The mission, goals, and values of our lab center on supporting transitions to equitable and sustainable food systems. This mission is situated within a broader social and political commitment to undoing systemic oppression, both within and beyond academia.
The University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus stands on occupied Anishinabek, Meskwaki, Peoria, and Potawatomi lands. We acknowledge this legacy of colonization and genocide of Indigenous nations and recognize that public institutions like UM benefited and continue to benefit from this colonial history, including from the sale and transfer of land. We therefore are committed to advocating for reconciliation of the injustices caused during the founding of UM (e.g., give land back, free tuition, and other approaches). We also honor and seek to learn from traditions of Indigenous peoples that have long practiced more sustainable ways of living, and to support education to expand understanding of the sociopolitical and economic challenges that Indigenous communities experience. We recognize the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples over their food systems and land.
Food system justice is racial justice. Agriculture in the US developed as a result of the enslavement and exploitation of Black people. This history of enslavement, followed by sharecropping, and then a century of federal farm policy that restricted Black farmers’ ability to own land, led to the number of Black farmers dropping 98% from a high in 1920. Today less than 2% of farms are run by Black people, and people of color face large structural barriers to accessing land, credit, and technical assistance. People of color are still exploited as farm workers (at least half are undocumented workers), marginalized by low pay and socioeconomic status, unsafe working conditions, and lack of access to health care, child care, and education. Restaurant workers have some of the lowest paid jobs in the U.S. and experience racial and gender inequity and harassment. There is a need to eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped employees, which emerged from a racist and sexist history. People of color are also disproportionately affected by food insecurity and chronic diseases related to consumption of processed foods.
Motivated by protests in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others; by a meeting we held during #shutdownSTEM; and, by the hate and bigotry displayed by the mob that stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, we developed this statement of our commitment and obligation to dismantle racism and build an inclusive environment for all. We are inspired by educators around the world who are confronting social inequities in their day-to-day work. This is a living document, and we acknowledge these actions are just a small part of the work that is needed.
Soil and Agroecosystems Lab Practices and Actions
1. We will actively recruit and secure funding for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC1 students) through research programs (e.g., UROP, DDCSP) and other avenues (e.g., building on past (USDA HEC) and current (USDA NNF) training grants led by members of the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative). We also strive for diversity in gender and sexuality (including LGBTQ+), and geographical and cultural backgrounds.
2. We commit to a holistic approach to evaluating candidates for research positions that gives life experiences equal value to academic achievements. When recruiting and mentoring, we will work to uncover the “hidden curricula” within academia. This includes but is not limited to: explaining what graduate admissions committees look for in applications (e.g., Dear Future Colleague), fully communicating expectations, sharing opportunities that students may be unaware of (e.g., REUs, fellowships, grants, and other awards), and emphasizing that students can be paid for research opportunities.
3. Jennifer will work with current and future graduate students to secure fellowships and grants.
4. We will decolonize the syllabi of the courses we teach, specifically by increasing BIPOC scholars represented in assigned readings and other materials (e.g., videos) and including readings and other learning materials from sources beyond peer-reviewed journals.
5. Beginning with awareness of and critical self-reflection on our social positions, we will use diverse teaching approaches and assessment methods to foster an inclusive classroom and encourage co-learning about values, ethics, and beliefs, recognizing that values are present in all ways of being and knowing.
6. We will decenter western science in the classroom and in our research collaborations to create space for other ways of knowing (e.g., by highlighting, supporting, and promoting the work of organizations who have been and continue to struggle for transformative change in the food system).
7. In current and future collaborations, we will identify BIPOC scholars with whom we can collaborate, in the U.S. and abroad, and we will actively redistribute funds to collaborators who have fewer resources and advantages, and value diverse knowledges and experiences to avoid extractive research and help address power imbalances.
8. When given the opportunity to change the structure and decision-making power of SEAS (e.g., on search committees) we will strive to recruit scholars representing people of color, women, and economically disadvantaged communities, recognizing that representation is about who has a voice, and whose ideas are considered legitimate.
9. We strive to support necessary political change: a “self-help” approach that encourages individuals to attend trainings is not enough to dismantle the root causes of oppression. For instance, the structural barriers of neoliberal capitalism mean that many BIPOC students or scholars cannot afford to attend UM or live in Ann Arbor. There is a need to address the root causes of poverty and economic inequality to make long-term progress on anti-oppression efforts.
10. We will assess our progress towards these goals during our first lab meeting each fall.
We recognize that anti-racism work is a learning process, and we welcome feedback about how we can further support equity in food systems research, education, and service.
1BIPOC refers to multiple racially marginalized non-white groups, with emphasis on experiences of Black and Indigenous peoples. Here we use the acronym to refer to multiple groups that have been marginalized around the world, recognizing that the term has limitations, including aggregating complex and variable experiences of different racial and ethnic groups.
DEI Resources at U-M: strategic plan, student orgs, upcoming events, and other resources including scholarship programs
Additional Resources for Anti-Racism in the Food System
Cronin, M.R. et al. 2021. Anti-racist interventions to transform ecology, evolution and conservation biology departments. Nature Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01522-z
Kyoko Kishimoto (2018) Anti-racist pedagogy: from faculty’s self-reflection to organizing within and beyond the classroom, Race Ethnicity and Education, 21:4, 540-554. DOI: 10.1080/13613324.2016.1248824