June 15, 2020
I, like a great many Stanford folks, am profoundly dismayed by the senseless and oppressive violence in Minneapolis, and more recently, Atlanta, that took the lives of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks in the past two weeks. These incidents and others like them captured on video are only the tip of the iceberg of institutionalized racism in our country. My heart goes out to the many members of our community who are threatened, excluded, and feel unsafe due to racial prejudice. (Read a powerful testimony from Sam Cheshier, a neurosurgeon and former 25-year member of our Stanford community). More broadly, I grieve for our country as a whole, because I know that we can never indeed be whole while some among us are subject to suspicion, thinly veiled hate, discrimination, or abuses of authority.
Many people in our communities are actively working to make them safe and welcoming to all, but all of us must search ourselves deeply and ask what more we can do. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”. We don't get a free pass. Effective action against racism and other types of negative, hurtful bias is work that we all must do in our personal, professional and public lives.
I myself grew up in the racially segregated south during the 1950’s and ’60’s. I did not see a person of color in one of my school classes until I was in the 8th grade - this in a town of 10,000 people in which 30% were Black. I came of age in a system of separate (and very unequal) schools, swimming pools, transportation - you name it. I underwent a ‘cognitive’ conversion to a new way of thinking about race during the civil rights era of the 1960’s, but the arduous and sometimes painful work of identifying and expunging deep culture-of-origin biases remains the challenge of a lifetime. I am still working on it, and I am committed to continuing that process. There is no room for racism of any sort in myself or in our community.
Which brings me back to science. Making real progress toward Wu Tsai’s ambitious scientific goals will require true diversity across many axes, as well as hard work and community spirit. Many of us are hurting and stressed right now, but I believe that Wu Tsai can be a community that unites us and ultimately makes us stronger. The leadership of the Institute is committed to actively listening to the needs of our community, to doing the challenging work of creating more equitable experiences for all, and to actively improving diversity and inclusion in all of our programs and research initiatives. Some initial steps are outlined in a joint statement from Nirao Shah (director of our Neurosciences graduate program) and myself. More will be forthcoming in the weeks and months ahead.
Vincent V.C. Woo Director, Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute
Professor of Neurobiology