An open letter from UCSC DDCSP Founder and Faculty Director Dr. Erika Zavaleta

I stand with you in solidarity and sadness at the brutality and anti-Black racism that have rocked the country. They are not new; they are the latest in a 528-year history of racial violence on this continent. But the events of the last week hurt especially because their backdrop is tragedy: a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands in two months, and an economic crisis that – like COVID- 19 – has caused disproportionate suffering in communities of color. This is tragedy cubed. I struggle to bring into focus the path to a positive outcome, but as an educator and a conservation scientist, it’s my job to operate in a space of hope for the future.

Science and conservation have long marginalized Black and brown voices, faces and talents. The demographics of our country tell us that there should be five times as many scientists and professionals of color in ecology, evolution and conservation as there are. The absence of diverse leadership in our field sustains this gap unless all of us work for change. We all have to speak up and act when we see racial inequities affect our peers, colleagues, students and communities. We all have to illustrate – through our choices as communicators, teachers and researchers – that scientists and conservation professionals come in all races, genders and cultural backgrounds, and that science is compatible with every faith. We all need to express outrage when we see someone face prejudice or violence in the field, lab, classroom, or wider world.

This is the time for us, as UCSC Doris Duke Scholar Maria De Jesus says, to “be brave in our own capacities”. It is not a question of whether this is more or less important than the other work we do. It is part and parcel of that work. Inequity, brutality, violence and racism run counter to the goals of elevating nature and people, of protecting biological diversity and advancing knowledge. Caring for the interconnected ecology of life includes advancing justice, respect and inclusion in every form. Defending conservation and science includes defending all conservationists and scientists, regardless of their race.

I stand with you. I encourage you to join me and the UCSC Doris Duke Scholars Program in practicing active anti-racism, not just non-racism. And I believe in expressing what we are for as well as what we are against. We work for inclusion and equity as integral to excellence in science and conservation, and justice in our world. We work for systems of governance, policing, education and science rooted in caring, peace and respect. This is the time to shift the frame: these things we care about have never been separate. Black lives matter. Science matters. Earth and its diversity of life matter.

Please speak up. Support Black-owned bookstores as you educate yourself on how to be an active accomplice, ally and agent of positive change. Help the people around you join this effort. And let us know how we can help you.

With hope and humility,
Dr. Erika Zavaleta
Faculty Director, UCSC Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program and
Center to Advance Mentored, Inquiry-based Opportunities (CAMINO)

How YOU can amplify the voices of the UCSC Doris Duke Conservation Scholars

We’ve asked our scholars what organizations they are supporting right now, to advance the Black Lives Matter movement, and to support and advance justice for BIPOC communities.  If you would like to stand behind our Scholars, consider making a donation to these organizations:

American Civil Liberties Union
Albany County for Proper Policing
Anti Police Terror Project
Black Feminists Project
Black Lives Matter
Black Visions Collective
Brave Space Alliance
Breakthrough Houston
Circle of Discipline
College Horizons
Color of Change Education Fund
Charles Roundtree Bloom Project
Critical Resistance
Equal Justice Initiative
Liberating Capital: A Decolonizing Wealth Fund – Native American Community Response Fund (Covid-19)
Louisville Community Bail Fund
Loveland Foundation
Massachusetts Bail Fund
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Outdoor Afro
Outward Bound Adventures, Pasadena CA
Tacoma People’s Assembly
The Bail Project
The Movement for Black Lives
The Pōpolo Project


List of Black-owned bookstores (most with online ordering tools)

Appreciation to May Roberts (Bernardi Lab) for sharing this list.