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Letter to Students re: Election

November 14, 2016

This is what I sent my master’s students a couple of days after the election. I thought long and hard about what to say, and read a few other letters to students for some inspiration (including this great one from Josh Drew’s lab at Columbia University). I did think it was important to say something, though, since no matter who they voted for, given that they are in a masters of natural resource management program, my assumption is that environmental policy is meaningful to them. Given what the next administration is likely to do on that front, I think it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work no matter what other political beliefs you hold.

The only thing I wish I had added was a note that everyone is is always welcome in my classroom, virtual or otherwise. Because that’s the truth.

I’ve thought long and hard about what to say to you about this week, and, in fact, whether or not to say anything. However, this is a course on the conservation of biodiversity, and (most of you) are in a natural resource management program. And a large part of that, whether or not it’s something you want to work on directly, is environmental policy.

No matter who you voted for on Tuesday, or why, it’s clear that in the coming months and years we’ll be facing enormous challenges in our field, both nationally and internationally. I know that you are all up for the challenge, and that you will do great work, on whatever scale and scope you are able and willing to.

The work we do is important, perhaps more so now than ever. Our climate is changing; we are losing vital natural resources; our natural world is becoming impoverished in many ways; people who have less influence and who are disadvantaged both locally and globally have less ability to both combat these issues and survive them; and we are facing an anti-science crisis in this country, where many not only do not believe scientists, but think that we are purposefully attempting to mislead the public.

These are challenges we all must face, no matter our own personal circumstances. We might think that we’ll be insulated from the effects of climate change, or the loss of species in far-away parts of the world, for example, but in fact it is our job as people with the resources to make a difference to exercise that ability. I’ve had some energizing conversations with colleagues since the election, and I believe that there will be an ever-increasing number of ways to create change, so there will be something for everyone.

No matter your political beliefs, as members of this academic community I assume that these issues are of importance to you. I think it’s easy for some of us to despair when we think about what lies ahead, while others of us may look to the future with optimism. But I urge you all to dig deep and find it in yourself to rise to the challenges ahead. After getting to know you all during our discussions this semester, I know you can. I’m proud to be your professor.

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