National and international mourning for and protest of the murders and acts of police brutality of Black people have sparked much-needed listening, conversation and reflection within the Nicholas School of the Environment. Many within our community are questioning what we can do to address the ongoing injustices and work toward greater racial equity. Over the past three weeks we have been facing the pain, grief, anger and loss associated with the devastating manifestation of systemic racism that many of our Black colleagues and people of color live with every day. The white members of our community have been confronting our privilege, fragility and complicity—all of which are part of perpetuating systemic racism.

NSOE fully supports our Black students, faculty and staff. NSOE is committed to addressing inequities faced by minority communities at the individual, community and institutional levels. As a community we recognize that the history and practices of science and conservation have had ties to racist ideals. We need to know our history and work toward change. In short, we must do better.

We have held a series of caucuses, listening and learning sessions, and participated in #ShutDownSTEM and #ShutDownAcademia as part of acknowledging why Black lives matter. These actions have been in recognition that—as members of a university community and as scientists and knowledge creators—the work we do, either directly or indirectly, is embedded in systems of racial injustice and inequality. We are an institution of learning and education. As such, we have a disproportionate obligation to examine our thoughts and actions and how we influence others through our environmental teaching and research missions so that we do not continue to perpetuate racially inequitable patterns.

I am grateful to our Nicholas School students for their impassioned, thoughtful leadership and engagement already underway at the school. As I have been cautioned, empathy is important, but it is not enough. There is frustration, disappointment and skepticism related to Nicholas’s intention and ability to change. There is a lot of work for us to do—as individuals, as a community and within our institutions. As dean, I am committed to serious change and will commit our resources, intellect and energy to address these very complex challenges as we seek to advance anti-racism in our curriculum, admissions, recruitment, training among our students, faculty and staff, and hiring. But we have to do this as a community. Our intentions will translate into longer-term, meaningful action only if we can build a sustainable community of support among faculty, staff, students, alumni and our Board of Visitors. Our reflection must now lead to well-targeted, intentional action.


Dean Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean, Nicholas School of the Environment