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Black Lives and the events of the past week

Today we are all grieving -- grieving for the violent death of George Floyd, for the scenes of conflict and destruction unfolding in our streets, for the callous responses of many of our leaders. It is absolutely unacceptable that we live in a country where human beings with Black skin continue to be marginalized and brutalized. Black Americans live each day with the reality that an ordinary activity like going for a jog, bird-watching, pumping gas, reaching for a phone, or getting in a minor traffic accident can turn into a deadly encounter.

To the extent that we can embody the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we are a better, stronger community. But our productivity and fulfillment as scientists depends on the quality of our environment and the well-being of each of our members. Let each of us be mindful and supportive of the painful emotions that many people in our department, especially our African-American colleagues, are experiencing in this moment.

Our Vice Provost, Rob Sellers, has written a moving piece -- I Am So Tired -- that I hope everyone will take time to read and reflect on.

David Gerdes
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics
Chair, Department of Physics
Professor of Astronomy
University of Michigan

Supporting our Chinese Colleagues

The past few days have seen some extremely worrisome developments concerning visa restrictions on researchers from China. Actions like these are an attack on our core values of openness, international cooperation, and community. The purpose of this message is to inform you of these developments and what the university is doing in response. 

Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order suspending the visas of  researchers from Chinese universities that are deemed to have close ties to the Chinese military or intelligence-gathering agencies. This story was reported in the New York Times the day before. 

Additionally, a bill called the SECURE CAMPUS Act has been introduced in Congress that would prohibit most Chinese nationals from receiving visas for graduate or postgraduate studies in STEM fields. I want to emphasize that this is only a bill and its chances of being enacted into law are extremely remote. Nevertheless, it reveals an ugly strain of xenophobia that should concern every single one of us, regardless of our country of origin.

To the Chinese members of our community: you are our collaborators, students, mentors, and friends. You enrich our science, our classrooms, and our lives. Please know that the Physics department is ready to support you in every way we can. 

The principles at stake here extend far beyond our department to the university and academia as a whole. The university's executive officers are planning to issue a response, and are also working with the government relations team to convey our concerns directly to policy makers. The natural science chairs are preparing a letter to President Schlissel so that he knows we speak with one voice. National associations are mobilizing to take action. 

These moves to restrict Chinese visas are occurring against a backdrop of increasing racism and harassment against individuals of Asian heritage as a result of Covid-19. UM has formed a task force in response to this. Here is a link to a Google doc with a number of resources for community contacts, incident reporting, and self-care. See also this statement of support from UM Vice Provost Rob Sellers. 

Everyone can help by being an ally. Be sensitive to the anxiety many of our Chinese colleagues are experiencing. Express your care and support. Speak out if you encounter anti-Asian racism or harassment. Here are some tools for bystander intervention that you may find helpful. 

The past week has been extremely difficult for many reasons. We have been heartbroken by yet another death of a person of color as a result of appalling police violence. The social and economic consequences of the pandemic continue to deepen. It's never been more important to support each other -- if not face-to-face, then via email, text, or Zoom. A simple "How are you doing right now?" can mean the world to someone. I am grateful for everything each of you is doing to make our department the best it can be, and to support those in our community who need it most.

David Gerdes
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics
Chair, Department of Physics
Professor of Astronomy
University of Michigan