COVID-19: Essential Information

Letter in Support of Black Lives Matter & Social Justice

July 6, 2020

Dear Geography Students,

I hope that you and your family are safe and doing well.  We are living in turbulent the times with a virus that has targeted the core of human communication, the intimate spaces of bodily interaction: talking, singing, working, playing, meeting...  Traveling has declined dramatically, and we miss seeing friends and family, though the earth sighs in relief and breathes a bit easier.  There is tremendous work for geographers as a result: tracking diffusion of the virus and assessing its social and environmental impact.  While our physical interactions have shrunk, there has been a tremendous growth in virtual interactions which vastly expanded surveillance, but also provided new tools for global empowerment. Black lives matter! After George Floyd was horrendously murdered, people around the world shouted, “I can’t breathe” and renounced racism and violent policing during protests that defied social distancing restrictions.  As geographers we know that the deaths of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and too many others have to be understood as constitutive elements of systemic racialization and discrimination. We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and BIPOW faculty, staff, and students in our community.

You have seen in geography classes that our tools, such as GIS and critical theory, can help us better understand how structures of racial injustice are materialized in the landscape.  We also want to understand the distinct spatial patterns of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts on society, economy, and climate change.  You can be certain that our fall classes will feature some explorations of these topics.  The department is establishing a formal regular weekly seminar on ‘Geographies of Justice’ in the coming year.  I envision these fora to be centered on critical discussions of texts (scholarship), our department (learning goals, curriculum, etc.), and events, institutions, and places (Middlebury and the world at large).  Our inaugural Zoom meeting will be held at noon on Friday 11 September 2020, during the first week of classes.  My colleagues and I are delving back into our research and we hope that you will also have the chance to use the next months to expand your expertise on the challenges facing all of us.  We wish you a productive and rewarding summer and look forward to engaging with you when we reconvene refreshed in September.

With kind regards and wishes for peace and justice in the world,

Guntram Herb, Professor and Chair

Department of Geography

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