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Friday, February 19, 2010

The Black History Month Post I never wanted to write

In my entire college career, I have only had ONE (1) Black Biology Professor. Actually, he's the only Black Science Professor I have ever had. As a soon-to-be Ph.D. in Biology, who hopes to one day teach college biology, I see myself as part of the Future Professoriate. It shouldn't be historic for one person to earn a Ph.D. in the Natural Sciences, but it certainly can feel that way. The numbers of Blacks (and other minorities) earning doctorates in the sciences and engineering are growing, but still comprise only 1-3% of the total Ph.D.s awarded in the United States. When I find a job, I feel pretty sure that there will be at least another woman in the department (but no guarantee), and maybe other persons of color. But I am not holding my breath that I'll have a Black colleague. The numbers just aren't there and the profile of the average college or university in the average science department reflect this fact.

I can imagine how it must have felt for Dr. Ragland Davis and Dr. Johnson to be in the Biology Department at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. To be apart of a scholarly community of vibrant researchers, people of every complexion, relatively young department (many of the professors were middle-age), and to have another Black Professor down the hall - who earned a doctorate from the same university....it must have felt amazing. By all accounts this department was full of excitement and energy which I have found seems to co-occur in dynamic and diverse departments. Professors were excited about their research. They deeply engaged students and were memorable mentors. UA-H seems to be one of the most diverse Biology Departments I have ever known. It was a profile of Diversity in Science.

Then, on Friday, February 12, 2010, Amy Bishop walked into the department faculty meeting and changed everything. She disrupted the statistics, these precious statistics of diversity in science, and she changed the course of history in her life and so many others. This event was a tragedy: unnecessary violence and pain to the families of the victims; shock to students and fellow faculty; and a loss of mentors; and a loss of an exemplary department that seemed to know and value diversity and success. It is such a shame that Dr. Bishop could not counsel herself and deal with her issues - whether it was dealing with her denied tenured or her other demons. Science lost three great people and a really beautiful science department was forever changed.

Photo by Diana Toh, University of Alabama-Huntsville, via AP from NYTimes.com
From left, Gopi Podila , Adriel Johnson and Maria Ragland Davis were killed in the shooting Friday at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. Luis Cruz-Vera and Joseph Leahy were wounded.

In Memoriam
• Maria Ragland Davis was a 52-year-old associate professor of biology who specialized in plant pathology and biotechnology. She had been on the university’s faculty since 2002. Dr. Davis was a graduate of the University of Michigan. She held a master’s degree in chemical engineering and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from North Carolina State University.

Adriel D. Johnson was an associate professor of biology and had been on the faculty at the university for more than 20 years. A longtime mentor of minority students, Dr. Johnson was director of the campus chapter of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. Professor Johnson was a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. He held master’s degrees from Tennessee Technological University* and the University of Alabama at Huntsville. He earned his Ph.D. at North Carolina State University.
From the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, February 18 , 2010 Newsletter.

*This event hit close to me emotionally and geographically. Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee, is my college alma mater and I have attended classes at Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

7 comments:

Rue said...

Thanks for this post. I had heard from another scholar about this tragedy, but did not realize it was so close to home for you or how devastating the impact.

Keep being visible DNLee, you continue to make a difference.

Marty said...

Oh man that is so saddening to hear. Sending prayers up for those families affected.

I'm proud to know you're continuing to carry on the tradition to fill that gap in academia future Dr. Lee.

dianneglave said...

I am so sorry this has affected you personally. I also pray for the families, friends, and co-workers left behind who are mourning.

Roberta said...

So sorry to hear about this tragedy,and thank you for pointing out who the victims really were as people.

And this is so close to your defense. Pulling for you this week...

Darcella said...

It really was a diverse group. It's sad people did not take seriously the complaints that were lodged against this professor about her behavior. It's sad the school did not put two and two together (her killing her brother and her behavior) and did not put her on a list to keep her off campus or out of the building at least.

aly in va said...

Thanks for posting. The media never showed their pictures so I had no idea how diverse the group as- not that in the end it really matters. But it is nice to have a face to the victims.

Angie said...

Oh, my heart sank reading this! Thank you so much for framing the picture this way. What a tragedy on so many levels!

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