Statement on Anti-Racism

June 9, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Like all of you, I have been watching events unfold across the United States and around the world, as people come together, yet again, to call out anti-black police brutality, racism, injustice and oppressive violence.  We know that these things remain deeply embedded in our societies, and we must redouble our efforts, as individuals and organizations, to dismantle them once and for all.  Anti-black racism is not unique to the US; we have our own histories in Canada to acknowledge, both in the past and currently. We must also explicitly recognize the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, which create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination and disadvantage.  Following on President Ono’s recent letter to the UBC community, EOAS must play an active role in moving beyond the scourge of anti-black racism, and discrimination against all people of color and Indigenous groups.  This discrimination limits opportunities for advancement among these groups and has led to systematic abuse and even murder, as the events of the past week have demonstrated so viscerally.

As we prepare to mark the 25th anniversary of EOAS in 2021, and enter into a phase of strategic planning for the upcoming external review, I am committed to working with everyone in the department, and with outside partners, to make concrete progress on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion.  Earth Science remains significantly less diverse than other fields in science, and poorly reflective of the underlying diversity of the society we serve.  Indeed, EOAS is the only department in the UBC Faculty of Science where 100% of tenure-track faculty self-identify as white / Caucasian.  We must recognize the inherent privilege many of us have enjoyed along our educational and professional trajectories, and acknowledge that many still face barriers in their own paths forward. 

Building on the outstanding work of a number of people in EOAS, we must continue to identify and eliminate obstacles to equity and inclusion, working to increase all forms of diversity in our department.  This will require a sustained and concerted effort, with a commitment from everyone to actively learn about and confront their own biases and (perhaps subconscious) complicity with institutionalized discrimination.  Several discussion groups around EDI issues are planned for the upcoming faculty retreat, and we will be working collaboratively to develop concrete action plans, drawing on various resources to guide our path forward. 

Just as we work to tackle the climate crisis, so must we act vigorously in the fight against racial discrimination and inequality.  Doing so is not only the right thing to do, but it will lead to a more vibrant and productive community, where a wide diversity of perspectives create better and more societally-relevant teaching and research.   

Philippe Tortell
Department Head