During my transition into Associate Director, I've thought about what kind of director I want to be and what my goals are. Some questions I’ve prompted myself with are: How do I use my work for justice? How do I stay true to my commitment to activism & abolition while connected to a college and university that has and continues to displace people? How do I share that vision with the people I manage & how can I be an effective mentor? What does an ethical data practice look like?

I don’t have all the answers, but using those questions as a guide, I know I want to build a community of people with ethical data practices, of critical GIS practitioners/cartographers. Data and maps can be useful tools to interrogate power, but can also reinforce systems of oppression. I want to form a community that lets this guide their work. 

I also want to expand our current work with nonprofits and community organizations in Harlem to make sure we're engaging with and learning from the community around us. These organizations are often overburdened and don’t have the resources to commit to empirical projects and our students don’t always get real world experience with empirical projects focused on justice. I want to create a partnership that allows us to learn from and support each other.

I want to make sure everyone in our community (Barnard, Columbia, Morningside Heights, and Harlem) has the resources they need to be data literate. We’re seeing the importance of that every day and an informed public is crucial, no matter what career path someone takes. I am not here to convince people to always use data or to make careers out of that work (although it would be great if that happens!), but to ensure that this knowledge of reading graphs and maps and understanding them is shared with all. Given that maps and data can often be weaponized against marginalized communities, we need data literacy so people can deconstruct the assumptions in those tools, challenge them, and effectively resist. And when needed, also use those tools strategically.

And lastly, I want to remember that not all our work has to be about justice. We (people of color) are also allowed to just explore things that are interesting to us whether it is working on scientific theories or exploring a statistics problem or designing beautiful maps. As Toni Morrison says: “...The very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work.” We can be committed to justice and using our skills to further that cause, and we can also move forward with our work, whatever it may be, without feeling guilty.

If you share these principles, email me at fkoli@barnard.edu to share your thoughts! I would love to hear what you all (students/staff/faculty/community members) are thinking and to use that input to make the ERC a space that works for everyone.