Transformative Action for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

President’s Hook

Brian Murphy | AFS President. Email: [email protected]

President’s Note: I have written several times in this column of the critical need for us to amplify efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within both AFS and our profession. Those columns spurred a number of responses from members, including the letter below to AFS officers from three long-term AFS members, all recipients of the AFS Emmeline Moore Prize for their leadership in DEI efforts. While talk of DEI raises awareness, progress can only be made with concrete actions: here members have responded to the calls for action with specific recommendations. Their suggestions offer new paths and strategies that could help supercharge our DEI efforts, and AFS leadership will take them under close advisement as we work to develop a DEI strategic plan. I invite you to review their letter, and to share your related comments and suggestions with your fellow members in the new “Letters” section of this magazine (mail to Managing Editor Peter Turcik, [email protected]), or directly with AFS leadership.

To AFS Leadership: We were inspired by President Murphy’s editorial, “What Would John Do?” in Fisheries (August 2020). We appreciate the end quote from the Dalai Lama, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But when you listen, you may learn something new.” We provide in this letter, our perspectives regarding ways to listen, learn, and address racial and environmental justice.

First of all, congratulations for the outstanding sessions sponsored by the AFS Equal Opportunities Section at the 2020 Annual Meeting. Their focus on making the attendees more effective in their equal opportunity efforts is commendable. You have much to be proud of. There is an old saying of the Freedom Movement that goes “We aren’t where we want to be, and we aren’t where we should be, but thank the Lord we aren’t where we used to be.”

In the year of Black Lives Matter the importance of addressing systemic racism has moved into mainstream politics. The movement calls on all of us to finally address racism. In addition to the Equal Opportunities Section and DEI efforts to educate people of the realities of barriers, we urge you to look at AFS efforts holistically.

Racism was openly evident at the 1967 meeting of the Southern Division of AFS in New Orleans as part of the annual meeting of the Southeastern Association of Game and Fish Commissioners. There was one African American fisheries graduate student in attendance. The governor opened the plenary session with a vivid description of what he would do to those trying to “destroy the South’s way of life” and personified his view by calling out youthful civil rights activist H. “Rap” Brown. The audience was receptive, particularly the armed law enforcement attendees, many of whom seemed to welcome the opportunity to assist the governor. There was no significant counter view presented personally to the one African American attendee during the fisheries sessions. During this same period, the laboratory director who hired of one of the first African American scientists in the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries was asked how that hire was going, and his response was “It’s going fine, he has not bothered any of the women.”

For more than 4 decades, multiple efforts by AFS members have addressed the need for change in our approach and goals for increasing and including people of color. Members have organized, catalyzed, and provided panels and sessions emphasizing equity and access. A session at the 1980 Annual Meeting (Wallace et al. 1981) included a “call to action” for AFS to increase the introduction, education, and professional development of women and minorities in the fisheries profession. The summary of this panel cautioned that the recruitment process may be hampered because “we are not listening to the nonwhites and women …gaining the insights of individuals who understand both the needs of the profession and what it is to be nonwhite and/or a woman.” The result of that meeting was the formation of the Equal Opportunity Committee.

The message of inclusion was repeated by the Equal Opportunity Committee in 1987, with a panel focused on status of Blacks in the fishery profession and the opportunities for establishing linkages with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs; Brown 1988). Foster et al. (2011) provided a guest editorial in Fisheries regarding the potential for growth in utilizing partnerships within HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. If we are to take the calls of the Black Lives Movement to do things differently, there are changes that must be made. Instead of continuing to force everyone into white-dominant institutions like typical internship programs, we need to listen to the perspectives of leaders in organizations and institutions like the National Technical Association, HBCUs, and others that have proven networks.

The HBCUs are well known for punching above their weight class when it comes to graduating African American students with degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and numbers receiving doctorates. The National Science Foundation has funded research to look for educational approaches that can be duplicated (Rankin 2019).

The attention to utilization of HBCUs in federal efforts began in the 1960s with every U.S. President, beginning with Jimmy Carter issuing a proclamation, first for a Federal Program and then for a White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (in 1981). There is currently a renewed understanding and recognition of their value in equity efforts. A partnership with the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (Washington, D.C.), the organization of HBCU presidents, could provide a transformative opportunity for AFS.

Fortunately, when it comes to working with HBCUs there is an additional closely aligned mechanism. The Centers for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems (CCME) and the Living Marine Resources Science Center (LMRSC) were established in 2001 by NOAA’s Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions. The Centers are led, respectively, by an HBCU with doctoral authority (Florida A&M University) and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), and the consortium involves other HBCUs with or without doctoral authority and one or more majority research universities (including Hispanic Serving Institutions). The LMRSC program partners include Delaware State University, Hampton University, Oregon State University, Savannah State University, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, and the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Partner institutions of the CCME include Bethune–Cookman University, Jackson State University, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, and California State University Monterey Bay. These programs have significantly increased the number of African American doctorates and have links to high schools to increase the pipeline.

Using the organizational structures to support planning AFS Annual Meetings also can be an effective tool to increase the visibility of and engagement of targeted underserved minorities. The 2021 Annual Meeting in Baltimore is located near a significant number of HBCUs. The last time an AFS Annual Meeting had a focus on HBCUs was in 1987 in North Carolina. The Director of the LMRSC at UMES, Paulinus Chigbu, supports the UMES AFS Student Subunit within the Tidewater Chapter. Additional opportunities are possible at Morgan State University in Baltimore, and their research lab on the Chesapeake Bay, which receives research funding from NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Strategic educational partnerships within AFS can help catalyze the already dynamic young professional development within the student subunit programs. The University of California at Santa Cruz is recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution and has an excellent graduate program. The UCSC partners with nearby Cal State Monterey (a partner in CCME) in marine programs. The student-led Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay AFS Subunit could be instrumental in increasing interactions that can assist with recruitment and retention of Hispanic and other minority students into graduate programs in fisheries and related fields (Fryxell et al. 2018).

Finally, we suggest that a similar approach regarding recruiting other underrepresented sectors into AFS and into fisheries and aquatic science could be paralleled at future AFS meetings in other geographical locations to include Tribal Colleges and Universities, e.g. the Northwest Indian College, which now offers a BS in Native Environmental Science ( The Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education began within the U.S. Department of Education in 2011, with now more than 30 fully accredited Tribal Colleges and Universities located in regional locations.

Our final suggestion for the officers and Governing Board concerns the staffing of the AFS office. As well articulated in the Green 2.0 report (Taylor 2014), virtually all conservation agencies and NGOs have staff and directors dominated by white Americans. In a more recent essay for the Sierra Club, Taylor points out that little has changed since 2014 (Taylor 2020). Our AFS Officers now include women and men of color, but our staff and Governing Board are much less diverse. A staffing process needs to be developed with diversity as a priority, given the demographics of the metropolitan–D.C. area. The time/moment is right and we/AFS cannot afford to wait any longer—transformative action needs to be taken. We look forward to actionable and transformative progress.

Most Sincerely,

Bradford Brown, Ambrose Jearld, Jr., Christine Moffitt