Jun 12, 2020
Earlier this week, we sent out a long-delayed edition of “E-Canopy” that for the most part covered the impacts of and adjustments to Covid-19 — issues pertinent to the survival of OTS as a community and an organization. After we finished, we recognized that there was another community facing a different, more lethal set of challenges. The contrast between the two communities could not have been greater. The lives of individuals are not threatened because they are part of the OTS community, while those in black and brown communities are threatened because of their race or ethnicity. As an organization and as individuals, the administration, staff, and Board members of OTS have long engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. OTS has worked to recruit, retain, and promote students and faculty from underrepresented communities throughout the world. In fact, we recognize the need to not only explore and understand the most complex and imperiled of Earth’s ecosystems, but the need to address the most pressing crises of our time — species extinctions, climate change, and the disproportionate burden on underrepresented communities. Nonetheless, we should have done better.
Over the past months, we at OTS have been so focused on financial and pandemic issues that the connections between these issues and those at home did not immediately resonate. The connection between tropical biology and structural racism in black and brown communities in the US was not readily and immediately apparent. For many with privilege, this inability to understand, to connect, was and remains true.
Since its founding five decades ago, OTS has been engaged in efforts addressing the issues revealed by the attack on Christian Cooper, the murder of George Floyd, and many incidences involving so many others, all black and brown faces in white spaces. When we look closely at the history of OTS, at the origins, the research, the activities, the scientists, the students, and indeed, even the OTS way, we see something quite remarkable. We see an organization founded and dedicated to doing research and teaching differently — to doing field studies, not lab studies; to doing research and teaching in different locations, in the tropics, not at home; to reaching out to different communities, people of color living both in the tropics and in the U.S., all underrepresented in STEM. With our 2006 publication on minority recruitment; with our undergraduate research programs reaching out to African American, Native American and Latinx communities; and with our undergraduate and graduate training of Latin and South American students, OTS has been involved.
Yet, the unjust events in the U.S. reveal increasing recognition that all of us as individuals and as members of various communities, we must face up to the inequalities so ingrained in our society and must step up to address systemic issues of racial underrepresentation. Despite OTS’ past efforts to increase minority representation in tropical biology and STEM fields, much, much more remains to be done. Our past efforts are only a prologue to what OTS needs to do now and into the future.
To understand issues and to solve problems, we do research. To understand structural racism and anti-blackness, check out #ShutDownSTEM, a resource compiled by academics for identifying racism and supporting minorities in academia and STEM. If you want to learn more about implicit bias and some of the supporting research see the UCLA website. Recognizing your biases and working to overcome them is an important start. Additional perspectives are available at the Ecological Society of America’s Black Ecologists Section webpage and 500 Women Scientists.
OTS will continue to seek opportunities to support black and brown lives and voices; we encourage you to do so as well.
On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Organization for Tropical Studies: