Shutting down STEM in support of Black scientists

A message from Peter Barr-Gillespie, Chief Research Officer and Executive Vice President, OHSU

Dear OHSU Research Community:

I would like to call your attention to Shutdown STEM: Strike for Black Lives, an action occurring tomorrow, June 10. This day is devoted to Black academics and STEM professionals, who will take the day for themselves and address their own needs. White and other non-Black people of color are encouraged to spend the day not only educating themselves but putting together their own action plan for fighting systemic racism, one that helps create a safe environment for Black scientists. You can find additional information here and here.

Image above: Rosa Carbonell, M.D.,  joins with other medical professionals in Pioneer Courthouse Square on Friday, June 5, 2020, showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff) In solidarity with my Black colleagues, I am personally choosing to take tomorrow off from my “normal” responsibilities and will spend the day doing the work recommended—as part of my own journey to recognize and address racism.

Supervisors should consider this as education, professional development, or training—something crucial for all of our employees–and support participation if it can be done without adversely impacting patient care or other essential services we provide. Not everyone will able to dedicate tomorrow to do this. But even if you can’t participate tomorrow, you can share in this work. The commitment to changing yourself and changing societal institutions will be a lifelong journey. If you cannot take action tomorrow, then commit to this work when you have time available.

As a starting point, those of us who are white or other non-Black people of color might want to watch this video from Emmanuel Acho, the first of a new series called Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. The links above for #ShutDownSTEM have many other resources as well.

We need to go far, far beyond statements pledging support for Black individuals in science. We each need to drive transformation within ourselves, and then work towards actually changing our environment, which includes our lives at OHSU.

Remember that it is not the time, especially now, to over-analyze all of the different points of view around being Black in our society and in science. Instead, immerse yourself in understanding the Black experience. We must get to empathy before we can evoke lasting change. Put your scientist tools aside for the time being and approach your anti-racism work first and foremost as a human being who wants to understand other human beings.

Finally, we must recognize that we are all at different points along the journey. Nevertheless, I feel that the last two weeks has moved us toward change that previously seemed impossible. Perhaps having had our lives upended by the coronavirus has made possible this transformation in us as individuals—and hints of a transformation in our society. But we have far, far more work to do.

Peter Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D.
Chief Research Officer & Executive Vice President
Oregon Health & Science University