Pandemic Pedagogy Chronicles Part 4: Addressing Black Lives Matter in our Courses

The day that in-person classes were cancelled at York University, was the same day that Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by policemen. They erroneously entered her apartment looking for someone who didn't live there. The police have still not been charged for the murder.

I read a newspaper article about Ms. Taylor's death the day after it happened, and I still remember my double shock and outrage, because Ms. Taylor was a healthcare worker doing COVID-19 work. The latter circumstance especially struck me because my Applied Plant Ecology students and I had been following the spread of Sars-CoV-2 from the end of January.

In June, the #ShutDownAcademia and #ShutDownSTEM campaign challenged academics to embed awareness of EDI in their teaching and work for a day (and longer). I took up the challenge and developed 4.5 hours of course content about Black Scientists and Ecologists for my virtual field course on June 10th, 2020.

The recent Scholar Strike Canada is another welcome campaign aimed at keeping up the momentum, so I thought I'd share the specifics of my June activism. Here's my email of September 10, 2020 to colleagues on a list of invitees to a rescheduled meeting about the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

"Dear colleagues,
I know that many of you are teaching online undergraduate courses, and will be responding to this challenge from the Scholar Strike Canada campaign:
I look forward to learning how you have done this so that I can expand my own advocacy, and I hope you don't mind if I contribute to your stuffed email inboxes by sharing what I did during Summer Semester 2020, in response to a similar challenge posed by the Shut Down Academia, Shut down STEM campaign of June 10, 2020 (
At the time, I was teaching BIOL 3001, a virtual Ecology Field Course.
Black Lives Matter protests were happening in Toronto and many of my undergraduate students were participating.
Some of the text and resources below and in the attachment, may be useful for those of you crafting your own messages to students and colleagues.
1) I shared (that's ongoing) my learning about the EDI scholarly literature with fellow Ecology professors.
2) I asked environmental charities and non-profits to adopt anti-Black Racism statements.
3) I discussed  the Black Lives Matter Protests with my undergrads and developed related course curriculum for them to do on June 10, 2020.
1) In response to the #BlackInTheIvory campaign, some well-intentioned Field Course Co-ordinator colleagues from among 16 Ontario university biology departments proposed to make pricey field courses more accessible to students from equity-seeking groups by offering 1-2 scholarships to Black and Indigenous undergraduates.
It was evident that these colleagues were broadly unaware of the scholarly literature on equity, diversity and inclusion and about the varying degrees of racism. Please see
So I organized a Sept 17, 2020, panel for the Queen's University Biology Seminar Series (on Zoom) in which three Black and Indigenous graduate students and recent grads in Ecology and Field Studies who speak publicly about both Black Lives Matter and Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, will discuss: How to make Ecology Less White: responding to the #BlackInTheIvory and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action
2) I asked the environmental charities and non-profits on whose boards I serve, or in which I am active, to draft, adopt, post and circulate anti-racism statements. The attached statement was co-drafted by the staff of Carolinian Canada Coalition, which includes Indigenous colleagues, and myself as board chair: CCC anti-racism statement DRB_Canadian resources
We passed this statement at the June board meeting.
3) I wrote this letter (below) to my students on my Moodle website and developed 4.5 hours of curriculum content for June 10th, for students to learn more about Black ecologists and EDI issues in STEM.
thank you for your activism, and I look forward to learning from you all,
My Moodle announcement to BIOL 3001 students :

If you DO go out to join in the Black Lives Matter protests (and if you don't)

by Dawn R A Bazely - Thursday, 4 June 2020, 8:09 AM

Number of replies: 0

Our course and my back flaring up have delayed me writing to you all, about the protests that have erupted across the USA and around the world, after we all witnessed the horrific scene of a policeman pushing his knee into the neck of a Black man, Mr. George Floyd, for 9 minutes, killing him. The police that were present have, at last, all been charged with various crimes from 2nd degree murder to aiding and abetting.

As well, we heard last Friday night, that a young Black woman, Ms. Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who had been battling various health issues, plummeted to her death from a high rise balcony of a Toronto apartment building. Her mother had called 911 for assistance in coping with her distraught daughter, after some kind of family argument. Ms. Korchinski-Paquet fell from the balcony after police arrived. The investigation is ongoing.

Last Saturday, many Torontonians, including some York University students from my courses and my lab. took to the streets to protest for Justice for Regis and Justice for George Floyd.

As well, since some of you were studying the emergence of COVID19 since back in January 2020 in Applied Plant Ecology, I hope you will remember that the day our in-person classes were cancelled, Friday March 13th, 2020, was the same day that a young Black emergency room technician, Ms. Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police who entered her apartment in error. Turns out that warrant was illegal.

The MANY statistics & research articles on the impacts of systemic racism and violence against Black people in the USA are REAL and terrifying. I have often suggested that young Black men in my classes who have family in the USA, ask their relatives to visit them here, instead of them going to visit family. But, Canada is also a place of systemic racism: see the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, and the true story of Africville, Nova Scotia, for example.

As you all come to terms, in particular the Black students in my lab and in my courses, with the trauma of what is happening I would like you all to do 3 things:

1) Learn about Intersectionality, a legal concept originally developed by Columbia Law Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who is a Black woman.

2) If you go out and protest, wear masks, lab goggles (why not? you bought them), take hand sanitizer and try your best to socially distance.

3) If you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted from what is happening, please let me know -- we can always be flexible about course deadlines, especially in a pandemic and especially at a time when it is evident that the president of the USA is determined to unleash even more violence against Black people another other equity-seeking groups.

ps after I heard from students at the protests I DID donate to the bail funds and will continue to do so.

pps Before ALL of this came across my newsfeeds, I had read about the case of Christian Cooper, a Black birder in New York's Central Park who asked a White woman (and alum of Waterloo University, Ontario) to leash her unleashed dog in the Ramble, a dogs on-leash area. She refused AND she call the police to say that an African American man was threatening her. Fortunately it was caught on video and Mr. Cooper did not end up being shot. You can read Mr. Cooper's sister's op-ed in the NY Times here. The wonderful Black Birder's Week on social media came out of this with the following hashtags:

#BlackAFinSTEM and #BlackInNature and many others