COVID-19 Updates: Fall Semester

Biology Department Letter in Support of Black Lives Matter:

The Middlebury Biology Department states explicitly that BLACK LIVES MATTER. To students, colleagues, and staff in the Black community, we see you, we value you, and we are here for you. We pledge to fight racism and reaffirm our efforts to build a more inclusive community, both at Middlebury College and beyond our academic bubble. We can use our platforms of privilege as academic scientists to train students in how to listen and amplify the voices of activists, and see ourselves as role models in ethical, community-engaged science to co-produce knowledge. While the abhorrent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and too many other Black Americans bring us deep sadness, pain, and anger, we support and are energized by the collective engagement and solidarity of protests on the local to global scale.

We echo and lift up the call from Black Lives Matters organizers that enough is enough:

“Our pain, our cries, and our need to be seen and heard resonate throughout this entire country. We demand acknowledgment and accountability for the devaluation and dehumanization of Black life at the hands of the police. We call for radical, sustainable solutions that affirm the prosperity of Black lives.” 

We also acknowledge and support the call to action from our students in their recent email to President Patton. We are called to action again by this piece from Middlebury alumna Dena Simmons ‘05, “We Cannot Afford to Walk Away,” recently recirculated by the Middlebury Magazine. The Biology Department pledges to fight racism and reaffirms our efforts to build inclusive classroom and community environments. 

As scientists we often shy away from, or do not center, anti-racist work. It is on us to do this work, and we acknowledge that our inaction perpetuates structures of oppression. As biologists, we also believe that access to nature, clean water and air, and quality health care are fundamental rights. Many of the current issues in human health and the environment that we study as biologists disproportionately affect marginalized communities, and to solve today's most pressing biological issues we need to ensure all perspectives have a seat at the table. As educators we strive to give our students tools that will help their voices be heard in these conversations. Underrepresented students, especially Black students, face barriers and biases in our labs and classrooms, across our campus, in the broader Middlebury community and beyond. Below we outline our intended action and accountability steps, in both broad and focused ways:

  • Continuing to educate ourselves with the anti-racism resources below. Feel free to join us. We will dedicate one department seminar a year for an anti-racism workshop, an anti-racism speaker, or for critical discussion of anti-racism resources.
  • Include more Black biologists in our course materials, lectures, discussions, and seminars. As a commitment to centering the research contributions of Black biologists, our goal is to reserve half of our seminar speaker invitations per year for non-White identifying biologists. 
  • Recognize and acknowledge that the life sciences are not race neutral, and increase transparency about our discipline’s racist past, specifically the eugenics movement, marginalization of Black scientists, and pseudosciences related to race, genetics, and behavior.
  • Work to include course discussions of the history within our disciplines, address ethical problems of past and present work, and how we are actively modifying our research practices to minimize harm and benefit communities today.
  • Educate ourselves on more socially just and universally effective pedagogical approaches and incorporate these into our teaching and assessment practices to mitigate the effects of systemic racism present in our country. This work is ongoing in the STEM pedagogy group, and will be continued.
  • Commit to recruitment and support of Black Teaching and Research Assistants.
  • Insist that our institutional leaders dedicate both the financial and structural resources to carry out an anti-racist pedagogical reform; for example we request that the CTLR provide specific programming around this topic.
  • Identify a Biology Department member as the liaison for student concerns relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This person would solicit feedback directly, or receive information anonymously through the Student Advisory Council. This liaison will have allotted time at every department meeting to share these concerns and allow for department discussion, and may call for separate meetings if urgent needs arise.
  • Reach out to our students, and student cultural organizations, for input on our improvements, and critique of any setbacks, in our anti-racist efforts.
  • Actively oppose the efforts to invite racist speakers to our campus, recognizing that providing a platform to such speakers does an incredible amount of harm to our Black students and the community at large.
  • Actively participate in anti-racist college forums and events.
  • We ask the College to devote the 2021 Clifford Symposium to exploring race in America from the perspective of each academic division at the College.
  • We ask the College to develop and deliver required faculty and staff anti-racist education. 
  • Commit to working with our professional societies to ensure these spaces are welcoming and equitable for all of our students.

The recent events of police brutality, and the attempts to weaponize this racist aggression against the Black community, are visible reminders of the centuries-long mistreatment of Black people in the United States. We are faced with hard questions and multifaceted uncertainties. However, we also feel hope and momentum building in the strength and resilience we see in our own communities, and that is shared with us by our students, alumni, and broader community. We are eager to use this energy to take action and foster change to support educational spaces and communities that are accessible, equitable, and welcoming for all of our students. This is an evolving document and we look forward to input and are open to new directions not yet included.

Several anti-racism resources:

Ways You Can Help

The 1619 Project

Scaffolded Anti-Racism Resources

“White Academia. Do Better”

This Is What I Want To Tell My White Professors When They Ask, ‘How Are You Today?’

Diversity is a Dangerous Set-up

“Diversifying STEM: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Race and Gender”

No Time for Silence

 

Sincerely,

The Biology Department

Co-signed, alphabetically

David Allen
Vickie Backus
Kirsten K. Coe
Catherine Combelles
Carolyn Dash
Susan DeSimone
Erin Eggleston
Glen Ernstrom
Eric Moody
Alexis M. Mychajliw
Alison Nurok
Greg Pask
Joanna Shipley
Grace Spatafora
Mark Spritzer
Jeremy Ward

June 10, 2020

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Department of Biology

McCardell Bicentennial Hall
276 Bicentennial Way
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753