Silence is harmful.

Dear Colleagues,


In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, our graduate students and postdocs of color are feeling sad, angry, scared, exhausted, and vulnerable. The universal masking policy and curfew in San Francisco have made them feel even more at risk. I’ve been listening to them and to concerned faculty and staff, and I write to strongly encourage you to take the time to reach out to your lab members. Let them know your concern for their well-being, your acknowledgement of their feelings, your advocacy for their safety, and your understanding that they may not be able to be as productive as they’d like right now.


These conversations are really hard to initiate, but it is even harder for our trainees, who feel further marginalized and isolated in the absence of vocal support. Our director of student mental health, Dr. Jeanne Stanford, kindly shared with me the guidance below. I hope it will help you to take the first step. These efforts may be clumsy or awkward, but silence just isn’t an option. We, the leaders and faculty at UCSF, are long overdue to address racism in our society and on our own campus. 


I also call your attention to a host of anti-racism resources, listed below.


Thank you for your dedication to our UCSF community.


Elizabeth Watkins, PhD

Dean, Graduate Division

Vice Chancellor, Student Academic Affairs

Professor, History of Health Sciences

Not sure how to start? Pick a phrase in bold, any phrase, and tailor to your liking:


I’ve been thinking about you lately with everything that has been going on in Minnesota and the racial trauma you might be experiencing. Would you like some time to talk?” 


They may tell you no! Own your discomfort. Sit with it. Move on.


“We don’t usually talk about race in our lab but I’ve been wondering how the news has been impacting you lately.” 


Side note: if you’re a white faculty member and you’ve never brought up race in your lab, this might feel uncomfortable. But your learners notice the lack of sensitivity to racial and cultural matters, particularly when events have been part of the world news.


I feel a little nervous bringing this up. I want to give you the space to talk about race and everything that has been happening in the news lately, and I’m committed to learning how to have these conversations. I’m not going to do this perfectly, but I don’t want to pretend this isn’t happening.”



I know that I am white/not of your race and can’t possibly understand what you might be going through. I want you to know that I am open to hearing anything you need to talk about right now.”



“Would you like to talk about the protests in Minnesota? Please feel free to say no.” 


This might feel shocking for your learner if you’ve never talked about race before. They might feel flustered. You might feel flustered. I promise you, if you’ve never talked about race with your learners before, it is far more damaging to not talk about it than it is to stumble through a few awkward moments. I promise you.



NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU (MAY) DISAGREE WITH WHAT THEY SAY TO YOU, SAY THESE THINGS and be careful not to talk too much because you feel awkward:


“I hear you.”; “I see you.”; “I’m so sorry.



“I can’t begin to understand what this might be like for you.”



“Would you like for me to bring this up again in future meetings? I won’t be hurt if you say no.”



“Here are some options for how I can show up for you/support you, let’s brainstorm together for what that might look like, and add to that list.”



Also, check on your black colleagues.

STOP HESITATING: A quick, highly directive guide to initiating conversations with your Black learners and all learners, but particularly learners of color, about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, other lives lost, Minnesota, Louisville, and Racial trauma [courtesy of Elizabeth McCorvey, MSW, LCSW, [email protected] ]




Activists and Educators

Rachel Cargle, a writer and lecturer who explores the intersection between race and womanhood

Ibram X. Kendi, the author of How To Be An Antiracist and Director of the Antiracism Center

Nikkolas Smith, the artist behind portraits of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others

Charlene Carruthers, founder of the Black Youth Project 100

Brittany Packnett Cunningham, co-founder of Campaign Zero, a policy platform to end police violence, and a host of Pod Save The People

Layla Saad, author of Me and White Supremacy: A 28-Day Challenge to Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor