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The brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement officers in late May, combined with the crippling and disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color, have again highlighted the racial inequities firmly entrenched in our everyday lives and the abuse that Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities endure. As AIC Board members, we stand with Black Lives Matter and our BIPOC colleagues. We are committed to upholding our core values of equity and inclusion. But as an all-white Board representing a majority white organization, we have struggled to act effectively and communicate sensitively, even when reaffirming our commitment to equity and inclusion as expressed in our June 1st message to members. The Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC) has helped us learn how we can convey our support and intentions specifically and with more empathy. We are striving to acknowledge and take corporate and personal responsibility for the systemic racism that underlies our profession and too many of the institutions we serve. Our silence on this issue as an organization contributes to the deep and enduring roots of discrimination suffered by our BIPOC members.
Recent events have mobilized many of us to act, find our voices, and demand change. We are all grappling with how to proceed. While “returning to work” is on everyone’s minds, what is this work of change going to look like? When it comes to combatting racism and inequality, inaction is not acceptable. On our member forum, we are encouraged by members asking questions—and expressing frustration and outrage—about our profession’s long-standing operating procedures, from unpaid pre-program internships and restrictive graduate program admission requirements to conservation ethics and the concept of neutrality in our work. These conversations are not only important for our professional dialogue and growth, but they inspire and provoke action.
We must identify and address inequity in all AIC programs and combat them with policies and actions that are equitable, anti-racist, and which foster inclusive and safe environments. The entire AIC Board is committing to doing this work by:
- Examining AIC’s volunteer leadership culture to identify biases and opportunities to make systemic change; we are committed to increasing racial and cultural diversity at all levels of leadership.
- Following recommendations found in both the 2017 Equity and Inclusion Working Group report and the 2020 Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC) strategic plan (Report, Strategic Plan, Webpage).
- Listening to all our colleagues from marginalized groups and providing additional support and safe spaces for them; our goal is to create a welcoming community in which all members feel valued. EIC is working on some ideas to help with this effort but is incumbent on all of us to listen, provide support, and promote change.
- Doing anti-racist work on our own, by reading, listening, and participating, both within and outside of AIC. There have been many recommended lists of resources circulated, and we have posted a list on the AIC website. As individuals we must take the time to use and process these resources. We cannot rely on the EIC alone to address the inequities in our organization.
- Being willing to be uncomfortable and open to criticism.
- Being committed to this work for the long term.
This framework will guide us as a Board, and all of us as AIC members, to proceed thoughtfully and with a shared mission to educate ourselves about racist and biased systems and behaviors that exist in our field and to act purposefully to counter and eradicate these practices. We are committed to articulating our ideas when they arise and to report on actions we are taking on a regular basis. We are also open to all ideas brought to the Board directly or through the EIC. As the AIC Board, we are committed to clear and direct communications and impactful leadership against racism in our community.
Although we recognize that some individuals in conservation are already engaged in anti-racist work, we know that what we are doing collectively is not enough. For this reason, we are also issuing four challenges to AIC members. As an individual member, please ask yourself the following questions* and commit to the answers.
- What is one thing you are willing to do to address your own bias?
- What is one thing you are willing to do to fight systemic racism in your workplace?
- What is one thing you are willing to do to fight systemic racism in the conservation community?
- What is one thing you are willing to do to engage someone else in this work?
* These questions are adapted from a series posed by Robert M. Sellers, vice provost of equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at the University of Michigan, in a June 5 virtual town hall titled, “Constructive Conversations for Societal Change.”
—Margaret Holben Ellis (firstname.lastname@example.org), Suzanne Davis (email@example.com), Jennifer McGlinchey Sexton (firstname.lastname@example.org), Elmer Eusman (email@example.com), Brenda Bernier (firstname.lastname@example.org), Thomas Braun (email@example.com), Molly Gleeson (firstname.lastname@example.org), Sarah Melching (email@example.com), Eryl Wentworth (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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