Friday, July 3, 2020

Thoughts on Virtual Worlds of Teaching, by Don Orth

The coronavirus pandemic caused us fear and panic and made us reconsider how to do everything. Until we discover and deliver a vaccine, we will continue to work in new ways.  While we debate various approaches to re-open colleges, we need to acknowledge how pandemic teaching forced a long-overdue conversation that will affect us in the post-pandemic world.  Shelter-in-place orders in March 2020 meant students were sent home. All my lab and lectures were forced online without face-to-face learning experiences.  

The post-pandemic world will include more and more opportunities to explore virtual worlds that replace face-to-face interactions.  I ask that you consider perspectives that follow and reflect on two questions:  
How do we connect in meaningful ways in a virtual world? 
How do we build trust in virtual worlds? 

Students were afraid as they dealt with unstable internets, mid-semester changes, and cancelled work. I was fearful with the rapid transition to teaching in a format for which I had no training. Fear is our oldest survival mechanism. Deep in our brain lies the amygdala, or fish brain, which knows only stimulus-response, or flight or fight.  Fear forced rapid changes without much thought. Other parts of the brain will allow us to make it through months of distancing.  Our prefrontal cortex has had time to kick in and engage in creative thoughts and the cingulate cortex allows for empathy, impulse control, and emotion. During this time of adversity and distancing, we should practice using these brain functions

I often refer to Vygotsky's (1978) concept of zone of proximal development to guide my teaching -- maybe because I love saying Vygotsky out loud. The comfort zone is a low-risk zone where we use existing skills to reflect and make sense of things.  In the fear and panic mode, we become overwhelmingly uncomfortable and all our energy is used up coping with our anxiety.  In order to learn, our students have to leave their comfort zone and explore unknown skills and challenges in the Goldilocks zone. During the pandemic, instead of panicked responses, we should grow, show empathy, find ways to adapt, and build online relationships in a virtual world. As Yoda advises, “Do or do not. There is not try.”  

I imagined having students enter a virtual world such as Second Life®, a platform for game-based teaching. Many virtual worlds have been created to teach anatomy, education, nursing, psychology, and social work (Flink 2019). Anatomy students are not only able to view the content but also interact virtually with one another despite the real physical distance between them (Richardson 2011). Students create an avatar and this pseudoanonymity results in greater participation (Weicha et al. 2010).   
Virtual reality has a long way to go before it is common in higher education. Photo by Jonas Tana CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Second Life® is most suited for simulating expensive or potentially dangerous activities in a safe, accessible manner while helping inexperienced students overcome anxiety of making mistakes in real life groups. I imagined manipulating a 3d model of a Great White Shark, browsing the internal anatomy of fishes revealed by CT scans, and leading students on a tour of fisheries in countries with low management capacity.  In virtual worlds, student can make wrong decisions, cause a fishery crash, or misidentifying a fish and cause the explosion of an invasive species.   But there was no time to build a virtual world in Second Life overnight.    

Educators recognized early on that online teaching cannot be accomplished by simply uploading lectures to a website or presenting in a zoom meeting (Chumley-Jones et al. 2002).  Live teaching isn’t always the best teaching strategy.  According to Tanya Joosten, PhD, Director Digital Learning, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, videoconferencing tools end up encouraging teacher-centered learning (Joosten 2015).  Social isolation also has an adverse impact on physical health (Miller 2020). While we are locked away in isolation, we must routinely communicate to our students that “I am thinking about you.”   Virginia Tech learned a difficult lesson in 2007 about privacy laws that enabled one troubled student to fall through the cracks of our mental health system (Roy 2010). While we are physically distancing ourselves from students, we must not become more socially distant. 

I speculate that many proposed principles of Pandemic Online Teaching may outlast the pandemic.   Consider the following traits for effective online teaching as you prepare for fall online teaching (Table 1).    

Table 1. Proposed requirements for effective online teaching. 

Learning focused
Equity & Empathy

Learning Focused—University are resources limited and tuition keeps rising. The coronavirus pandemic will surely have an effect on economic growth, and slower growth portends cuts as money flows away from higher education and toward public health and unemployment relief (Huelsman 2020).  During and after the pandemic, more of our teaching and other work will be conducted via virtual networks so we should learn lessons from decades devoted to online education.  

Learning should be an active process. Too often, students come to school to watch their teachers work.”  Willard R. Daggett, International Center for Leadership in Education

Transactional distance refers to the psychological and communications gap that arises from an interplay of structure and dialogue in online teaching (Delgaty 2018).   Online learning has less dialogue and more highly structured rules for student learning. Too much distance leads to feelings of isolation, reduced motivation, control, engagement and eventually attrition. Free online courses are started but the rate of attrition is very high.   We need to create explicit activities to build community in our online courses.  Communities of practice are groups of people who share a common interest, profession, or passion and actively engage (Wenger 1999).  Fortunately, I had been working for years to create a public Facebook group, Virginia Tech Ichthyology, that includes over 1,400 members.  Yet, the novice online student needs to spend time learning and trusting their learning partners in order to create a sense of belonging.

Mindful—In developing any community, it is important that we take time to establish norms for being present, mindful, and safe as we create a community for online teaching (Sochacki 2020).  Mindfulness is a prerequisite to learning and reduces anxiety (Miller 2020).  Mindfulness meditation targets a key brain region, that is the cingulate cortex (Brewer and Garrison 2014). But where does one learn and practice this? When students returned from an extended spring break, I offered a mindfulness exercise for them to do in private space. The research on mindfulness interventions is only now emerging (Tuckey et al. 2018) and we should demand our employers help us apply these techniques to enhance the well-being of our students. 
Someone should write a book on the use of memes in higher education
Passion— I struggle to find a higher amount of energy to demonstrate excitement and engagement in the online class as a model for my students. Teaching online requires that my asynchronous communications become more authentic and meaningful. I can find ways to celebrate the little wins and send a meme to a student for a job well done.  Are all students healthy and present?    In our post-pandemic world, we need training to help supervisors to create passion in teleworking employees via reoccurring cognitive and affective appraisal that result in consistent and constructive work (Egan et al. 2019). 

Trust—People will listen to some more than others. For example, a recent public service post was from Frank Beamer, former football coach of Virginia Tech. Why?  Individuals who have a high social media profile are influencers because of a long history of connecting with a broader audience— you too can be a nerd of trust (McClain 2017).  Trust requires relationships and multiple interactions where we share stories of our values (Fiske and Dupree 2014).  Trust is key to mutually beneficial teaching collaboration and develops over time and not overnight.
Coach Frank Beamer demonstrating how to cough into your elbow in a public service announcement. 
Messy—Learning is messy and science teaching, if we rely on scientific papers, mislead the novice students.  Medawar (1963) argued that the highly formalized structure gives only a sanitized version of how scientists come to a conclusion and that it leaves no room for authors to discuss the thought processes that led to the experiments. All hypotheses are tentative and acceptance of tests take repeated studies, argumentation, and time.  Employers demand that our students are effective in communicating with others with varying worldviews.  We need to teach argumentation skills for a participatory democracy in a realistic messy setting.  Open dialogue is critical for development of trust (Schaefer et al. 2018)  and critical thinking skills to avoid psychological manipulation via dastardly online misinformation (Wylie  2019).  

Open—Public dialogue is the essence of a deliberative democracy (Dryzek 2012). Our University’s motto is Ut Prosim, That I May Serve.  Students cannot serve without communicating with a broad audience.  To do that effectively, they need a voice that is trusted and understandable.  Attacks on science and scientists are more frequent and we must add our personal stories to the public dialogue (Hotez 2020).  Young scientists are eager to take on this challenge of improving science communication (Murchie and Diomede 2020).

The nature of information must also be open.  Virginia Tech has a great library and services for finding information hidden behind paywalls for most.  Open access is a powerful tool for reducing inequalities of educational opportunity and promoting innovative strategies to improve educational problems (Bliss and Smith 2017).  Similarly, open access should permit more equitable engagement of fisheries stakeholders. Therefore, I encourage you to share your papers and reports on ResearchGate or other sites. The How Can I Share It online tool will help you determine what type of sharing is legal based on journal requirements. If we create open access materials and license them with Creative Commons licensing, that allows others to use our old literature and more easily revise and build on it. 
Just because you have always taught it this way, does not mean you cannot learn other ways to teach. Photo by Sam Dean.
Equity and Empathy— My pivot to online teaching meant designing instruction for marginalized students first, the ones most likely to be struggling right now. With students working from home I see the inequities in internet reliability.  Our teaching must engage the quiet and marginalized as well as the confident and privileged. One of my colleagues received the following limerick from a student needing an extension on an assignment. 
            I meditate on my transgression
As non-trivial is managing my depression
I really am trying
But I feel like I'm dying
So please can I have an extension
And the student got the extension. Instructors learn about their students and develop connections via ice-breaker activities.  Students must develop empathy to connect with other students. Satisfaction in any group of collaborators depends on  equity and empathy are important for satisfaction (Strong et al. 2001). 

Memorable—Listening to stories activates all regions of the brain, thereby allowing the listener to experience what the storyteller felt, saw, and heard.   Think of your favorite books about fish.  Among my favorite pandemic readings are Vaquita by Brooke Bessesen, Reef Life by Callum Roberts, Salmon by Mark Kurlansky, Being Salmon, Being Human by Martin Lee Mueller, and Spillover by David Quammen.  Each book is written as a narrative that both challenges human exceptionalism while telling stories of humans saving species in order to save ourselves. The storytelling theory boils down to two sentences: A character (1) is in a zone of comfort, 2) but they want something. The character then (3) enters an unfamiliar situation, (4) adapts to it, (5) gets what s/he wanted, (6) pays a heavy price for it, (7) then returns to their familiar situation, (8) having changed.   We naturally gravitate to storytelling in our daily interactions (Moore and Orth 2018). The coronavirus pandemic reinforced my thinking that "Students need to become heroes of their own learning stories as well as of the stories they tell with their own lives" Ohler (2013, p.  9).   In a virtual world we can create online story circles and listen to each other share deep knowledge, emotions, and experiences in a story. 

Persistence— In psychology, persistence is a personality trait that refers to perseverance in the face of difficulties.   Like other temperament traits, persistence is highly heritable (Cloninger 2012) but also malleable if one is provided frequent and specific feedback.  Effective teaching in any new format requires persistence. Who is providing us frequent and specific feedback as we learn a new teaching strategy?

Integrative—The “Domain of One’s Own” (DOOO) is one of the most important and innovative initiatives in ed-tech today. DOOO is open learning, which emphasizes the importance of learner agency, learning in public, control over one’s digital identity, and web literacies.  It won’t happen without a concerted effort at community-building and capacity-building so that students have online instantaneous access to the assistance needed for creating and curating their digital identities. It won’t happen unless instructors  break away from whatever learning management system (LMS) the university has bought.  The LMS is a great tool for instructors who wish to follow the command, control, communication, and intelligence directives taken from the military.    If implemented well the Domain of One’s Own initiative may break down resistance to the silos of the traditional learning management system and of traditional academic disciplines (Watters 2014).     

We should explore the potential of virtual communities during online teaching so students learn to work at the interface between government and other organizations. Because the future will contain elements of the past — turbulence, uncertainty, novelty and ambiguity—we must consider new ways of coping.  “A shift toward remote working may be here to stay,” said Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard Business School (Gardner 2020).   

Fortunately, we have a sophisticated prefrontal cortex to help us think creatively and plan for the future. Next time we are faced with great uncertainty and anxiety, panic, and compulsive actions become automatic, we should pause for some awareness and mindfulness exercises to reduce our anxiety. Then we will engage our virtual networks and communities so we have the benefits of many brains and their cingulate cortex working to solve our collective problems.  

We are now teaching Generation Z, students who were the first to conduct childhood friendships on portable devices. They've mastered the art of achieving an entire conversation with images (emojis) and gifs. They are independent, pragmatic, stubborn and always in a rush (Mintz 2019). We don’t have to assume we must teach them with the methods of the past.  Generation Z will expect the experts to be online and sharing their toolboxes in order to solve problems in a timely manner.  The path forward for teaching in a pandemic is still uncertain  So I recommend that "you better think. Think about what you're tryin' to do to me." Perhaps you can develop a new community of practice. Employers will cheer you if you help students connect in an increasingly virtual world. 

 Generation Z reached adulthood in the second decade of the 21st century and are perceived as being familiar with the Internet from a very young age.  Photo CC 1.0

 Bliss, T. J., and M. Smith. 2017. A brief history of open educational resources. Pages 9-27 in   R.S. Jhangiani and R. Biswas-Diener, editors.  Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: License: CC-BY 4.0
Brewer, J.A. and K.A. Garrison 2014. The posterior cingulate cortex as a plausible mechanistic target of meditation: findings from neuroimaging. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1307:19-27.  doi: 10.1111/nyas.12246  
Chumley-Jones HS, Dobbie A, Alford CL. 2002.Web-based learning: Sound educational method or hype? A review of the evaluation literature. Academic Medicine 77(10):s86-s93.
Cloninger, C.R., A.H. Zohar, S. Hirschmann, and D. Dahan. 2012. The psychological costs and benefits of being highly persistent: personality profiles distinguish mood disorders from anxiety disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders136(3):758-766.
Delgaty, L. 2018.  Transactional distance theory: A critical view of the theoretical and pedagogical underpinnings of e-learning.  Pages 296-316 in D. Cvetković, editor. Interactive multimedia: Multimedia production and digital storytelling. IntechOpen DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.81357
Dryzek, J.S. 2012. Foundations and Frontiers of Deliberative Governance. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 256 pp. 
Egan, R., D. Zigarmi, and A. Richardson. 2019. Leadership behavior: A partial test of the employee work passion model. Human Resource Development Quarterly 30(3):311-341. 
Fiske, S. T., and C. Dupree. 2014. Gaining trust as well as respect in communicating to motivated audiences about science topics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 111:13593–13597.
Flink, P. 2019. Second Life and virtual learning: an educational alterative for neurodiverse students in college. College Student Journal 53(1):33-41.
Gardner, B. 2020. Coronavirus holds key lessons on how to fight climate change. YaleEnvironment360. March 23, 2020.  Accessed on April 7, 2020 at  
Hotez, P.J. 2020. Combating antiscience: Are we preparing for the 2020s? PLoS Biology 18(3): e3000683.
Huelsman, M. 2020. Coronavirus could cause a long-term higher ed crisis.  Inside Higher Ed March 12 2020.
Joosten, T. 2015. Thinking systematically: a study of course communication and social processes in face-to-face and online courses.  (Doctoral dissertation). The University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee.
McClain, C.R. 2017. Practices and promises of Facebook for science outreach: Becoming a “Nerd of Trust”. PLoS Biology 15(6): e2002020
Medawar, P. 1963. Is the scientific paper a fraud? Listener 70:377–378.
Miller, K.E. 2020. Let’s aim for physical rather than social distancing. Psychology Today. March 18 2020
Mintz, S. 2019. Are colleges ready for Generation Z? Inside Higher Ed. March 18, 2019. Accessed on April 6, 2020 at
Moore, M.J. and D.J. Orth. 2018. Stories worth sharing.  Fisheries 43(12):575-576.
Murchie, K.J., and D. Diomede. 2020. Fundamentals of graphic design – essential tools for effective visual science communication.  FACETS 5:409-422. 
Ohler, J. 2013. Digital storytelling in the classroom: new media pathways to literacy, learning, and creativity, 2nd Edition.  Corwin. 304 pp.
Orth, D.J. 2018. Social media may empower fisheries students via learning networks. Fisheries 43(3):130-138.
Richardson, A., M. Hazzard, S.D. Challman, A.M. Morgenstein, and J.K. Brueckner. 2011. A “Second Life” for Gross Anatomy: Applications for multiuser virtual environments in teaching. Anatomical Sciences Education   4:39-43.   
Roy, L. 2010. No right to remain silent. Broadway Books, New York. 336 pp. 
Sochacki, J. 2020. A checklist for building community in the college classroom. Faculty Focus online on March 23, 2020. Accessed at March 11, 2020. 
Strong, K.C., R.C. Ringer, and S.A. Taylor. 2001. THE* rules of stakeholder satisfaction (* Timeliness, Honesty, Empathy). Journal of Business Ethics 32:219-230. 
Tuckey, M.R., S. Sonnentag, and J. Bryan. 2018. Are state mindfulness and state work engagement related during the workday.  Work & Stress 32(1):33-48.
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Watters, A. 2014.  Beneath the cobblestones...a domain of one's own.  Hack Education.  April 25, 2014.  Accessed at March 20, 2020
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Wiecha, J., R. Heyden, E. Sternthal, and M. Merialdi. 2010. Learning in a virtual world: Experience with using Second Life for medical education. Journal of Medical Internet Research 12: e1.
Wylie, C. 2019.  Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the plot to break America.  Random House. 270 pp.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Liberty and Justice for Black Lives, by Don Orth

Two weeks of protests, prompted by the killing of George Floyd by police officers, dominate the news cycle. We’ve seen this before. I fully support protesters and demand liberty, justice, and an end to police brutality. Black Americans are two-and-a-half times as likely as white Americans to be killed by police officers. I am angry.

Where black people are most disproportionately killed by police. Source.
Where you live matters! The color of your skin matters! The color of skin matters if you complain about police misbehavior (Headley et al. 2020). Black and Hispanic complainants are much less likely to have their allegations of police misconduct sustained. 

Do we still have a dream?
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”. On 28 August in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  When I re-read Martin Luther King’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize and I wonder how he maintained his faith.  When a police officer kills a dream, you can expect a protest. 
George Floyd protest, Columbus Ohio, May 30, 2020. Photo by Paul Becker  CC BY 2.0
This video, Seething, by Milmon F. Harison, reflects stories told across the United States. It’s time to listen, show solidarity, and join the movement to dismantle institutions and systems built on white supremacy and racism.  The privileged should not wonder why we are protesting.  Protests will continue until real reforms are made. 

As a young adolescent, I learned lessons from protests against injustice. I see several parallels to the present day.  In the 1960s instead of a widespread pandemic killing people, we had far distant, unpopular war killing people in Viet Nam.  The 1960s also saw strong anti-black sentiment, and disgust for progressive programs of relief, recovery, and reform that generated jobs and hope for the disadvantaged. It was a time of hope from passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And the privileged were threatened.  In 2020, we have a pandemic killing people, resurgence of white supremacists, calls for law and order (the shooting begins when the looting starts), and anti-progressive or anti-Obama political order. 
I was too young to remember the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955. Till was raised in a neighborhood due west of my West Englewood neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. On a visit to see relatives in Mississippi a white woman accused Till of whistling at her. Till was kidnapped and brutally murdered by her husband and brother.  The woman later confessed she had lied (T. Tyson 2017, The Blood of Emmett Till).  Thousands viewed his mutilated body in his funeral in Chicago.   A month after the murder the husband and brother were acquited by an all-white, 10-man jury that deliberated 67 minutes. Yet, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act is now stalled in the U.S. Senate. 

As I look back on the 1960s, the causes of unrest appear clear. President Lyndon Johnson brought together the Kerner Commission to locate the causes of urban unrest, and many told him the truth about what the problem was. There was an entire minority report called The Harvest of American Racism, that the public never saw. Harvest of American Racism Minority Report was labeled DESTROY (McLaughlin 2014). 
On May 14, as Jackson State College students protested the injustices of the war and American racism, the police opened fire on the rally, killing two and injuring 12. Founded in 1877 to serve those recently freed from slavery, Jackson State College struggled against white supremacists seeking to limit African American access to education.  Four Kent State students were killed by the Ohio National Guard as they protested the war. These shootings and those at Jackson State set off a widespread outrage that linked the war to police violence and domestic injustice. The protest of a spectrum of black leaders, athletes, activists, artists, and entertainers helped force the federal government to start withdrawing troops from Vietnam in late 1969. 
Blatant discrimination lead to formation of organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Black Panthers, and Students for a Democratic Society, which organized protests.  The 1960s saw assassinations of strong and vocal leaders. Medgar Evers assassinated in 1963 a by white supremacist KKK member. John F. Kennedy, Jr., assassinated in 1963 by a lone gunman or a un-named group of conspirators.   Malcom X denounced the Viet Nam war, and advocated for separation of blacks from whites, was killed in 1965.  Martin Luther King, Jr., was the earliest and most effective voice for civil rights and non-violent protests. He also denounced the Viet Nam war.  He was assassinated by James Earl Ray in 1968 after receiving a threatening letter from the FBI that said “You are done.” 
The influence of the war in Viet Nam had some parallels with the current pandemic.  Both the Viet Nam war and the COVID-19 pandemic have had a disproportionate effect on African Americans. African Americans were disproportionately drafted. In 1967, 64% of eligible African American youth were drafted, but only 31% of eligible whites. During 1965-66, the casualty rate for blacks was twice that of whites
 Six of the twelve U.S. servicemen killed on October 8 in the crash of two U.S. Marine helicopters in South Viet Nam. AP photo. CC BY 2.0
Rioting in the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles occurred after an incident of police overreaction. Year of discriminatory housing practices affected Watts, like many other city neighborhoods, that had absorbed large population of blacks during the period from WWII to 1965.  An African-American, Maquette Freye on parole for robbery was pulled over for reckless driving and a fight with police ensued.  This incident led to eight days of rioting, and left 34 people dead, 1,032 injured, 3,952 arrested, 600 businesses destroyed, and total damage of more than $40 million. Los Angeles was the location of rioting against police brutality after the Rodney King beatings in 1972. 

I remember the rioting in Chicago at the summer Democratic convention in 1968. President Lyndon Baines Johnson withdrew his name from consideration in March 1968, leaving the Democratic spot open. Tensions were high and rioting occurred in many cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. In June, Robert F. Kennedy, a progressive Presidential nominee, was assassinated. At the Chicago convention, riots broke out from Anti-Vietnam war protestors supporting anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley deployed 12,000 police officers and called in another 15,000 state and federal officers to contain the protesters. The situation then rapidly spiraled out of control, with the policemen severely beating and gassing the demonstrators, as well as newsmen and doctors who had come to help.

The riot, known as the Battle of Michigan Avenue,was caught on television, and sparked a large-scale change in American society. For the first time, many Americans came out in opposition to the Vietnam War. Protests continued in many cities. Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s vice president, won the Democratic nomination. George Wallace ran as a racial segregationist and Richard Nixon ran on a campaign that promised to restore law and order to the nation's cities and provide new leadership in the Vietnam War. Nixon’s rhetoric appealed to the anti-black voters at the time. John Ehrlichman wrote in his diary, the subliminal appeal to the anti-black voter was always present in Nixons statements and speeches.”   We all know how that turned out.

Fast forward 50 years. The decade of 2010-2020 has been marked by police brutality and killing, white nationalism, and domestic terrorism.  The U.S. Senate and house condemned violence as hundreds of torch-bearing White nationalists, White supremacists, Klansmen, and neo-Nazis [who] chanted racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant slogans and violently engaged with counter-demonstrators on and around the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.”  Donald Trump, now a symbol of division, referred to "very fine people on both sides," while clearly aware there were white supremacists (Unite the Right) on one side.  

The killing last month of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers, was not an isolated incident. It is a recent incident among numerous incidents of unjustified use of force by police against innocent citizens. This is systematic racism. Recent events were recognized by independent experts who are calling for the US to reform its criminal justice system (UN Human Rights Council).   Blacks make a greater share of prisoners in U.S. prisons and have for a long time (Gramlich 2019).

 Source Pew Research Center
Police brutality and killings by police, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists affects us all as we grieve with families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Jamar Clark, Resell Jones, Kenny Watson, Walter Scott, Terrence Crutcher, Michelle Shirley, Philando Castille, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Alton Sterling, George Floyd, Chris Beaty, and so many others. 

President Donald Trump emboldens white nationalists and fails to speak or act on the problem. Silence supports the status quo science and supports systematic racism. Dylan Roof killed nine at a Charleston church in 2015.  Robert Gregory Bowers killed 11 wounded six at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2017. More than 70,000 people signed a letter saying that Trump was not welcome until he "fully denounces white nationalism" rabbi Jeffrey Myers said, "There is hate, and it isn't going away. It just seems to be getting worse. ... We've got to stop hate, and it can't just be to say we need to stop hate. We need to do, we need to act to tone down rhetoric"

Mural showing the portrait of George Floyd in Mauerpark in Berlin. To the left of the portrait the lettering "I can't Breathe" was added, on the right side the three hashtags #GeorgeFloyd, #Icantbreathe and #Sayhisname. The mural was completed by Eme Street Art aka Eme Free Thinker on 29 May 2020.  CC0 1. 
Actions To Fight Racism

  • Do not remain silent.  "You got to fight the power, fight the power, fight the powers that be." Public Enemy, from Do the Right Thing 
  • Businesses should speak out. Ben & Jerry’s has been publicly calling out racism and tells its customers why systematic racism is real. 
  • Recognize your own privilege and begin a conversation about racism with coworkers. While it may be difficult, it is not as difficult as living in fear every day.  We must recognize that our colleagues who are black and brown experience a hateful world and many difficulties in working in our disciplines.
  • Read the news critically. Some recent reports on assaults on police were falsehoods, and in fact, policy behavior was appalling and unjustified.  
  • Sponsor or participate in public events to highlight black scientists.  The Twitter #blackbirdersweek event was highly successful.  We heard many stories including a story of a scientist who is “always scared for my safety.”
  • Join a group, join a protest, let people know we are listening and that we believe black lives matter because solidarity matters.
  • Find your voice and speak to power now. The most dangerous form of white racism is the “the taken‐for‐granted routine privileging of white interests” that goes unremarked in the political mainstream (Gillborn 2005).
  • Faculty members should advocate to their administration to invest strongly into strengthening diversity and equity initiatives. 
  • Vote!
  • Act consistently and persistently.
  • Avoid being judgmental.  Barack Obama said “Thats not activism. Thats not bringing about change,” he said. If all youre doing is casting stones, youre probably not going to get that far. Thats easy to do.”
  • Demand congressional oversight of Commission on law enforcement and administration of justice 
  • Fight for environmental justice. Government responses to disasters fail to protect all communities equally (Bullard and Wright 2012). In places like Detroit and Flint, Michigan, water rights violations were a powerful motivator to protest and fight for inclusive government and fair access to water (Christy 2018).    
  • Show of solidarity with your professional organizations. The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, The American Fisheries Society, and many other scientific and professional groups have released statements about recent police killings. 
Racism distorts all parts of the system. Source. 
Bigger policy issues remain after making small steps in police reforms.  Racism is built into every place in our society. Income inequality, particularly in urban areas, has increased markedly over the last forty years.  The divide between rich and poor is reflected in access to education, opportunities, services, political influence, and justice. Reforms are needed to address systematic reforms in educational policy (Gillborn 2005; Cabrera 2014), welfare systems (Kolkvosky 2018), mental health care (Brown 2003), housing (Metzgar and Webber 2019), urban planning (Banzhaf et al. 2019; Reardon and Raciti 2019), public health (Lee et al. 2015; Brailsford et al. 2019), water utilities (Clark 2019), and environmental protection (Konisky 2009).  Contact your congressional representatives and ask that they support the Justice in Policing Act of 2020Support DC statehood so residents have a voice in government. 

The long history of discriminatory practices and recent egregious actions by police against blacks means mediation is required to improve policy-minority community relations before real reforms in policing are possible (Braga et al 2019). What seems very different today from the 1960s is the widespread hatred spread by irresponsible, despicable idiots on television. For example, conservative commentator Tucker Carlson Fox News recently denounced the cult racial mentality, as if white supremacists haven’t been pushing a racial division agenda for many decades.  Boycott these idiots.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. Matthew 25 (40-45) 

Black Lives Matter is about justice and equality, and putting an end to police brutality 

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