The Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Rice University stands in solidarity against the systemic racism that continues to permeate our country. Our country stands as a beacon of democracy and liberty, but we must not forget how our country was built upon the backs of black slaves and the massacring of indigenous peoples, and that despite all the progress we have made, we have still not dismantled this legacy. Systemic structural racism continues to persist in our country. Entire groups of people are not afforded equal access to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. George Floyd’s murder by four police officers is not a singular event, but a symptom of the rot that usually hides in different parts of our society, our institutions, our communities. Some of us might be surprised by these recent events, but the black community has had to live with manifestations of such racism daily.
Our department does not tolerate racism, sexism, sexual harassment or any other forms of violence. Over the years, we have gone through great, but challenging measures to put an end to such behavior through a variety of mechanisms, and we have become a much better department as a result. However, we still have much progress to make and we must always remain vigilant. Prejudice is a disease that can infect anyone, and when prejudice begins to influence decisions or actions, it morphs into systemic racism that has the power to destroy the entire fabric of one’s institution.
The events surrounding George Floyd’s murder also remind us that standing by when one has the power to stop a crime, such as a murder in this case, and racist behavior, makes one fully complicit. There are times when one simply cannot be neutral. There is no such thing as an innocent bystander. In academia as in many other institutions, we know that power structures may prevent bystanders from speaking up, even when one knows something to be wrong. We therefore must also ensure that bystanders feel safe in reporting or intervening. Our department is deeply invested in dismantling the legacy of racism and in providing a safe environment for our community. The Earth sciences, like many other disciplines, continues to suffer from biases and practices that have historically discouraged participation. We have and will continue to actively remove these biases so that we can change the culture of our field.
Finally, to all the people of color, particularly our African American students, colleagues, staff and alumni, we mourn the loss of George Floyd and countless others. We embrace your talents, your accomplishments, your contributions, your genius and your experiences. Without all that you have done and continue to do, we are nothing.