Please read the following statements issued by the Department of Biology at Occidental College to the wider community.
Dear Biology Community,
We write to you today in sadness and solidarity. As demonstrations across the country are taking place to protest the senseless acts of violence committed against the Black community and the systemic racism that has gripped our nation from its inception, we want to emphasize that the Biology Community stands firmly behind the message that Black Lives Matter.
We stand together with all of those outraged at the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others before them. We acknowledge the brutal and oppressive systems that have prevailed for centuries and the need for reform of our criminal justice system. We acknowledge the unacceptable, disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Latinx and Native communities. And we acknowledge the silent threat to life that is environmental racism. As biologists, we assert that access to nature is a right, access to clean water and clean air is a right, access to quality health care is a right, and access to safe neighborhoods is a right. As we acknowledge our role in systemic racism, we pledge to fight against it.
The biological sciences have not always been a place where diversity and inclusion are emphasized. On the contrary, racism is embedded deep within the history of our field, and persists to this day. We want to acknowledge that history, but also strive to do better. As Angela Davis said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” Biology is not exempt from racism, and science is not colorblind. We cannot accept the status quo. We cannot accept the racial injustices that impact our scientific community.
We will strive to do better. We recognize that the problems of racial, political, and economic injustice facing Black students are isolating while working in predominantly white spaces. We as faculty recognize our privilege, that we carry biases, and that it is our responsibility as teachers to educate ourselves and to be agents of change. We pledge to create and maintain a positive learning environment based on open communication, mutual respect, and inclusivity.
We will develop our collective consciousness about the destructive power of institutional racism. We will elevate and center positive black experiences in our curricula, in our conversations, and on our social media feeds (ex. #BlackAFinSTEM, #BlackBirdersWeek, #BlackInNature, #BlackScienceMatters). We will acknowledge the history of racism in science and how it has helped perpetuate the myths that promote white supremacy. We will examine within ourselves the subtle and overt ways that we contribute to this system. We will listen.
We reaffirm our embrace of diversity and inclusion in the Biology Department, and we promise to devote our time, skills, knowledge, and human resources to help ensure that every student thrives within our discipline, at Occidental, and beyond.
Biology Department, Occidental College
The Biology Department at Occidental College would like to state our strong opposition to the legal definition of gender as proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services. As reported in the New York Times, the DHHS is considering this statement: “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” Further, the DHHS is reportedly considering this mandate: “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” As biologists, we recognize the large body of scientific evidence that gender is not binary. We also endorse the following letter (see below), which has been signed by more than 2600 scientists to date. We would like other members of the Occidental College community, particularly our students, to know that we support the right of everyone to gender self-definition, and we will continue to respect such definitions.
Joseph Schulz, Chair of Biology
Gretchen North, Faculty Council President
Transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people #WontBeErased by pseudoscience
Signed, 2617 scientists
As scientists, we are compelled to write to you, our elected representatives, about the current administration’s proposal to legally define gender as a binary condition determined at birth, based on genitalia, and with plans to clarify disputes using “genetic testing”.1 This proposal is fundamentally inconsistent not only with science, but also with ethical practices, human rights, and basic dignity.2
The proposal is in no way “grounded in science” as the administration claims. The relationship between sex chromosomes, genitalia, and gender identity is complex, and not fully understood. There are no genetic tests that can unambiguously determine gender, or even sex. Furthermore, even if such tests existed, it would be unconscionable to use the pretext of science to enact policies that overrule the lived experience of people’s own gender identities.
The proposed policy seeks to erase the identities of millions of Americans who identify as transgender (individuals whose gender identification differs from their assigned sex at birth) or have intersex bodies (individuals with biologically atypical patterns of male and female traits). In transgender individuals, the existence and validity of a distinct gender identity is supported by a number of neuroanatomical studies.3 Though scientists are just beginning to understand the biological basis of gender identity, it is clear that many factors, known and unknown, mediate the complex links between identity, genes, and anatomy.4
In intersex people, their genitalia, as well as their various secondary sexual characteristics, can differ from what clinicians would predict from their sex chromosomes. In fact, some people will live their entire lives without ever knowing that they are intersex.5 The proposed policy will force many intersex people to be legally classified in ways that erase their intersex status and identity, as well as lead to more medically unnecessary and risky surgeries at birth. Such non-consensual gender assignment and surgeries result in increased health risks in adulthood6, 7 and violate intersex people’s right to self-determination.
Millions of Americans identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, or have intersex bodies, and are at increased risk of physical and mental health disorders resulting from discrimination, fear for personal safety, and family and societal rejection. Multiple standards of health care for transgender and intersex people emphasize that recognizing an individual’s self-identified gender, not their external genitalia or chromosomes, is the best practice for providing evidence-based, effective, and lifesaving care.8, 9 Our best available evidence shows that affirmation of gender identity is paramount to the survival, health, and livelihood of transgender and intersex people.10
Given its scientific and ethical failings, we call upon the administration to withdraw this proposed policy. We also ask our elected representatives to oppose its implementation, as it would cause grave harm to transgender and intersex Americans and weaken the constitutional rights of all Americans. Transgender and intersex people deserve equal access to the rights, livelihoods, liberties, and dignity to which we are all entitled on the basis of our shared humanity.
Biologists, Geneticists, Psychologists, Anthropologists, Physicians, Neuroscientists, Social Scientists,
Biochemists, Mental Health Service Providers,
and other scientists in Solidarity
(view all numbered references here)