Implement structural changes to support the UMass Black and Brown Community

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To all community members of UMass Amherst,

Members of our campus community have created a resolution to work toward a brighter and more just future, due to the events happening across the country. We want to make it perfectly clear that we are speaking about the untimely deaths of George Floyd, Sean Reed, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, David McAtee and all of the other lives taken unjustly in the Black Community.

The time has come to speak as a cohesive group and make some much needed changes within our community. Although UMass holds a wide breadth of beliefs and experiences, it is during times like these when the broader community needs to unite behind a single message and collaborate to undertake collective and renewed plans of action . 

We recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion on our campus. Without it, progress in all forms deteriorates. That being said, our colleagues of color have often been disproportionately tasked with the strenuous job of making our campus both more diverse and inclusive while still having to focus on rigorous academic responsibilities. As a community we must take the mantle for this important work because we share in the benefits of increased creativity, better problem solving, and happier employees.

As the Flagship campus of Massachusetts, we hold the responsibility of setting an example for the rest of the academic community in our state. We acknowledge and value the vital impact that the Black community has on our campus. Now it has become clear that the justice system’s improper treatment of the Black community creates salient and reasonable fear, preventing feelings of safety or inclusion for our Black community members and negatively impacting the potential of this campus. While we appreciate the on-going efforts to support Diversity and Inclusion on this campus, we affirm that more must be done at all levels to protect our Black colleagues, including students, faculty and staff members, from the racial injustice that threatens their livelihoods. We call on Chancellor Subbaswamy and Provost McCarthy to work with state officials to demand frequent and open condemnations of improper treatment of any kind in the Black community and to use the university’s influence to increase vigilance of unfair action at earlier stages in the judicial pipeline.

As a nation, our society has created a climate that stifles awareness of the common hardships faced by people of color on a daily basis. This has resulted in a culture incapable of engaging in necessary conversations about the intricacies of race in America. We must commit to increasing community discussions about social justice, diversity, and inclusion to make it a normal and necessary part of our education system at UMass Amherst.

Overall, it is becoming increasingly evident that there is a sense of complacency within our public. As a result, progress towards a more just and equal future for all stagnates. We must improve our awareness of this stagnation to better combat it. Even small acts like donations, sharing resources and self-education leave our system in a better place than before.

Thus, we, the undersigned, believe the actions below must be taken as initial steps towards a more progressive and successful campus, state and nation. The undersigned commit to working with their departments and programs to draft action lists using this petition as a foundation. We acknowledge the unique needs each department and program has and affirm that each document should be tailored accordingly. We hold ourselves accountable for ensuring these actions are taken or facilitated by the UMass administration and each academic community.

 

Foundational Action Items:

Note: While we use the term Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in this document to indicate that multiple marginalized communities need more representation and inclusion on this campus, we assert that Black communities are one of the most oppressed in American society. Thus, these actions must first and foremost ensure that we improve the lives of Black community members on our campus.

1. Mandating structural changes that create a more inclusive academic environment.

  • Creating a system and atmosphere of support, health and wellness for BIPOC recruits and acknowledging that it is unethical and immoral for the administration to recruit Black students and faculty without a system of support in place.
  • Stating overtly in the Student Code of Conduct separately from section "2.2.2. Student Conduct & Community Standards" that any acts of hate and bigotry including hate/bias crimes and incidents will lead to a non-negotiable investigation and, if confirmed, housing removal, suspension and/or expulsion. This new amendment would be transparently released to the community and publicly announced by the administration.
  • Supporting departmental efforts to establish student early arrival programs such as the Interdepartmental Graduate Programs (IDGP) On-Ramp Program which helps orient students to graduate research and settle into the community before the start of the semester. Incoming BIPOC student retention should be protected by providing a more equitable training experience and demonstrating the program’s commitment to supporting their success.
  • Maintaining pre-existing STEM retention programs through administration support (i.e. STEM Ambassadors Program) that could cease to exist after current funding expires, while creating similar programs that foster outreach through mentoring and create a pipeline of success for BIPOC students from pre-teen to postdoc in other fields (i.e., Business, Communications, Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences etc.)
  • Committing monetary funds to recruit and retain BIPOC students, including administration-authorized application fee waivers and increased monetary fund allocation to research and professional development support.
  • Examining and assessing retention rates for our Black undergraduate and graduate students and faculty, and holding the administration accountable that this data will be transparent, accessible, updated and distributed for the entire UMass campus to see (as in 4.2.).
  • Furthering Black student recruitment by strengthening communication with neighboring institutions, forming relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, sending program representatives to conferences and other diversity in academia and industry programs and attending/volunteering at undergraduate research conferences.
  • Increasing class time, journal clubs or orientation time for both undergraduate and graduate students that create mindsets that are aware of social justice issues that affect ethnic minorities from marginalized communities.
  • Recruiting more BIPOC seminar speakers every semester for each campus-affiliated speaker series to present their research, and offer speakers who are also qualified to speak about DEI topics a separate platform and additional compensation to do so. Seminar selection committees will evaluate how diversity and inclusion factors into their speaker selection process, and increase transparency of this process within their community.
  • Crafting, Sharing and Abiding by value statements of guiding principles regarding diversity, inclusion and opposition to anti-Black racism in prominent locations on respective program and laboratory websites.
  • Revising faculty communications and expectations of student progress with sensitivity to the emotional toll that not only the ongoing global pandemic has had, but with respect to the state of social justice and unrest. This emotional toll has been a burden on our BIPOC colleagues for possibly their entire lives, and they need to continue (or begin) to feel supported and uplifted by our community. Deadlines, presentations, publications can all be rescheduled or modified in order to allow them space and time to heal.

2. Reaffirming that a sense of complacency especially in positions of power inhibits systemic change towards equality.

  • Holding UMass Leadership accountable for working with Massachusetts state officials to combat systemic injustice including Police brutality, and delayed justice for Black victims.
  • Uniting the UMass community to speak out in solidarity with our Black Community through forums, town hall meetings and other campus wide and departmental platforms.
  • Incentivizing fundraisers by departments and programs to contribute money to local racial justice groups to show communal support and solidarity.
  • Distributing announcements of internal and external opportunities for BIPOC and International students including scholarships, fellowships, grant programs, and conferences.

3. Advocating for a climate where white peers can routinely learn about unseen social hardships faced by BIPOC, especially between the Black community and our judicial system.

  • Demanding transparency and accountability of the Amherst and UMass Police Department’s training, use-of-force guidelines, and treatment of BIPOC communities.
  • Facilitating faculty discussions about white privilege and practicing active anti-racism within lab groups and classrooms in order to improve safety, inclusion, and equity in their research programs.
  • Creating spaces for non-POC colleagues to take on roles investing in diversity and inclusion.
  • Participating in the anti-racist opportunities that are already established at UMass and making these opportunities more well-known,
  • Listening and following BIPOC leadership, while supporting and amplifying their voices through action.

4. Implementing all points mentioned in this petition document to all departments across campus at the undergraduate, graduate, faculty, staff, and administration levels within the next two years.

  • Holding ourselves, our departments, our programs, and our institution accountable. Each program and department will commit to revisiting their version of this document, which will serve as a living resource, and to evaluating their action items at least once per year during steering committee meetings and/or community discussions.
  • Disseminating campus-wide information on an annual basis regarding the progress of these actions for the UMass community to evaluate and confirm.