A Collective Statement from the School

Dear students, staff, and faculty,

We stand with President Kent FuchsDean Henry Frierson of the Graduate School, and Dean Cammy Abernathy of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, in condemning the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks. These murders, and countless others, involving unarmed Black citizens are the tragic outcome of racial violence spawned by prejudice, bias and a society that suffers under the pervasive weight of systemic racism. We stand with those who protest, and we believe systemic discrimination and violence against any group, community, or its members must be eradicated. Continuing to ignore these problems – or even to work earnestly toward incremental change as our fellow citizens suffer – are not acceptable options.

As faculty within the Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment (ESSIE), our mission is to promote the well-being and resilience of our diverse society through engineering research and education pertinent to the built and natural environment. We aspire to promote a society in which the basic pillars of diversity and equity are sources of strength, health, stability and prosperity.

We have been sitting with these emotions and reflecting over the past several weeks. Now it is a time for action.

A critical aspect of the ESSIE culture is to create a safe environment where diversity, inclusion, equity, and access among students, faculty and staff are encouraged, cultivated and celebrated. In the context of the tragic murders and countless others like it, and the ensuing waves of protests by citizens of all races demanding justice, it is amply clear that we need to expand our efforts to advance diversity and inclusion beyond our institutional walls to build a fair, just and equitable future.

We must all work to destroy systemic racism and be among the strongest voices demanding change and work to achieve it. The process to eliminate systemic racism will be arduous and lengthy, but the time for all of us to step up is long past due. There are people who have invisibly borne the pain and struggle alone amongst our collective blindness. Doing nothing more now than applauding their nobility shelters us from accountability and provides safe haven for the infection to fester. The burden has always been all of ours to bear, but only the few have had their shoulders under the weight. We cannot let this persist.

In consultation with faculty members and staff, ESSIE will undertake the following initiatives to get us started. This list is by no means exhaustive, perfect, or immutable and we recognize them as only a start. We recognize that real, lasting change, comes from education and representation.

  1. Educate Ourselves: As a first initiative, we commit to educating ourselves as students, staff, faculty and parents about the unlawful killings of Black people, their historical causes, contexts, and the consequences wrought on our society. A thorough understanding of our racial, gender and ethnic issues will give us a common basis for moving forward and we recommend this article by the Washington Post as a comprehensive introduction, along with additional links to multiple resources listed at the end of this letter.
  2. Committees on Inclusion Diversity Equity and Access (IDEA): Maitane Olabarrieta, Ph.D., has agreed to serve as ESSIE’s representative on the College’s IDEA committee. The committee will be discussing and planning further efforts for this summer and fall that will be shared soon. In addition to having faculty representation on IDEA, the School has initiated the formation of an ESSIE IDEA committee to include students, faculty and staff. Committee members would organize activities to increase inclusion, diversity, equity, and access within the School, engage student groups and promote student leadership.
  3. Safe Zone Training: According to The Safe Zone Project, the trainings are “opportunities to learn about LGBTQ+ identities, gender and sexuality, and examine prejudice, assumptions, and privilege.” We are committed to increasing trainings to 20% of faculty by the end of 2020 and more will be trained by the end of 2021.
  4. Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Student Body: ESSIE will strengthen its commitment to maintaining a culture where a diverse student body feels welcome and can thrive.  We will amplify the voices of our many Black and minority students already here as we continue to increase our recruiting and retention. We seek to do more, by working with faculty, students and alumni, along with the College, to tailor effective recruitment and retention plans and develop metrics to measure success. We will encourage the collaboration and joint events of our multiple student organizations within ESSIE to foster a greater sense of community.
  5. Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce:  ESSIE is committed to recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce of staff and faculty.  Since 2008, ESSIE has increased the proportion of women faculty from 6% to 30% and the number of underrepresented minority faculty from 10% to 19%. We will continue to increase the number of women and underrepresented minority faculty to reflect the diversity of our nation.
  6. Advancing ESSIE’s curriculum:  As stated above, our mission is to advance education and research in fields related to the built and natural environment. Not long ago, faculty took steps to include sustainability and sustainable engineering in their courses. We believe that now is the time to include social justice, equity, and ethics within the proper context of how they relate to engineering. We recognize unfair systemic practices that unequally impact the education, housing, health and pursuit of happiness of Black citizens has produced lower outcomes, reduced quality of life, smaller incomes and wealth and greater likelihood for premature death. As engineers, we are ethically bound to harness our knowledge to better our society for all. Systemic racism is an immoral scourge that runs counter to our professionalism.  This enhanced curriculum will help our graduates become champions of change by consciously sowing the seeds of egalitarianism in their daily lives.

In addition, Dr. Olabarrieta and Collin Ortals have been organizing a series of Zoom workouts for students, faculty, and staff. The goal of these workouts is to promote community building, support, inclusion, and wellness. Total body workouts are every Monday and Wednesday at noon and yoga/meditation sessions every Friday at noon. You are welcome to join these sessions. The information to join these workouts: Zoom Link, Meeting ID: 924 5007 1582; and Password: 740850.

Finally, it is imperative that we take care of ourselves, our children, and others. We have listed below recommended links for information and opportunities. In the near future, we will be seeking your input on recommendations to serve on ESSIE’s IDEA committee. Please stay safe and feel free to reach out if you are in distress, going through a difficult period or simply want to talk. We are here to support you.


Kirk Hatfield, Ph.D.,
Director and Professor
Michael Annable, Ph.D.,
EES Department Head and Professor
Elliot P. Douglas, Ph.D.,
Professor and EES Undergraduate Coordinator
Kurt Gurley, Ph.D.,
Associate Director and Professor
David Kaplan, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor
Maitane Olabarrieta, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor
David O. Prevatt, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor
Denise R. Simmons, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor
Chang-Yu Wu, Ph.D.,


Increase Knowledge:


Understanding Why Black People are Anguished:

Being an Ally:

Training/Teaching Resources:

Parents/Kids Resources:

Self-Care Resources: