On behalf of the Earth Institute, we are writing to reaffirm the statements shared by President Bollinger, and Executive Vice President for University Life, Suzanne Goldberg, together with Vice President for Student Affairs for University Life, Joseph Greenwell, regarding the senseless killings of black Americans in the U.S. — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the tragically long list of those before them. These killings speak to the institutionalized racism that continues to plague this country and justify the anger and fury in the ensuing protests. We express empathy and solidarity with those directly impacted and with all those in our community who are experiencing loss, despair and fear. Black lives matter and we stand with the nonviolent protestors.
We must individually and collectively reflect on this unnecessary loss of life, and seek to redress the systemic problems and challenges we face as a society. In the process, we need to acknowledge that we live in a fundamentally inequitable society, where some groups are significantly more privileged than others. White privilege is real and we need to find a way to channel this privilege in a way that strikes at the heart of racial injustice in society. We owe it to ourselves to do all we can to ensure that these tragic events are change points that lead us to finally move out from the long shadow of centuries of institutionalized and structural racism. Within the Earth Institute and Columbia University, it is critical that we continue to cultivate a workplace that makes equality, diversity and openness priorities — a workplace that sets an example for the greater community. We must continue to listen, learn from and teach one another in inclusive environments with respect for different perspectives and backgrounds.
As leaders within the sustainability and environmental community, the Earth Institute is committed to placing racial and economic justice at the center of our work. Addressing climate change is fundamentally about advancing social justice. The impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt by the poorest communities, indigenous peoples, and marginalized and disadvantaged people worldwide. Embracing the integral connections between climate change and racial justice is essential to achieving our mission and having a profound impact in the world.
To quote President Bollinger, “Universities are not perfect and we have to accept our share of responsibility for the state of affairs we have today. But we are determined, even more so now, to change and to be better.” In the coming weeks, we will have important discussions about how we can do better, building on the critical work we are already doing with our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative.
The Earth Institute commits itself to developing an inclusive and diverse workplace, fully diagnosing the intersections between climate, environment and racial, social and economic justice and developing workable pathways to an environmentally sustainable and just future. We are committed to realizing significant structural change in addressing inequity and injustice.
As we advance work on these long-term goals, please keep the following points in mind:
- Speak up if you experience or witness intolerance, mistreatment or bias in action. The Earth Institute Diversity webpage has a useful list of University resources around harassment, bias and discrimination. If you experience or witness a violation, you can fill out a referral form or contact Columbia University’s Public Safety at (212) 854-5555.
- Create an inclusive environment for everyone. Seek different perspectives, and respect points of view and communication styles that are different from your own. Be an ally to marginalized communities by listening to and learning from their perspectives, whether or not they match your own.
- Process your feelings. Tragedies like this can feel traumatizing, especially for members of marginalized groups. There are many available campus resources for students and staff, including virtual health and counseling services (Morningside and CUIMC) and support from Religious Life.
Alex Halliday, Director, and Ruth DeFries, Chair of the Faculty, The Earth Institute