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Black Lives Matter: Statement from the Members of the Sethupathy Lab

As members of the Cornell community, we would like to strongly support the recent statements on May 29th and June 3rd from President Martha Pollack.

As members of the scientific community, partly funded by the NIH, we would also like to support NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins’ latest statement on recent events.

As human beings, we highly recommend this TED talk, titled “We Need To Talk About Injustice,” by Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Like many, we in the Sethupathy lab have experienced a wide range of emotions including sadness, anger, frustration, and helplessness.  Those of us who aren’t Black Americans are painfully aware that we simply cannot fully understand the institutionalized, baked-in prejudice that informs the lives of our Black colleagues every single day.  It has been a privilege to listen to and learn from members of our lab (past and present) who identify as Black Americans.  Too many events like this have come and gone in our country, and it feels like each time they just fade away as the sting of the moment passes.  We believe each and every one of us bears a responsibility to not let this moment pass, and to do what we can in our personal and professional lives to stand up in solidarity with our Black friends, colleagues, and peers.  Below are short-term and long-term steps that we in the Sethupathy lab endeavor to implement.

Short-term steps:

— Education: This can come in many forms, including outstanding podcasts, documentaries, and books.  Examples of very high quality and well-researched resources that we would recommend include the podcast “Seeing White”, the documentary “13th”, and the book “Slavery By Another Name.”  All are well-researched and very informative.  Additional resources are available here (assembled by various student groups at Cornell) and here.

— Posture of humility: For those of us who aren’t Black Americans — let’s not assume how Black Americans feel, or that all Black Americans feel the same way.  Let’s not speak as though we can empathize.  Let’s instead actively reach out to at least one Black friend, colleague, neighbor, or peer to convey our sincere support and solidarity and, if they want to share, then actively listen.

— Financial support: There are many organizations (large-national and/or small-local) that are focused on either current issues surrounding the arrest of protestors or larger issues of systemic problems in education, justice system, prison system, etc.  Another idea that has been proposed by many members of the Cornell community is to support local Black-owned businesses.

Long-term steps:

— Build community: Identify ways to create stronger connections with our diverse community.  For example, my (Praveen’s) family is part of a small group that holds a monthly “peace dinner” — we pick a community in America that is struggling or a country that America is at odds with, learn about their culture, cook their traditional foods, and educate each other about their history.  What if we broadened the scope of these events so it wasn’t just for us, but for anyone in the larger community?

— Define your sphere of influence and get to work: Identify ways to make a difference in the setting you’re in (your lab, grad school program, family, neighborhood, etc).  For example, how can I (Praveen) as the Director of the Center for Vertebrate Genomics work to create more opportunities for disadvantaged kids in our community?  (On a related note, the arts in particular, whether it be music, art, theatre, etc, have long-been extraordinarily powerful ways to shape cultural thought, for good and for bad.  There may be opportunities to participate in or support art of many forms focused on social justice initiatives).

— Form connections: Create real, genuine connections with someone who is different from you, in your lab, graduate program, department, or neighborhood.  It’s not hard to do in Ithaca/Cornell, but you still have to be intentional.  Importantly, the goal isn’t to have a token “diverse” friend — the goal is to become a better human being by seeing things from other perspectives and build genuine relationships that offer mutual support and substantive solidarity.

From top to bottom: Rowan Beck, Andrew Massa, Rebecca Cubitt, Ramja Sritharan, Matt Kanke,
Wendy Pittman, Michael Shanahan, Ben Keith, Praveen Sethupathy, Amy Hung, Ajeet Singh,
Tim Dinh, Jon Villanueva, Adam Francisco, Arianna Bartlett, Laura Lin, Sarah Wright
Not pictured:   Kieran Koch-Laskowski, Don Long

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