Biochemistry Graduate Student Council and Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Committee Statement

The Biochemistry Graduate Student Council (BGSC) and the Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Committee (JEDI) support the statement from our leadership, Drs. Brennan, Al-Hashimi, Kuehn and Boyce, and would like to build on that message. 

The BGSC and JEDI Committee condemn racism in all forms and at all levels of society. We reaffirm our commitment to deconstructing the structural racism in our own community and making our department and communities into equitable and inclusive environments for all.

The Biochemistry Department includes faculty, staff, students, and post-docs of all identities and backgrounds. Members of our community are harmed daily by racist rhetoric and actions, many of which are amplified by political leaders at the local, state, and federal levels. We assert that Black people belong, and Black people matter. 

We wish to express our profound grief and offer support for the recent murders of Black Americans: George Floyd, Breonna TaylorDavid McAtee, Tony McDadeAhmaud Arbery, and many more Black Americans before them. These recent losses of lives, including some at the hands of those who are meant to protect and serve, are tragic. It is a sobering truth that these losses are only a small fraction of the injustices carried out against Black people every day; Black people have suffered in this land since before an American government was established. In support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are providing a list of selected resources to assist us all in educating ourselves and taking action to combat these injustices. 

It is difficult to work at full capacity when we are persecuted by police or others based on skin color, targeted by our federal government based on nationality, or subjected to microaggressions or lack of support in our workplace, thus requiring Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to work harder on a consistent basis. We call on all faculty and other department members to acknowledge our own implicit biases, be mindful of these challenges and provide the understanding and support that so many of our community require and deserve.  All of these issues are at the forefront of our minds during the COVID-19 pandemic that affects everyone, but disproportionately affects BIPOC communities, as do most physical and mental health issues. [ref. #1 and #2]

America was built upon the racist enslavement of Black people and the genocide and persecution of Indigenous peoples. Higher education and science are not exempt. Black Americans and other marginalized groups have suffered due to inherent racism in many scientific policies and structures, many of which persist today. From Henrietta Lacks to illegal medical and scientific testing on BIPOC, to practices in clinical trials today that often do not include diverse human subjects when evaluating the safety and efficacy of new therapeutics, we in the scientific community continue to follow inherently racist policies. It is incumbent on all of us, and most especially those of us from well-represented groups, to help dismantle these systems. Race must be a conversation in science, and we believe it is unethical to think otherwise. We have included resources that highlight white privilege in science and detail the exploitation of BIPOC for the advancement of science. [ref. #3-#7]

What are some actions of the BGSC and JEDI Committee in response?

  • We urge department leaders and Duke to redouble their efforts to recruit, retain, and support BIPOC at the student, post-doc, faculty, and staff levels, and we will hold the leadership accountable for taking specific actions to increase diversity, inclusion, and equity in our department. We are disappointed with the conversations regarding race and racism in higher education that ultimately lead to inaction. We can and must do better. Some questions we have to guide future actions include:
    • Why are Black or Indigenous faculty underrepresented in our department? 
    • What actions do faculty take to ensure representation of BIPOC among seminar speakers?
    • How many faculty give seminars at historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions? 
    • What concrete steps do individual PIs take to promote justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in their labs?
    • How frequently are conversations held regarding race and support of BIPOC in our workplace?
    • How can programs that support increasing the BIPOC community in science be improved and participation rewarded at a departmental and institutional level?
    • What are the systemic barriers that result in academia, our department, and Duke not reflecting the diversity of the American Public? How are we complicit in maintaining these systems, and what can we do to change them?
  • Mike Boyce (Chair, JEDI Committee) has gathered educational and support resources for racial justice in conjunction with the Cell and Molecular Biology Ph.D. program, the IDEALS office and the Graduate School. This document provides resources for education, action, and self-care during this time of great emotional, physical, and mental hardship. This resource also provides information for all of us to learn more about our inherent and implicit biases, how we contribute to systemic racism, and how we can be better community members and allies. It also provides ways everyone can support anti-racist programs on local, regional, and national scales.
  • The BGSC plans to hold an open forum for students to show solidarity, support one another, and share our stories. This event will be held after the departmental forum and will aim to facilitate a student-only discussion. Further details about this meeting will be communicated once the date of the forum held by the department is set.
  • We ask Duke and Duke Campus Police to reevaluate their policies and trainings to ensure racist and discriminatory incidents do not occur in our community.

Final remarks

In closing, we condemn all forms of racism and discrimination. In particular, we decry the targeting of our Chinese colleagues by the federal government as yet another recent example of unjust and harmful discrimination, and we plan to address this very important issue in a forthcoming, dedicated note. We reiterate that all of us, especially those of us from well-represented groups in positions of power, have a responsibility to be allies and condemn racism when we see it; we encourage everyone to explore these resources for guidance. This must not be a one-time action, but a continuous process for sustained change and activism. As both history and recent events indicate, we must do better.

We reaffirm our support for all targeted members of our community and are here if you need us. We see your suffering and support the Black Lives Matter protests in Durham, the US, and around the world. 

In solidarity,

Biochemistry Graduate Student Council
Biochemistry JEDI Committee