News November 9, 2020

A Message from Gabrielle Hecht, REDI Task Force Chair

Dear FSI community, 

Our world has entered a new phase of racial reckoning. Thanks to the gruesome and grueling evidence offered by citizen-videographers, widely distributed and amplified by social media, it has become impossible to deny the disregard for Black lives at all levels of our society. Sustained attention to systemic racism prompts a seismic shift in the national conversation: rather than placing all the burden of overcoming racism on the individual, it shifts a good deal of that burden to the institutions that structure our society. FSI is no exception.  

In June 2020, FSI convened a task force on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI) to investigate how FSI should address this anti-racist mandate. We’re approaching this task from two angles: 

  1. Systemic racism. There is growing recognition of how implicit, unconscious bias penetrates all spheres of human activity. Stanford and FSI are no exception. Ten years ago, 3% of Stanford’s faculty was Black; today, that figure rests at 2%. As for FSI, a quick look at our website alone speaks volumes. 
     
  2. Epistemic racism. Systemic racism doesn’t just affect who “we” are; it also shapes what “we” know, and how “we” know it. Many of our dominant paradigms are shaped by assumptions, questions, and norms that emerged from predominantly white scholarly communities. As two scholars wrote recently in Foreign Policy, for example, the three dominant paradigms of International Relations (realism, liberalism, and constructivism) “are built on raced and racist intellectual foundations that limit the field’s ability to answer important questions about international security and organization.”  
     

Systemic and epistemic racism are deeply connected. Sticking with the example of IR, we see a negative feedback loop: norms for what counts as valuable knowledge affect undergraduate and graduate curricula, the field’s demographic composition, and the experience of Black and other minority scholars in the field’s professional spaces (departments, conferences, journals, etc.). The result is an insulated elite that keeps asking the same questions. The freshest, most dynamic scholarship in the field remains at the institutional margins, unable to break through because of gatekeeping practices. Similar dynamics pervade many of the other fields featured at FSI.  

Breaking this cycle and enacting lasting structural change require simultaneous attention to systemic and epistemic racism, to scholarship and demographics and lived experience: this is how we see the overarching mission of our task force. Combining quantitative and qualitative approaches, we are documenting FSI’s demographic history (looking at scholars, staff, and students). These data inform our proposals for change. In upcoming weeks and months, you’ll be asked to consider proposals for hiring and retention strategies, addressing implicit bias, and more.  

Equally important, we are working on programming and curricular proposals to spark new research and policy perspectives and meet student demands for pedagogical reform. We welcome your suggestions for guest speakers and panel topics.

You’ll be hearing more from us in the upcoming weeks and months. In order to succeed, this must be a joint effort. We look forward to collaborating with all of you to make FSI a more diverse and welcoming workplace, and to develop a research and policy agenda that meets the present moment and points the way to a just future guided by a more equitable social and epistemological compact.  

Thank you, 

Gabrielle Hecht
REDI chair and FSI Senior Fellow 
Frank Stanton Foundation Professor of Nuclear Security 
Professor of History and, by courtesy, of Anthropology