The recent murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others have sent shock waves throughout the country. In a recent interview, UC Davis professors Dr. Crystal Rogers and Dr. Wilsaan Joiner offered their thoughts, feelings, and recommendations for ways UC Davis can support our Black community members during these scary and uncertain times.
“I am so saddened by the nonstop string of murders of unarmed Black citizens in our country, not to mention the militarization of the police and willful ignorance of so many people in our society to see the constant injustice,” said Dr. Crystal Rogers, Assistant Professor of Biology at UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine. “These murders have amplified the helplessness, fear, sadness, and anxiety in the Black community. We are constantly traumatized with images of unarmed people that look like us being killed out of fear, or willful ignorance. Adding an increased possibility of death due to the current Covid-19 pandemic and the economic instability, and the camel’s back has been broken.…”
“The events that led to the protests and riots are extremely disturbing on multiple levels,” said Dr. Wilsaan Joiner, an Associate Professor at UC Davis in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior within the College of Biological Sciences, and the Department of Neurology within the UC Davis School of Medicine. “I have three sisters, and they and I worry about our kids and what dangers they may face growing up. I also worry about the effects [of these events] on my students.”
When discussing the ongoing protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality, Rogers said, “I can understand how protests turn to uprisings when the people who have the power to change things don’t listen to their communities.” She continued, “I have been saddened to realize that people seem to care more about “stuff” than they do “black lives”.” Rogers went on to add, “I 100% support the peaceful protestors,” and offered hope that these events and peoples’ reactions to them will spur significant changes to increase law enforcement accountability.
Unfair treatment from the police is not a recently developed issue, but rather, an ongoing one. When recalling some of his own experiences with the police, Joiner said, “I’ve had police point a gun at me at the age of 12 while leaving practice for a community play because I looked suspicious.” He added, “I’ve been pulled over at the age of 20 because it was suspicious that I was driving in a particular neighborhood that late at night. It was 9 PM.” Joiner then remarked on how these and other interactions with police could have easily gone a different way.
When asked about their experiences as black academics at UC Davis, Joiner commented that when he arrived in Davis almost two years ago, he “felt incredibly welcome.” Apart from the University, the community played a large role in his decision to move. “As an interracial family with three young girls, I know that we stand out,” he said, “but we love our neighborhood, our neighbors, the greenbelts, and the friends we’ve made here.”
Rogers, originally from nearby Santa Rosa, said that as a student she never considered applying to UC Davis because “this area was so rural, I thought I would be in danger if I came here because I was black.” When Rogers was offered a faculty position at UC Davis, she had no idea whether it had become more diverse and if it would be a livable place for her interracial family. However, upon visiting, Rogers said “I loved it... Every town has their issues and Davis is by no one’s definition diverse, but I think that the people here strive to be good, and the community is very tight. I hope it will be a safe place to raise my son.”
But indeed, racism does still exist here. “I’ve been asked to leave places on campus with no explanation and surveilled until I did,” said Joiner. “I’ve been asked if I was lost on my way back home from an early morning run, while my [white] wife has never been asked the same.” Joiner stresses that these examples are outliers within his time in Davis, and that these are encounters he also experienced prior to moving to Davis, but they sting nonetheless. “It stays with you,” he said.
Rogers suggests that in order for faculty to be better allies, they must to do their due diligence. “Use the resources that are available online to learn how to be a better ally to your colleagues and students… let Black people, and other people of color, be heard… speak up and support the communities that are hurting.” She added, “I am envious of the scientists that do not have to think about the things that are going on in our society.” Rogers is currently working to meet a grant deadline by this Friday; reflecting on this, she commented that people who are seemingly unaffected “have the privilege to focus on getting their best science out there.”
“Be aware that the current tragedies and unrest are having an effect on multiple aspects of people’s lives, and likely more so on people of color. Patience and understanding are needed now more than ever.” Joiner stated. He recommends that faculty continue to reach out to students and “offer to listen to them and be even more mindful of the importance of hearing what they are saying.”
In terms of how the university is handling things, Joiner said, “I think Davis and UC Davis have gotten a lot of their response right. The chancellor’s messages and the University’s response have been great, especially in the midst of COVID-19.”
Rogers repeated this sentiment, stating that she feels UC Davis is doing a better job responding to the crises relative to many other universities “due to the fact that we have such strong leadership, and that there is actual diversity of ethnicity and backgrounds within the leadership at UC Davis.” She went on to comment that this level of diversity is “very rare in academia.”
“I’ve appreciated so many colleagues and friends reaching out to me and can tell that they are concerned about the effects this is having on students and others at [UC Davis], particularly students of color,” Joiner said. “You don’t have to be a person of color to be distraught by what we’re seeing and the escalation.”
Although relatively new here, Rogers said multiple colleagues have checked in on her and offered their support. “As a Black woman, I have been more shook by recent events than I thought I would be, and the fact that my colleagues recognize that I might be affected and checked on me means a lot.”
However, Rogers also remarked that after speaking with a number of students, she feels that departments and faculty of graduate groups could have done a better job reaching out to offer students places to discuss, emote, and process recent events. “Even today there are still some graduate groups that have not reached out to students, especially Black and other students of color that are likely to be significantly affected by these events.”
Regarding steps that the university could take, whether big or small, to improve its culture of inclusion here on campus, Rogers said, “First- I think that departments need to be aware of who their members are. Racism should be addressed at every level, but if you have a problematic professor, call them out and protect the innocent students/staff/faculty that may be dealing with them.” In addition, Rogers recommended that, “if you have students or faculty of color in your midst, say something to express your support. Silence means you are complicit in what is happening.” She also advises creating or better supporting existing initiatives to maintain a multi-level peer-peer mentoring system throughout the institution.
Rogers also calls for implementing and requiring effective faculty trainings in culturally competent mentoring. “Programs that teach faculty about their own biases and the issues that their trainees and colleagues may be dealing with will only create better mentors.” She also suggests the university create openly available and easily accessible ways for faculty and students to actually practice anti-racist tactics so as to be able to effectively intervene when situations like those Joiner mentions occur.
“We cannot do science in a vacuum,” stated Rogers. “It’s time to recognize that the system is flawed, and as scientists, we need to come together, think out of the box, and figure out intelligent and effective ways to fix the problem. They will not all work, they will not all be all right, but if we don’t move towards a goal together, we will never succeed.”
To learn more about how to combat and eliminate systemic, institutionalized racism, please visit UC Davis' Resources for Racial Trauma, created by the UC Davis Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.