To the students of Coastal & Estuarine Ecology
We will be holding class today, and I will get to the reasons why in a little bit. If however, you for whatever reason do not feel that you can go to class today. If you are sick, if you are tired, if you need to check in with the communities that you hold dear, I fully support your decision to not attend.
Last night we saw a refutation of the values that this, and many other, universities hold dear – equality, thoughtfulness, scholarship, and a belief that sound decision making will triumph over the noise and clamor of demagoguery. Unfortunately we also saw that the historical legacies of racism, sexism, and ignorance, still run deep within large swaths of our country.
It is ok to feel hurt and surprised. It is ok to question the future of our country, and our country’s role in global policies and phenomena that we study here in class. In addition to electing a man who claims that climate change is a myth perpetuated by China for economic advantage, the citizens of Florida also reelected Marco Rubio who does not think that human activities can influence the climate. It is tempting to fall back on cynicism or sarcasm in times like this. To think that if Florida keeps electing individuals that do not believe in climate change that eventually the problem will take care of itself. However if I’ve taught you anything this semester it is that the ocean is interconnected and that changes in one place ripple throughout the rest of the system. Much like the ocean our nation is interconnected and we cannot look at the bastion of blue where our university is located and say “this is someone else’s problem”.
This is not someone else’s problem, and saying that belies a level of privilege. For our poor communities, for our communities of color, for our LGTBQ communities, for our immigrant communities, for our disabled communities and for our Muslim brothers and sisters, this is not someone else’s problem. We are judged on how we treat those who have less power in our society, and my students, now is the time where we must redouble our personal efforts to reach out with kindness.
Why are we having class today? Because the administration that was just elected is demonstrably anti-science, anti-climate, and by extension anti-ocean. As students who are majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology you are facing a unique suite of challenges. To the seniors in the class, you are going to graduate within Trump’s first 100 days, to a time where the Republicans hold the house, the senate, and most likely the Supreme Court. To the juniors you are going to graduate within his first two years, and before any potentially ameliorating midterm elections. Thus, you are going to be graduating into a challenging time. A time when your science needs to be better, your arguments more convincing, and your commitment to protecting our natural environment fiercer.
We are holding class today because what I teach you is now even more important. You are going to have to up your game to operate in a culture that does not value the beliefs you hold dear. I am honored to teach you, to give you the tools and skills you will need to be a bulkhead against ignorance, and to help you find ways to intelligently speak from a position of authority.
We face real and honestly scary challenges ahead, but we are also a community. We take care of each other and we succeed or fail together. I think we will succeed, I think you will graduate and become leaders for the ocean, beacons of sanity to which people can steer their ships. So yes, we are having class, and yes we are going to learn, and yes we will be able to use this information to the betterment of our oceans and our country.
As always it is an honor.