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June, 2020

Dear Amherst College Department of Biology,

We are writing to you today to offer our perspectives as recent graduates of the Amherst College Biology Department and as students in the Spring 2020 semester of Being Human in STEM (HSTEM).

We read your address of the recent protests of our nation’s long standing compliance with police brutality and systemic oppression of Black people. While we appreciate the sentiments, the Biology department must commit to a concrete action plan for how it will address inequities in its education. The department’s position within a problematic system necessitates critique in order to provide an anti-racist Education. Using our perspectives as recent graduates of the program, as well as members of HSTEM, we have identified a number of actionable items that the Biology department can commit to to support Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in the future.

We want the Biology department to:

  • Reflect on promises made throughout the past. We ask that you reflect on how some of these policies have worked and have not worked as anticipated. These promises include but are not limited to the Q Fellow and Summer Science initiatives.
  • Make HSTEM a major requirement. This class provides a crucial framework for engagement in the sciences as well as validation, and theoretical and practical tools for students of diverse identities to thrive in STEM.
  • Advocate for making HSTEM a pre-health requirement.
  • Commit to inclusive hiring practices. Faculty in the Biology department and STEM departments in general are overwhelmingly white.
  • Bring in diverse outside speakers. Outside speakers in the Biology department (and other STEM departments) are overwhelmingly white.
  • Implement the HSTEM workshop proposal. One of the spring 2020 HSTEM projects was developing a workshop series centered around experiences in STEM at Amherst and what we learned in HSTEM. We believe that this workshop series, which could easily be implemented via Zoom, would be a great way to introduce students to diverse experiences in STEM and the HSTEM teaching model.
  • Integrate the work of BIPOC scientists and indigenous knowledge into the Biology curriculum, especially in introductory courses. BIPOC Scientists have made profound contributions to STEM, yet are frequently overlooked in favor of their white, male counterparts.
  • Conduct an internal review of interactions with students. Ensure equity across all students (office hours for example, who is attending). Which students are getting attention from the Biology department?
  • Create intensive sections for Bio 181 and 191 similar to those offered by the Chemistry department. Students enter Amherst with different experiences in Biology from high school. Students routinely mention that Bio 181 and 191 are some of the hardest STEM classes at the college. This is magnified for students lacking strong backgrounds in Biology or who are underclassmen adjusting to Amherst. This disproportionately affects low-income students and/or BIPOC.
  • Create off-semester classes for Bio 181 and 191 to allow students flexibility. The creation of intensive and off-semester classes would create new faculty positions that the department could fill with talented scientists of color, especially Black and indigenous scientists.
  • Address Biology and Race. Many students have misconceptions from high school and life that need teaching. Students are aware of a biological cause of race but may falsely believe that the same biology causes differences that are stereotypes or due to environment.
  • Implement inclusive teaching practices outlined in the HSTEM Inclusive Curricular Practices Handbookif not done already.

Our deep appreciation for the role of the Amherst Biology department in fostering our education lies at the root of these critiques. We can only hope that by engaging in self-reflection and growth, Amherst Biology can play a role in shaping a more equitable and just future at Amherst and in the broader world. We would also love to meet with the department to discuss these changes and to provide a student perspective.


Current and Alumni Biology Majors and HSTEM students