerted action has the potential to solve many of the injustices that we face in academia.
1 AlShebli et al. The preeminence of ethnic diversity in scientific collaboration Nature Comm (2018); 2 Hodapp & Brown Nature (2018); 3 Nielsen et al. Making gender diversity work for scientific discovery and innovation Nature Human Behaviour (2018); 4 Elsevier.“Gender in the Global Research Landscape”; 5 Lucatello & Diamond-Stanic Diversity and inclusiveness in large scientific collaborations Nature Astronomy (2017).
2) We can use our research and teaching to help dismantle environmental injustices. There are many parallels between the research that we do and other types of environmental science questions that are important for dismantling systemic oppression. For example, middle class African Americans are exposed to much higher levels of pollution than profoundly poor White people in both urban and rural areas. Scientific laboratories can generate the data and models that communities and policymakers need to effect positive change. We need more collaboration with social scientists and policymakers.
3) Most faculty members and University administrators are amateurs when it comes to work on equity and inclusion. Our campus has leading experts on race and justice, but most faculty and administrators (especially in the sciences) are not trained to address this issue. We need to rectify this with the help of experts.
4) We are privileged. Fighting racial injustice is exhausting work and that extra labor should not only fall to graduate students, faculty, and staff of color. Often this work is unpaid labor performed by people who are already underpaid and overtaxed.
5) Impact is more important than intent. We can have the best of intentions and get things wrong. We must de-center personal feelings from the lived experiences of Black people on other minorities affected by a system of operation. We must listen and make changes.
Authors (SPA Lab members, June 2020. In alphabetical order alphabetical order followed by the Principal Investigator – PI).
Adriana Uscanga, PhD Candidate (Geography)
Adrian P. Broz, PhD Candidate (Earth Sciences)
Alison Deak, Student, MS student (Geography)
Barbara Bomfim, Postdoc LBNL (former SPA Lab member)
Brooke Hunter, PhD Candidate (Earth Sciences)
Bryce Izlar, Research Assistant (BS Environmental Sciences)
Hilary Rose Dawson, Lab Technician (Botany and Functional Ecology)
Jamie Wright, PhD Candidate (Environmental Sciences, Studies, & Policy / Bio)
Katherine L. Shek, PhD Candidate (Biology)
Lenora Davis, ESPRIT Scholar (BS Environmental Science)
Mike Farinacci, MS student (Geography)
Ori Chafe, PhD Student (Environmental Sciences, Studies, & Policy / BIO)
Paulo Quadri, Research Scientist (former SPA Lab member)
Schyler Reis, PhD Candidate ((Environmental Sciences, Studies, & Policy / Geo)
Sydney Katz, Clark Honors Scholar (BS Environmental Science)
Toby Maxwell, Postdoc UBI (former SPA Lab member)
Lucas Silva, PI