Dear SBS Students,
We write to you to reach out, speak out, and commit to action. The horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Dreasjon Reed, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black Americans are the latest tragedies of an ongoing history of systemic and individual racism in our society. Racial profiling and police brutality are real experiences for Black Americans. Further, these latest unjust deaths occurred at a time when the Black community is also suffering disproportionately from COVID-19 illness and death, as well as the related economic downturn. These are but a few heartbreaking and infuriating illustrations of how racism significantly impacts the health and well-being of Black communities and other communities of color in the United States.
We imagine that, like us, you may be feeling a range of emotions that amount to individual and collective suffering. Some of us come to these feelings as a response to everyday realities and experiences as a Black person in America. To you, we acknowledge your pain, your outrage, your fear, your countless other emotions. We state without qualification that Black Lives Matter, and that you belong here at IU. We care about you, we believe you, and we stand with you. Some of us come to these feelings as compassionate citizens, but who, with the blinders of white privilege, may have unacceptably stood by silent and inactive in the face of these racial injustices. To those of us in this position, we encourage deep introspection and engagement with resources and recommendations for a long-term, sustained, and active commitment to anti-racism.
The faculty of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department stand in solidarity against racism, bigotry, bias, and discrimination—and all the forms of oppression, brutality, and violence created by them. We recognize the injustices of structural, systemic, and individual racism as ongoing public health crises themselves, and also as the root causes of health disparities for communities of color. We condemn racism as antithetical to our missions of social justice, health equity, and community engagement.
Located as we are within higher education—a place where we are all called to reflect and evolve as lifelong learners—we recognize that we as a department also must examine our internal practices and work to make concrete changes within our own institution:
- We commit to accountability to you, our students—particularly our Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and other students of color. We will do everything within our power to ensure that all of you are able to pursue your academic goals in a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment. To do so, we will leverage our privilege as faculty to make space for and protect those staff and students who would like to be involved in discussions about combating racism and advancing equity within our institution.
- Our faculty will re-examine our entire curriculum in order to better foreground systemic racism, including instruction on racism as a public health issue as well as training in the skills needed to advocate for equity and justice.
- We commit to supporting and increasing representation of faculty of color at all ranks, so that our department better reflects our diverse student body and models the equity we want to see in the whole of U.S. society.
- We will more actively support our faculty, staff, and students whose scholarship, teaching, mentoring, organizing, and community building involves combating racism in our public health system.
- We will continue to work with and listen to our community partners about the ways we can best support anti-racism as an academic institution to achieve systemic and sustainable changes locally.
- Acknowledging anti-Black racism in academia, our White faculty members will continue to listen with humility to Black students and scholars about their lived experiences in higher education (#BlackintheIvory), and commit to working to dismantle this structural racism (rather than complicity in benefiting from the privilege it affords).
- We will continue to interrogate our own professional roles so that we can locate all opportunities that they provide to advance equity and justice.
- And we commit to more, as there is so much more to do.
We recognize that more than a statement is needed. The above are initial steps in what will necessarily be a process of sustained reflection, self-education, hard conversations, and actions in collective evolution. Whatever comes next, we are committed to the work of eradicating racism through individual, institutional, and systemic change. We stand with you, and we invite you to stand with us.
Emily Ahonen, Silvia Bigatti, Charity Bishop, Sean Grant, Sula Hood, Carole Kacius, Lisa Staten, Jack Turman, Tess Weathers
Faculty of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences
IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health