UC Berkeley environmental science graduate students call for anti-racist action

Rausser College of Natural Resources Mulford Hall
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The student-led Graduate Diversity Council in the environmental science, policy and management, or ESPM, department called for anti-racist action from its faculty in a petition posted Monday.

In a statement, the council outlined specific actionable steps faculty and staff can take to improve diversity, equity and inclusion, especially for Black students. These steps include adding at least 50% Black scholars and scholars of color to all environmental science courses’ syllabuses, and requiring annual anti-racist and bystander training for faculty, according to the petition.

The petition currently has 96 signatures from graduate students in the ESPM department, according to ESPM graduate student Whitney Mgbara.

“The department as a whole has done very little to undo systemic anti-Black racism and to foster an inclusive work environment for students,” alleged the petition.

Mgbara said she and other students in the Diversity Council drafted the petition addressing anti-racist action the faculty should be taking, as they felt diversity, equity and inclusion in the ESPM department has been “poor” over the years.

Due to their experiences, members of the Diversity Council decided to write letters to the administration about what they were seeing in the department, Mgbara added.

“We really wanted to push for a letter from faculty to the ESPM community condemning police brutality and racism, and showing support for students of color,” Mgbara said. “Especially the Black students who are probably really hurt and confused about what’s going on right now.”

The letter calls for the department to release a public list of actions it will take to address anti-racism and the demands of the council by June 30.

In a response to the specific demands in the letter, professor and department chair of ESPM Paolo D’Odorico thanked the Diversity Council for reaching out to faculty.

D’Odorico noted that he wanted to engage students and the community in their efforts to prioritize inclusion.

“The department is working on some of these points, as well as other initiatives addressing our equity and inclusion priorities,” D’Odorico said in an email quoted by campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

The council acknowledged D’Odorico’s statement and has also received support from individual faculty members, according to Mgbara.

Mgbara added that the faculty notified the Diversity Council in the email that the department is drafting a formal response to the actionable steps the students outlined in their demands.

“There has been levels of faculty response who are showing support for the letter,” Mgbara said.

Other graduate students in the integrative biology, plant microbial biology and chemistry departments, among others, have sent letters to their faculty asking for similar anti-racist actions, the petition noted.

Contact Shylie Ati at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shylieati.