Diversity and Equity

Clark Lab Commitment to Anti-Racist Action

Racism and white supremacy are pervasive and insidious forces within society, including academia and higher education. Racist policies perpetuate violence against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) that ranges from verbal affirmations of harmful stereotypes to physical attacks that result in death. The recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain and countless other Black Americans are unacceptable. A basic acknowledgement of the harm these practices and policies inflict is not enough – regardless of our past intentions, we can and must do more. In order to create a more inclusive and equitable future, we must actively and purposefully dismantle racist policies. We are committed to taking meaningful anti-racist action.

We the members of the Clark Lab, condemn racism and anti-Blackness and commit to taking anti-racist actions as a group and at a personal level in order to create changes in our academic institutions and in society. Injustice manifests in a myriad of thoughts, actions, and policies, and we recognize that several of the fields we work within have played an inexcusable role in perpetuating racism and white supremacy. As human and population geneticists, our field’s history is tied to eugenics and genetic determinism – research that actively justified ideas of a racial hierarchy and reproductive violence. Evolutionary biologists are trained to think of organisms in terms of systematics and classifications and these methods have been used to classify humans into “races”. Carl Linnaeus, one of the founders of our field, is also one of the founders of scientific racism. This mode of thinking still shapes the way we describe ethnic groups in human population genetic studies, consciously or subconsciously. As computational biologists, the technology we use continues to perpetuate racial inequity – an example being an algorithm designed to guide health decisions failing to accurately predict risk in Black patients compared to their White counterparts,. As science communicators, we have failed to actively bridge the gap between the general public and scientists allowing our work to be weaponized against BIPOCs. We will no longer merely reflect on these injustices with shame. We will take action to repair the damage we have done and build a truly anti-racist society.

As a lab we commit to taking the following action:

  1. We will make efforts to communicate our research clearly to the public so that it can not be weaponized against any person. To do so we will:
    1. Utilize Cornell’s science communication resources to create blog posts summarizing our research findings for the general public, ensuring to highlight not only the results but the limitations of our findings and contextualizing it in society where applicable.
    2. Engage in community discourse and outreach to directly communicate the implications of our findings to the public and identify any concerns. For example, participating in programs locally (IthacaSTEM) and globally (Skype A Scientist, Letters to a Pre-Scientist).
  2. We will read both “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi and “Superior: The Return of Race Science” by Angela Saini, and members of our lab will meet regularly to discuss and reflect. We will use this knowledge to further develop our commitment to taking anti-racist action both in our personal and professional lives. We will collate our notes so that future lab members who read these books can engage with our process. We will maintain and regularly update our lab reading list with books on racism, sexism, and other forms of inequities in society.
  3. We will devote time to consuming essays, articles, and media to further educate ourselves on how racism and white superiority has and continues to manifest in our society – particularly in regards to police brutality, health inequalities, and higher education. We will share our list of educational resources here and encourage our peers to join us in this.
  4. We will develop our skills as inclusive teachers and mentors. This includes but is not limited to:
    1. Participating in workshops and institutes hosted by the Center for Teaching Innovation at Cornell that focus on inclusive teaching pedagogy.
    2. Participating in the Building Allyship Workshop Series hosted by several graduate student organizations to better understand how to support our BIPOC and underrepresented students and colleagues.
    3. Participating in mentorship programs designed for students from underrepresented backgrounds such as Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in our departments, Cornell’s Science & Technology Entry Program, GRASSHOPR, Cornell’s Biology Scholars Program, Letters to a Pre-Scientists, and Skype a Scientist.
  5. We will commit to calling and pushing for the construction of anti-racist practices within our department and academic discipline. This includes but is not limited to:
    1. Pushing for inclusive training programs. Examples include programming in inclusive teaching pedagogy and mentoring practices, implicit bias, and bystander intervention.
    2. Subsequently, we will call for penalties for individuals who perpetrate bias and harassment towards any student, particularly BIPOC and underrepresented students.
    3. Serving on departmental and university committees and actively push for anti-racist policies, several of which are detailed here.
    4. Pushing for holistic hiring and admission criteria that considers an applicant’s unique experiences and context instead of relying primarily on quantitative measurements
  6. We will work to secure funding for undergraduate research opportunities. Undergraduate research can require a significant time commitment and unfunded positions create a barrier to entry that disproportionately affects BIPOC students. We will ensure undergraduates in our lab are aware of various funding sources, which are detailed below:
    1. Federal-Work Study Program
    2. Rawlings Cornell Presidential Research Scholars
    3. Engineering Learning Initiatives
  7. We will commit to speaking up when we witness racism being perpetuated in our daily lives, whether in the form of microaggressions or overt racist acts. Further, we extend this commitment to other forms of oppression such as sexism, homophobia/transphobia, classism, ableism, and xenophobia just to name a few. Our commitment is to dismantling structural oppression in all forms.

This statement is a living document. As we continue to learn and grow, so will our commitments. We will routinely evaluate this statement – in terms of both our progress meeting these commitments and adding new actions – at our yearly lab retreat.

Andrew Clark,   Nora Brown,   Jackson Champer,   Shengxi Dawn Chen,   Elissa Cosgrove,   Sofie Delbare,   Qiliang Andy Ding,   Jullien Flynn,   Yassi Hafezi,   Asha Jain,   Konnor La,   Chih-chun Lin,   Mitchell Lokey,   Andrew Reid Marderstein,   Manisha Munasinghe,   Tram Nguyen,   Iskander Said,   Satyam Srivastav,   Ian Vasconcellos Caldas,  and Lori Beyea-Powers