Important message to our community:
Yes to tolerance, no to discrimination

Our community has a great deal to learn about and reflect upon the historic and continuing burden of being Black in America.  While we mourn the innumerable lost Black lives, with George Floyd being only the most recent example, we resolve to respond to this moment by helping create a better future for our Black students, postdocs, staff, faculty, friends, and citizens.  Absolutely, Black Lives Matter!

Students and postdoctoral fellows represent our future, and we must listen better and act forthrightly so as to leave a more just world in which they can pursue their aspirations unfettered by social injustice.  With the dual stressors of the ongoing pandemic and societal upheaval, we urge our faculty to be considerate and offer accommodations to the greatest degree possible.  As course directors – and this is already University policy – flexibility and accommodations should be the norm given that remote learning is suboptimal for many and disastrous for some.  We request that faculty with students in their labs be equally considerate and provide accommodations upon request.  Our youngest cohort of students faces the unenviable task of choosing a thesis mentor with fewer rotations than the norm or continuing rotations with restricted access to lab and no face-to-face interactions with their potential thesis mentor.  We are working hard to ensure that these students have equitable access to their rotation labs and one-on-one mentoring by their rotation advisor as well as flexibility in their rotation timelines.

Our program and the Stanford Biosciences umbrella program offer a wealth of resources to our students to ensure their continued well-being.  Our program’s website has updated information on supplemental funding as well as alternatives to CAPS1.  Should additional funds be needed for health-related expenses, we will try to meet these needs.  Biosciences now provides a dedicated staff member for wellness programs, and the School of Medicine has also arranged for a mental health clinician for our students.  Please contact program staff for contact details for these services.

There are larger, systemic concerns about the experiences of Blacks, and indeed all other, under-represented groups on campus.  To remedy this, we pledge to learn and listen more about the experience of those in the minority.  The senior leadership of the School of Medicine is with us on this matter, and they have begun to acquire and consolidate resources and educational materials in a centralized location2,3.  We believe that our Stanford libraries may be a valuable, under-utilized, resource; they are receptive to input on what literature to acquire for their holdings, and we urge everyone to utilize their services.  Additional funds are also available to house materials in a more Neuro-centric location.

University leadership has recognized this moment of reckoning for the steep, often-fatal price that innocents have paid for our notional sense of security.  President Marc Tessier-Lavigne has instituted a Community Board on Public Safety4 that is charged with re-examining the issue of security and policing on the Stanford campus.  This Board will report to the President and other leadership, and it will have both undergraduate as well as graduate student representatives as members, in addition to faculty and staff.  We urge our students, faculty, and staff to participate in this process, which we support unequivocally.

The learning process never ends.  As faculty we train and learn a great deal when recruiting trainees as well as colleagues.  We pledge to work with Stanford leadership to make the training of faculty and students more rigorous and consistent with best hiring, teaching, and mentoring practices.  We believe that responsible conduct of research requires a recognition of systems of inequity and best practices to overcome them, and accordingly, we will work to incorporate this into our curriculum.  We will work with University leadership to utilize the breadth of Stanford intellectual resources to educate ourselves on how to right historic wrongs.  In recognition of the gap between those from under-represented groups who graduate to those who end up in faculty or other equivalent independent positions in academia or industry, both Stanford Biosciences and the Office of Graduate Education have begun to acquire additional data from our alumni.  This represents only the first step in understanding how we can best help to close this gap in achievements post-graduation.  The Neurosciences graduate program is also working with Stanford Biosciences to mobilize a centralized effort to address the broader issues discussed here.

In closing, we would like to reiterate our key message:  There is no place for hatred, discrimination, or any other act of intolerance in our neuroscience community.  We urge all to strive hard for a fair, safe, inclusive, and diverse community that treats everyone with dignity and respect. In the weeks and months ahead, we hope to be able to share news of additional actions aimed at achieving this goal within our program, across the School of Medicine and across Stanford.

Nirao Shah, Bill Newsome