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  • Susan Perkins

A Statement on Unity

Dear Division of Science Community,

The incidents that have occurred over the past week, including yet another senseless and heartless murder of a black man in Minneapolis and the brutal response by law enforcement to people protesting these injustices must be condemned. They must be interpreted as acts of terror that continue to be enacted on black Americans and that perpetuate injustice and inequity in our society. As an individual, I am devastated to watch these events unfold and as a leader within our institution, a College and a Division that both serves and benefits from our diverse students, staff and faculty, I write to say that these acts of racism cannot be tolerated. We stand in solidarity with you.

Many may say that science and politics are two separate worlds, but that is an absurd statement. As scientists, we have just as much of a responsibility to actively work to push back against any notions or acts of racism and discrimination. We know the story of Henrietta Lacks, who was not only dying from cancer, but then had her own cells taken from her and used to the profit of others, while her family was kept in the dark. Yes, lives have been saved due to the discoveries made from her cells, but it took decades before anyone even knew the name of the woman who perished to make that possible. Two years ago, the City removed a statue that sat aside Central Park. Originally placed as a commemorative to a physician who had made medical advances in gynecology, James Marion Sims made those discoveries via the torture of black women and should never be depicted as a hero. Geneticists Frances Galton, Charles Davenport, and one of the founders of my former institution, the American Museum of Natural History, Henry Fairfield Osborne were all eugenicists, men who hid behind a cloak of science to advance their beliefs that the white race was superior to all others. These particular people and their deeds are of the past, but the ideas of racism, intolerance and violence are far from gone. In these past two months we have all watched as communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the morbidity and mortality of COVID-19. The cause of these disparities has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with an underlying system of inequality.

My colleague, Lesley Lokko, Dean of the Spitzer School of Architecture, shared a short but profound statement with me yesterday that I can’t shake out of my head. “The first casualty of a crisis, it’s trust, not truth.” Though we are not physically on campus right now, we want you to know that the Division of Science stands behind our students of color and continues to offer you a safe space. We must be united in our conviction to protect your trust – AND to speak the truth.

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