Inspired by #shutdownSTEM and angered by the recent racist violent murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, our lab met in early June, 2020 to discuss our complicity in racism and settler-colonialism in academia and our goals and actions as a lab to move towards antiracism in our research, lab, classrooms, department, and beyond. We recognize this is just a starting point.

The Berkeley Agroecology Lab is committed to pursuing antiracist actions that continue dismantling the deeply rooted systemic racism and settler-colonialism in academic institutions. We believe antiracist actions are critical to fostering an inclusive environment where we can all thrive. As scientists, we have a duty to actively dismantle systems of oppression, including but not limited to police violence and mass incarceration, that have resulted in the underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and other scholars of color in academia. 

The work of science is not apolitical. Rather, science is inherently political because science is always nested in a broader societal context. In agriculture, there is a deep history and ongoing use of scientific research (e.g. the Green Revolution and the development of agrochemicals) that directly leads to and continues to uphold the oppression and dispossession of Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color around the world. 

Our lab at the University of California Berkeley stands on occupied Karkin Ohlone and Chochenyo lands. UC Berkeley was founded in 1868 as a land-grant university with funds from the First Morrill Act of 1862. The Morrill Act aimed to establish public universities that served communities through the advancement of agricultural and applied sciences. However, the land sold for the benefit of founding the university was stolen from indigenous communities, dispossessing Native Peoples from their land. In this way, we acknowledge the indelible interconnectedness of the Land-Grant system with ongoing expropriation and colonization of Indigenous Lands and government-sanctioned genocide against Indigenous people. These atrocities are tied to our institutional history. We can only move forward by recognizing and holding ourselves accountable to the ways in which settler-colonial institutions like UC Berkeley have benefited from this history.

Nearly 30 years later, the Second Morrill Act of 1890 established many of the public Historically Black Colleges and Universities. However, this Second Morrill Act did not allocate any land. Therefore, it did not create a base of fundraising for endowments, and only four HBCUs got land from the 1862 act. This cemented the unequal access to education that Black scholars still face today.

Agriculture in the U.S., and the fortune of the U.S., was built on the enslavement and exploitation of Black people. Today, approximately 75% of the current labor force on US farms is made up of Indigenous and Latinx-identifying workers –– many who had to leave their own farms due to policies that have disenfranchised rural communities around the world. In sharp contrast, White people account for 96% of the owners, 97% of the value, and 98% of the acres of private U.S. agricultural land. This is not an accident, nor has it always been this way. Decades of racist agricultural policies have systematically discriminated against Black farmers, and today Black farmers only make up 2% of land-owners and less than 1% of total acreage. In this way, from slavery to present day, our agricultural system has always relied upon the labor of Black and Indigenous people of color—often lacking labor protections and voting rights—and land grabs via the displacement of Black and Indigenous people of color from their own rural communities. As a research group working with and for farmers, it is important for us to acknowledge this history, and actively seek to work with, and elevate farmers of color through our research collaborations and outreach. 

Oppression in our agri-food system is most (in)visible across the intersections of race, gender and sexuality as hegemony in this system is driven by patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, and trans/homophobia. Patriarchal notions of domination and the myth of the self-made “yeoman” pervade current agricultural paradigms, especially in the U.S. Sexual harassment is rampant in agriculture and food industries, from women of color in farmworker positions to sexual harassment of women and transgender employees in the restaurant industry. Land grant universities such as Berkeley continue to exclude women, and particularly women of color, due to cultures of exclusivity and lack of diverse hiring practices, among many other issues. Our own department, ESPM, has a poor track record of hiring and retaining people of color, especially women. Ultimately, we seek to more deeply explore intersectionality and the multiplicity of people’s identities along lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, faith, and age. 

Agroecology, in its ideal, aims to be transdisciplinary and action-oriented, encompassing science, practice, and movements. Notably, La Via Campesina, along with other Black- and Indigenous-led groups, use agroecology to push for food sovereignty and against settler-colonialism in agriculture. Therefore, it is imperative that our work as scientists not only acknowledges the past and current grassroots movements that push for justice, reparations, liberation, antiracism, decolonization, and sovereignty in food and agriculture, but also supports these efforts. Agroecology in academia has the power to push for structural rethinking of knowledge, and redefining what forms of knowledge are valued in academic institutions. As such, with our positionality as agroecology scientists at UC Berkeley, we will strive to actively pursue antiracist actions, foster an inclusive lab community that encourages the participation and growth of BIPOC scholars, and do research that is cognizant of structural systems of oppression. Structural racism in academia is pervasive and pernicious, and the process of dismantling the inequities and barriers for BIPOC in this space will require a long-term commitment to intentional, frequent actions individually and as a group. While modest, below we outline the individual and collective actions that our lab is committed to as we begin this process.  

Agroecology Lab Anti-Oppression Actions

Members of the Berkeley Agroecology Lab commit to taking the following actions to address systemic racism and inequities in our field. We focus on specific actions we can take immediately or soon in our capacity as individuals within the lab, and as a collective group. These actions are inspired in part by the letter ESPM graduate students wrote to faculty on taking anti-racist steps in the department, as well as “Ten simple rules for building an anti-racist lab” (Chaudhary and Berhe 2020). We recognize that different lab members have different capacities, and thus the relative role each of us plays in these actions may be different. We also recognize that this is just a beginning.

  1. Undergraduate research opportunities
    1. We commit to paying undergraduate researchers in our lab for their work. In part, this means we will advocate for changes to UC Berkeley’s URAP and SPUR programs, which currently provide research funds to PIs and only provide an option for research credits. 
    2. We will actively recruit Black students, Indigenous students, and other students of color through research programs (e.g. McNair Scholars, Latinx and the Environment), student organizations, and social media.
    3. We commit to considering life experiences with equal weight to academic markers when selecting and hiring students for research positions in our lab.
    4. Following the mentorship contracts already used between Prof. Bowles and PhD students and postdocs, we will also create mentorship contracts for undergraduate mentees, detailing what they can expect of us as mentors, and making transparent our expectations of them (see here).
  2. Graduate student funding support
    1. Tim commits to continue working with current and future PhD students to ensure they have a solid plan for funding throughout their PhD and assist in efforts to obtain fellowships and grants, as well as action to obtain a cost of living adjustment for graduate students. We recognize that with very low stipends for teaching and a high cost of living in the Bay Area, significant financial barriers exist for obtaining a PhD.
  3. Changes in course curricula and pedagogy
    1. For those of us who teach, we will include a minimum of 50% BIPOC scholars in course readings.
    2. We will continue to diversify teaching strategies and modes of assessment in courses in line with pedagogical research on how to support a diverse group of students.
  4. Citation practices
    1. We will critically evaluate our citation practices in academic publications to establish our baseline level of citation rates of BIPOC scholars, and identify who we are overlooking, in order to make our citation practices representative of the diversity of scholars in the field.
      1. To this end, we will actively compile a list of BIPOC scholars in soil and rhizosphere ecology, biogeochemistry, agroecology, rangeland ecology, food system studies, and other related fields, and make this resource publicly available 
  5. Core curriculum on systemic racism and other forms of oppression
    1. To support self-education and help lab members establish a baseline level of understanding, by the start of Fall semester 2020 we will identify a core set of key readings on systemic racism in land grant universities, agricultural research and extension, and agroecology. These readings will be used as a basis for self-reflexivity and group discussion, and will be required reading for all current and incoming members of our lab.
  6. Collaborations
    1. In current and future collaborative research projects, we will expand beyond our insular network and actively identify possible Black, Indigenous, and other people of color with whom we could collaborate, including other researchers and community partners, and discuss research directions rather than come with predefined questions. 
    2. For lab-led grants, we will work with these partners to allocate grant funds equitably, taking into consideration the resources we bring as part of a large public research institution, and we will ensure all partners have an opportunity to make intellectual contributions that lead to publications and additional funding..
  7. Reflect on, discuss, and incorporate measures to address workplace safety for BIPOC students and staff in the lab and in the field 
  8. Meaningfully honor our lab’s presence on unceded Chochenyo Ohlone territory by encouraging members of our lab to pay a yearly Shuumi Land Tax to the Sogorea Te Land Trust, the Ohlone women-led land trust. The Shuumi Land Tax is a voluntary tax that non-Indigenous people living in traditional Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone territory. 
  9. Allocate two lab meetings per semester for a lab self-assessment about progress toward these goals and discussion of ongoing steps that we can take. 
  10. We will adhere to our Lab and Professional Guidelines and Community Guidelines, which make explicit our commitment to an inclusive, supportive work environment.