Update to Biology Department Anti-Racism Pledge
15 January 2021
On June 10, 2020, every member of the Biology Department publicly signed a letter in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and our commitment to reaffirm or implement anti-racist and inclusive approaches in our teaching and mentoring. We openly acknowledged and apologized for times when we have fallen short of our ideals and values, and we pledged to, individually and collectively, self-reflect and take actions intended to dismantle the norms of white supremacy at Lawrence.
While we had originally planned on bringing forward individual initiatives, we now believe a model with a greater emphasis on collective behaviors, interactions, and accountability will be both more effective and in line with our values. One essential component of working within a collective framework is that it will allow for us to help each other identify the unintentional actions, behaviors, and biases that each of us may exhibit at the various organizational levels in which we navigate. We want to follow up with you about our plans as we work to identify the explicit and implicit behaviors and policies that create inequities in our classes and lab, on our campus, and in our wider scientific and local communities.
Given the inextricable link between power and the maintenance of structures that uphold the norms of white supremacy, we are actively seeking ways to utilize our power and privilege at various levels within the organizational structures that we navigate to endorse antiracist policies. Last summer several faculty members in the department participated in the community read of Ibram X Kendi’s book How to be an Antiracist. Kendi emphasizes how “[t]here is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups (pg. 18)”. We have reflected and identified 4 broad organizational levels in which we will be collectively reflecting, reporting, and dialoguing on about how to work towards dismantling white supremacy culture in each of these spaces throughout the upcoming months. Furthermore, we have all committed to initiating changes in the areas in which we have most agency:
b. Research labs, advising, and career advising
d. University (Committee Assignments & Campus Level Initiatives and Projects)
e. Wider Scientific and Local Communities
Our current detailed approaches are as follows (thus far):
1. At the classroom level, we will continue our introductory course redesign funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for inclusive pedagogy (working groups separated by instructors of 130, 150, and 170). However, we will increase the prioritization of specific items within these individual groups related to dismantling white supremacy in the classroom and add a monthly agenda item at a department meeting for group check-ins and communication explicitly connected to these discussions (see previous document from June for specific examples). We expect this work to then extend to our upper level courses as we identify successful approaches.
2. Continue to provide research opportunities and paid employment (teaching assistants, stockroom workers, lab assistants, and tutors) equitably. We will give particular attention to supporting students from groups traditionally marginalized by science in our hiring practices and our associations with groups like Wisc-AMP, SACNAS and other professional societies.
3. At the Department Level, we are working on examining our own styles of communication, our methods of making decisions, and whether we need to further clarify specific roles and obligations in the department. Our department commits to having discussions about how white supremacy culture has impacted our work and is seen in any of our policies.
4. We will think critically about the processes, policies, and decisions that are being made in the committees and other campus initiatives that we contribute to. We will keep anti-racism explicit in the front of our minds as we work to consider the impact of the work we are doing. We will appoint a tenured-member of the department on a rotating basis to serve as a diversity and inclusion advocate to view our decision-making processes through an antiracist lens.
5. Wider work within our respective scientific and local communities will vary by faculty member. Current examples include: recruiting traditionally marginalized voices in editorial work, participation in diversity initiatives that address issues of systemic racism in professional societies, foster a local and diverse community of citizen scientists, and work to establish paid internships to support students from underrepresented backgrounds.
6. We are making space to listen, provide feedback, and hold each other accountable for the actions that we pledge to take. We plan to utilize department meeting minutes to document our plans and actions. It is not our intention for accountability to be punitive but rather to serve as a guide in which to further build and support each other.
We recognize that this is a living document that will continue to evolve along our collective and individual journeys towards antiracist ideals.