Statement on the Killing of George Floyd

June 5, 2020:

On June 4, 2020, President Kathleen McCartney issued a statement about the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis which acknowledged that this was not an isolated act of violence against the Black community. As she wrote, “The deliberate and brazen suffocation of George Floyd by a police officer, while three other officers stood by and did not intervene, is emblematic of the suffering Black people have endured in this country for more than 400 years.” President McCartney's full statement can be read here.

On behalf of my team at the Botanic Garden, I want to echo President McCartney’s statement and share with you again that the Botanic Garden of Smith College is committed to action. As we wrote in our 2019-2024 Strategic Plan, botanical gardens have a critical role to play in addressing discrimination and racism. We are committed to being an institution that resonates with and invites in diverse audiences. We are fully committed to confronting bias and racism in how we work. 

Our efforts to address issues of equity and access must be shaped by and done with the communities we strive to serve better. Recognizing that the horticulture students, botanic garden interns, and work study students we were reaching had been disproportionately white, we reached out to new campus partners to prioritize building relationships with students of color so as to ensure more equitable access to Botanic Garden opportunities and resources, and to nurture the development of more diverse future garden leaders. This strategy is working; we have gained many new campus partners along the way, and our institution is better for it. Additionally, prompted by—and in collaboration with—student leaders, we have held listening sessions with campus Unity organizations to hear directly from students of color about their experiences in our spaces. What we heard resulted in a new focus on reaching students of color as they arrive at Smith so they are better able to access all we have to offer. 

As an institution of learning, we seek to prepare students to be change agents by being open to them changing us. The Botanic Garden of Smith College became a lab for students in Anthropology 200/300 this spring as they interviewed staff, examined our planning documents and programs, and applied ethnographic methodologies that will help us answer the question: How can the Botanic Garden remain legible and meaningful to visitors today in light of the deep social inequities within our society? Their findings will be put to work immediately.

These initiatives are a beginning. Deeper, more difficult work lies ahead. My staff and I will continue to identify and address systems of structural racism and oppression. We will continue preparing future leaders of all identities—elevating those whose lives and voices have been historically marginalized. We will continue to proactively address issues of inequity and injustice in our work, in our spaces, in our collections, in our communications, and in our programming. And we will ask to be critiqued, to be held accountable, and to be challenged to do better and to be better. We invite you to hold us accountable. 

If you are unsure of where to start your own anti-racism work, Smith’s Office for Equity and Diversity are compiling resources

Black lives matter.  

Sincerely,

Tim Johnson signature

Tim Johnson

Director, Botanic Garden of Smith College