June 21, 2020
The following is a statement on systemic racism and police violence from a group of grad students in the STOR Department.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmad Arbery, Chantel Moore, Rayshard Brooks, and others at the hands of police reveal a continuing crisis of racism in America. It is long past time for all of us to reflect on our roles in systemic discrimination and white supremacy, and to be better.
As graduate students in statistics and operations research, we recognize the role that White supremacist origins play in our fields, including the invention of many methods in modern statistics by eugenicists in the early 20th century. In STEM fields today, there are clear racial disparities in the classroom and in academic hiring, including in our own department. Furthermore, modern trends in the use of racist decision-making algorithms, unethical data collection, and criminal convictions based on the misuse of DNA evidence demand from us an anti-racist approach to teaching and research.
We are horrified by the violence that police have inflicted on Black communities, both now and historically. We reject the recent trend by statisticians and operations researchers of using predictive analytics in collaboration with police departments, as such work actively proliferates police violence and is inconsistent with using our knowledge to improve lives. In our own community, we have seen firsthand how the UNC Police Department has acted to protect white supremacy on campus by welcoming hate groups but targeting anti-racist activists.
Given UNC leaders’ past failures on issues of racial justice, we hope that their new UNC System Equity Task Force is more than just a bureaucratic deflection devoid of action. We also fear that UNC leadership is ignoring the stark racial disparities in the recent testing, treatment, and death from COVID-19 as they plan a re-opening of campus this fall. We are concerned that many, largely Black, groups of essential campus workers will be forced to choose between their paycheck and their health.
We commit to a renewed support of Black-led student organizations, community activists, and those underrepresented in our field. We follow the lead of Black STEM researchers, as well as others committed to justice, such as the organizers of Shut Down STEM, the researchers combating racial bias in algorithms, and those honoring Black statisticians. Furthermore, we pledge to hold our department’s faculty accountable for diversity in hiring lecturers, professors, and graduate students. We have the power to make a difference in our classrooms and our community, not only as fellow humans, but as scientists approaching data analysis ethically. Black lives matter.
Isaac Stier Robson
Thomas H. Keefe