Defending Diversity

Students, faculty and the administration at UCSF have unified in taking steps to fight discrimination and support undocumented students in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.

The gravity of this post-election world has weighed on us. We have grieved; we are still grieving. Many of us are now more aware of what others have been dealing with for years. The election has shown that we can’t afford to keep compartmentalizing so many issues under the guise of “politics” and agree to disagree.

It isn’t just politics, it’s people. But how do we turn our feelings into action?

This was the dominant question of the Post Election Gathering, a joint meeting held by leaders of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and Scientists 4 Diversity (S4D) on Nov. 16.

Kwadwo Opoku-Nsiah, a leader of S4D, had this to say:

“We were all making incremental progress within our own niche and that gave us the satisfying feeling that we were doing our part. Then the election happened.

“The outcries of hateful acts on college campuses has taught me that the support for Trump's hate-based campaign is not confined to the older, ill-informed, and uneducated white bigots of the Midwest.

“The problem with America is that we've become complacent with holding our nation accountable for the virtues in which we pride ourselves on. Attending forums like this and hearing the frustrations of other RCO [Registered Campus Organization] leaders showed me that I was not alone. In these meetings one theme prevailed: we must work together if we're ever going to make change.

“Together means all RCOs for URMs [underrepresented minorities] and more importantly, students of the majority.”

While the gathering was led by student representatives, the meeting had three unexpected and influential attendees: Dean Elizabeth Watkins, Director of Diversity and Outreach Ira Young, and Dr. Carol Gross.

It was an encouraging development for event organizers whose focus was on unification, building community, organizing, and educating.

The idea of coming together as a community was expressed in a petition to make UCSF a Sanctuary Campus, one that would be noncompliant with discriminatory policies put forth by the incoming administration, especially those targeting undocumented immigrants.

Such petitions emerged across several UC campuses following the election, and the support did not go unnoticed: the University of California affirmed its commitment to goals in line with that of a Sanctuary Campus in a Nov. 30 statement entitled “University of California Statement of Principles in Support of Undocumented Members of the UC Community

It states, in part, that UC Campus Police will not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or undertake other joint efforts with federal, state or local law enforcement agencies, to investigate, detain or arrest individuals for violation of federal immigration law.

Read the full statement here.

The concept of a Sanctuary Campus is indicative of a greater need to protect those who are targeted for harassment.

“The election was a hit on our self-confidence, our sense of self-worth,” one student said.

Many bigots, vindicated by the election, have come out in full force to act on their hatred. Many bigots have also always been there, and many of us have turned a blind eye in the past. We, as a community, can no longer tolerate inaction.

At UCSF we’ve all had the required harassment training and the seminars on the importance of diversity, and that’s essential. However, there is “not a concrete statement of action from UCSF to address issues of discrimination or harassment,” as one student noted.

Even Dean Watkins conceded this — she admitted that she doesn’t know who to reach out to in addressing the bystander effect and how to de-escalate a situation.

The key issue here is that when we see something wrong, we’re being conditioned to let it happen and report it after the fact.

The mantra being repeated is to report incidents to the UCSF Police Department or with UCSF's Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. But are we told what to do in the moment?

To “file and forget” should not be the standard procedure. We all should have the courage and empathy to strike down harassment when it occurs, and by only reporting later we ensure that the damage is done.

We implicitly tell the victims that the community is not there for them — we tell them, “It’s not our job to help you and make sure you’re okay; that’s a job for the police.”

Given the myriad of atrocities minorities have sustained from the police, we should not send the message that law enforcement is the only help they have.

Don’t wait, Do

Although the meeting was not designated to draft an action plan for what to do in events of harassment and discrimination, the major conclusion was that we do need a plan.

On the faculty end, Dr. Gross spoke about how the Faculty Diversity Committee welcomes student representatives to provide their perspectives in meetings.

Similarly, Dean Watkins would like experienced people on the subject of intervention to send ideas and resources to Ira Young.

On your own, educate yourself and discuss with your peers how to shut down hateful acts when they happen, instead of condoning them through silence.

Power In Numbers

Although several leaders and members of underrepresented minority and LGBT-leaning Registered Campus Organizations (RCOs), one major concern is that it is a rare event to actually have all of these RCOs interacting in one place.

As one leader put it, these organizations are “so in our niche that we don’t really have the opportunity to come together.” One junior faculty, a member of Women in Life Sciences (WiLS), remarked that she couldn’t figure out how these organizations are coordinating.

That’s because they weren’t. This was the impetus to push for the establishment of a Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) in Mission Bay.

Although an MRC exists on the Parnassus campus, many RCO leaders are based in Mission Bay and it’s simply not feasible to attempt to restrict such an important resource to one location.

An MRC would centralize the archipelago of RCOs and allow for a space to gather, work, collaborate, and share ideas.

Thankfully, Dean Watkins is aware of this need and reassured students in attendance that a request for an MRC has been submitted, but she encourages RCOs to draft a letter stressing the need for this type of space to speed up the process.

In this atmosphere where so many of us from diverse backgrounds are increasingly threatened, it’s even more important that we’re able to come together as resources for one another. Power in numbers.

Highlight Diversity in Science

Within the science community we need to continue to educate people on how important diversity is. URMs in elementary/high school may not feel empowered to pursue their aspirations with the feeling that the nation is clashing against them.

Once again, collaboration was emphasized – students discussed a greater need for coordination between the Science and Health Education Partnership (SEP) and RCOs to bring scientists from diverse backgrounds to schools.

In schools with large URM populations, this would show them that people like them can do science; in schools dominated by whites, this would show them that they aren’t the only ones that can do science.

If you are a URM, you are needed now more than ever to represent your community and educate the future.

The idea of representation goes beyond URMs and the LGBT community: allies are vital to the cause. There was concern at the meeting that all of this discussion is ultimately preaching to the choir, that these organizations are thought to be “for us, by us.”

Plenty of you reading this article probably never took part in organizations dedicated to serving URMs because you thought you had to be a URM yourself.

In reality, these organizations want your help and support and want you to attend these meetings.

When you see in an email that meetings are “open to everyone,” it means just that. Be an ally and join these groups. You’ll learn a lot and realize how much you could be doing.

This meeting was not just for SACNAS, S4D, WiLS, or the GQA; this meeting was for everyone. As a community, we must strive to understand and protect those in need and no longer bask in the comfort of ignorance.