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Words Matter: They Can Inspire Hope and They Can Incite Hate 


Dear California Naturalist Community,

If there is any doubt about the power of words, one only has to look to the writings of Rachel Carson, a naturalist and biologist who is credited with inspiring the modern environmental movement. The power of a few well-chosen words can inspire and leave a lasting impact: “One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, "What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” Sometimes words and phrases are so powerful that just hearing them once is enough to transform our worldview. In other instances, the strength of words comes not so much from their truth, eloquence, or meaning but their repetition. If we hear something often enough, sometimes it becomes accepted as fact - no matter how flawed or intentionally misleading it may be. If we believe words can inspire hope and progress, we must also recognize that they can incite hate.

Less than a year ago, we shared a message of solidarity against the violence and discrimination toward the Black community. In the last year, our country has seen a 150% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes. While there is a long history of Asian antipathy, the surge of animosity and violence is clearly driven by the pandemic and the language used by some to describe the virus (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease (COVID-19). The practice of naming a virus or disease by its place of origin is not new.  It is a tradition fraught with problems, one that lends itself to xenophobia and racism if not born of it. Just as a Black birder should not have to worry about being out in nature, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders should feel safe to go for a walk in their neighborhood. This should concern anyone and everyone, but it hits particularly close to home as someone of Filipino descent. While I’ve gone through life as a person who passes as white, some of my family members do not. Today, Asians are strongly represented within the UC California Naturalist program, and we stand united with them against this latest manifestation of racial violence. 

While we recognize that words and statements of solidarity are important, even more important are our actions. The UC California Naturalist program has expanded our efforts on inclusion, equity, and justice at almost every level of our program. These revolve around four key themes: relationships, relevance, recruitment, and responsibility. These are codified in our organization’s core values and our program’s strategic objective on Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. We are building relationships - one conversation at a time - with organizations that have been underrepresented in our program including identity-based organizations, community colleges, and workforce development programs. We are emphasizing a collaborative co-design process for all new courses to ensure program content is culturally relevant to local needs and priorities of partner communities. We are breaking down barriers to participation including language, cost, and the format by which courses are delivered. Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable for our own personal growth as it relates to everything from systemic racism to implicit bias and monitoring our progress in key areas.

Through our actions and our words, we hope to communicate a clear message. The UC California Naturalist community believes in the positive and inspiring power of words. We stand in solidarity with the diverse community of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders against racism and xenophobia. And, we reaffirm our mission to foster a diverse (and inclusive) community of naturalists and promote the stewardship of California’s natural resources through education and service.  

 

Gregory Ira
Director
UC California Naturalist Program

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