June 8, 2020
Dear SEBS and NJAES community,
The tension, anger, and frustration of this moment requires us to acknowledge that racial inequality persists in our society and that we need to escalate our work to address it head-on. In the last couple weeks, our nation and the world have witnessed several gruesome injustices against African Americans that raise the specter of many other cases, those in the media and the countless others. Our community—our students, staff, faculty, alumni, visitors, and participants—is made up of individuals who are shaped by our race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, culture, economic status, family, and community. As we actively address bias and racism, we must look both inward to our own community and outward to how we educate, serve, and empower others.
The Faculty recently voted to support our new strategic plan that is guided by a vision statement: A healthy and sustainable future that balances the well-being of all living organisms with the health of the earth. Wellbeing can be framed in many ways – physical, psychological, emotional, social, economic, spiritual, to name a few. For several months, we have been overwhelmed by threats to human health from a virus. In the past week or so, we have exposed a much more longstanding threat to human wellbeing that comes from structural inequalities and systemic racism that perpetuate different access to power, to voice, to breath. Our focus on wellbeing cannot ignore the disparities in health, safety, economic stability, and community resources that are faced in communities of color.
Our School and the Experiment Station cannot let this moment pass. With intention, we must learn from what has happened and is happening now and turn a critical eye to our own community and context. We need to proactively share our concerns and needs so that we transform to our existing structures that allow unconscious bias, micro-aggressions, and further injustices to perpetuate, and we need to actively support safe learning and working environments for everyone, and particularly for those who face marginalization. We need to commit to critical self-reflection about how our SEBS/NJAES community addresses issues of identity and intersectionality and how we create space for faculty, students, staff, and those we interact with to openly discuss critical issues shaping our lived experiences.
Our School and the Experiment Station are in the midst of a great deal of change that brings a range of pressures and opportunities. In all of them, we must focus on making sure our work challenges the status quo and is inclusive and supportive.
Where do we start? Many have already started by initiating difficult conversations about barriers and injustices that are felt. Some departments have sent letters and announcements to their students of color to express solidarity. Our SEBS Committee on Diversity, Communication and Philanthropy has reached out and they are ready to be an active force for change.
Looking forward, we have a lot of work to do, and this letter is a commitment that we will stay on task. Our work includes integrating inclusive practices into our strategic plan implementation, administrative structure, and every-day work practices. We must practice, teach, and lead by example the importance of engaging in peaceful, civil discourse when addressing deeply rooted societal problems to help develop the unity and equality we seek. We need to engage the wealth of resources that the university and our community provide, from the expertise within the University to the programs, trainings and networks being developed by the Division of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement. This will be our beginning, and we will continue to press forward as we actively listen and learn more about what it means to be a supportive and inclusive community. In the weeks, months, and years ahead, we will check in on our progress as we continually renew a shared commitment to examine racism and foster inclusivity on our campus.
This letter cannot address the pain we feel. Please keep us on task as we commit to creating the work environment and a world we want to be part of. Thank you.
The SEBS/NJAES Executive Leadership Team (alphabetical):