Welcome back to Bridging the Gap, a commentary on discrimination, marginalization, race and identity at Duke.
I’m your host, Cameron Oglesby, and today we’re going to talk about the environment, or more specifically, the gaps that exist in environmental spaces at Duke and at large when it comes to inclusion and representation of individuals of diverse racial or socioeconomic backgrounds.
This podcast is going live during April, Earth month here at Duke. For weeks where the university’s environmental clubs as well as its primary environmental institution, the Nicholas School of the environment goes all out in programming related to engaging people in issues of climate change, and environmental degradation. Today, let’s also use this earth mark to take a moment to reflect on progress made and progress yet to come in environmental spaces on campus.
You may be asking yourself, why is this important? What does this have to do with race or identity? Looking back at the racial reckoning that took place in summer 2020, there was also a moment of dialogue that took place in environmental spaces. Over the past several years, the world has rallied behind the fight against climate change around the youth climate movement, and the climate justice movement. But this past summer, as the institutions which govern our society were called out for the injustice against people of color, so too did the larger environmental movement experience a reckoning activists like Leah Thomas green girl via as she’s called, pushed forward the intersectional environmentalism movement. To an extent not previously seen, rain organizations realize that their fight to save the Earth often excluded disadvantaged communities. We’ve even seen a shift at the presidential level and acknowledging the importance of environmental justice work when talking about climate change. This episode of bridging the gap hopes to draw connections between justice and the environment, as well as highlight the systems in place at Duke that often leave students of diverse backgrounds out of the conversation.
Before we get started, I want to note three things.
One, if you’re not at all interested in the environment, do not fret. Although this episode focuses on our eco centered spaces, the implications are wide reaching. The themes we’ll discuss and the trends our guests will highlight are not unique or exclusive to the environmental field, but speak to larger trends surrounding What are often under supported communities and identities in predominantly white spaces.
Number two, full disclosure. I’m an environmental science and policy major at Duke. I was also director of Environmental Affairs and policy for Duke student government, president of the undergraduate environmental union, and an undergraduate representative on the board of trustees climate change and sustainability taskforce for the school year 2020 2021. This is a bit of context into me and my stake in this conversation. As I was planning the bridging the gap series. I couldn’t help but stick an environmental episode in here. So please note that I’ve come to this episode from a place of experience, but I’m also not impartial as one of the very few black women in leadership positions in these environmental spaces. I will not speak to specific instances of tokenization or ignorance I have witnessed at the various levels in these spaces high and low. But perhaps that statement right there is a hint that these issues are happening.
Number three, last but certainly not least, is our land acknowledgement. We here at bridging the gap want to take a moment to acknowledge the land that the greater University occupies as the ancestral lands of the Shikari, you know, and Qatada Indian peoples. If you’re not currently on campus, we encourage you to take a moment to recognize the traditional owners in your area.
So jumping right in, in 2019, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Purifoy, former Duke Nicholas school PhD candidate and African and African American Studies scholar. She currently works as Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her work focuses on the disparity in treatment, development and investment in predominantly black spaces as compared to white communities, and which often results in unequal access to green space or environmental amenities and a disproportionate exposure to health damaging industries and pollutants. Her work is the study of environmental injustice and justice. A movement that is said to have started in North Carolina a little over an hour away from Duke in Warren County. About a year later, Danielle has allowed us to share some of the audio from that original interview. Please note that the sound quality of this recording is a little rough, given it was not originally intended for this podcast, but her message still rings true.
Let’s take a listen.
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The history of what we think of now as environmental is what sort of would be more in academia as environmental studies, has a really problematic history, as actually most academic disciplines do. A pretty racist history, right. And one of the things that I think continues to be a challenge is a kind of a refusal. And this just kind of doesn’t really matter which environmental space you’re in. And it could be in the academy, it could be in a nonprofit setting. It could be in a kind of social club, kind of the refusal to think about the history of environmentalism to think about where conservation and preservation comes from, and who was actually excluded from even the sort of thought of participation, right in that movement, or, or he was actually thought as an antagonistic to nature preservation. I think I think environmentalism is racist pretty much everywhere, right. But there is a there’s a way in which and other in other contexts? Yeah, there’s just a different and the multiplicity of voices that are present. Right. So there are colonial legacies, right abroad and outside of the United States and within the United States, let’s be clear, right. But you know, when they see our curriculum, at Duke in it other places, right? The people of color that we see reflected are often folks from context outside of the United States, which is fantastic. But it also means something about what’s happening within the United States. And we’re not actually we don’t talk about that as often. So yeah, there is, you know, what that means is that we had consequences for who sees themselves as welcome in the profession, right, who sees themselves as being a viable environmentalist in this space. And there’s also the, you know, the inattention to the kind of issues that I study, right? black communities are still seen very much as disposable tool with communities, and the kinds of environmental hazards and issues that face those communities aren’t seen as the primary concern of environmentalists, they might oppose a particular coal fired power plant. But for instance, right, but their rationale about it is quite different than it would be for the communities that are the most impacted by them to be a part of this field, is that we’re constantly coming up against theories and rationales for why we care about the earth, right and care about the environment that are very contradictory, right to the live to our lives, actually, to our survival, to our health, to our faces place. I don’t think that where we always environmentalism right now, whatever get us to a resolution for climate change, I don’t think because I don’t think that it is broad enough. And I don’t think that it understands itself as even if it says that it knows it actually, in practice operates. For all of us, it’s still it’s still operating in that mode, where there are some places that are just disposable.
In conversations we’ve had with Duke faculty and students about the academic and extracurricular environmental opportunities here. The primary gaps they point out are around a lack of environmental justice course options, a lack of student representation as a result of that curriculum, and a lack of dive Faculty perspectives. All of this seeps together to create a community by which certain students don’t feel comfortable in environmental spaces inside or outside the classroom, and which ultimately drives them away from environmental opportunities at Duke.
Today, we’re going to hear from two students Lissette Araya, a junior and exec member of Dukes Mi Gente, Latinx student club, and Maya Ghanem, a sophomore and member of Dukes Muslim Student Association, they both came to Duke interested in studying environmental topics, and both ultimately decided to go another way. First, we hear from Lissette. She is a global health and psychology double major, who only recently decided to tack on an environmental science minor, she discusses some of her first campus experiences that ended up shaping her decision not to pursue an environmental science degree.
So I guess I can start from what I like first entered Duke I came in with the intention of actually being an environmental science major. And so you know, I kind of like, like, built my schedule around that I kind of I didn’t find that my environmental science classes were as engaging, I guess, as you know, some of my other classes. And I don’t know, like, I think that that part of it had to do with maybe it was just a specific class, because I actually didn’t take very many environmental science classes before I ended up, you know, changing my major, or like my intended major, but I just felt that they weren’t necessarily like, I couldn’t really like, relate to them, I guess. Um, whereas like, my other classes, were kind of I took a class called, like, the cultural politics of food, which was like, super duper interesting, and, like, brought in so many different angles and perspectives. And I really loved that, like intersectionality, I guess, approach. And when I was in environmental science, it was just kind of like, here are some policies here some, like environmental problems, and like, we need solutions and all that stuff, like the general things that you usually hear. And so I guess that’s kind of where I decided to, you know, switch my major. But I mean, I’ve always been, like, really passionate about, you know, the planet and like, I’ve always understood the urgency of, you know, taking care of the environment and everything. But I felt that maybe, like, majoring in it was just not like, my thing. And I was just interested in other things. Outside of classes and coursework, and the major I, since freshman year, I joined Duke Climate Coalition, and they’ve been really great. And it’s been. And I don’t want to say like, like, it’s like, directly like them or anything, and I don’t Duke Climate Coalition is like, all I can speak on, but I’m sure this is not like, directly them, I don’t want to like attack them. And so because I am still in it, and I still do, like do things through them. So I’m not like saying that it’s like, bad or anything. Um, I do remember that, like, you know, I walked in, and I was wondering, like, the, like, very few people of color me remember, like how many other people I noticed that were people of color, but I think the most it was just the majority white people. And then there were like a few like Asian people, I did not see another Latin x person, I don’t remember seeing any black people or native people. And so that, I mean, that was I was kind of used to that, because I came from like a high school where it was kind of predominantly white. So it didn’t, wasn’t that of putting but um, it also in during that time, I was also starting to, like, get really engaged within the Latin x community at Duke. And so it was just kind of I had already gotten used to like being the Latin x spaces and like engaging with all my like, new Latin ex friends, and then I would like go to like, the Climate Coalition meetings, and then it would just be like, so vastly different. And I’d be like, wait, like, Why? Why isn’t like why don’t want to see more of like people of color in the spaces. And so, you know, I just kept like, going to the meetings kept pushing through because I was like, You know what, this is like, important to me. At one point, going into my sophomore year, I was involved in one of the, like, project teams a lot and going into my sophomore year that they offered me like a like sort of like a leadership position to lead one of the project teams. And I remember I just kind of like, shied away from it and I basically I was like I’m I told him I wasn’t really like comforter Being like the like, like leader earlier. And I think there were there two reasons for that. I think one main one, and then that’s, that’s the, just like, I guess something that like a lot of people experienced, but this whole, like imposter syndrome thing where, you know, you don’t really feel like you, you know, are like, deserve to be in a certain position or maybe like you don’t feel like you’re qualified to take on a certain position. And that’s kind of how I felt. And part of it is like, you know, I’m a first generation low income students. So like, it was like that, I’m like, on top of me just going to school like Duke, where there’s not a lot of people like me there on top of, you know, go like joining this, this organization that’s like, predominately white, and then again, not a lot of people like me. And just in general, like, even broader, like, the environmental movement in general is like, like, stereotypically, I guess a promptly whitespace. So it was just kind of like that all of these like confounding factors that just kind of like made me feel like I was like, I’m a little confused while you’re asking me to leave this project. He was it was like, I don’t, I don’t see myself like, I never really thought that I was like someone to be, like, qualified to do that. And I still sort of feel that like to this day, although like, it’s it’s definitely like, gotten better. But I’m still kind of like, trying like I’m a junior now. And I don’t think that, you know, I have found a space where I can feel like there are people like me that are working towards the issues that people in my community face but also incorporating like an environmental, like justice lens.
The experience Lissette described in environmental clubs is not unique to Duke Climate Coalition of the 16 or so undergraduate environmental organizations that existed at Duke at a given time, the vast majority are composed of white students. That percentage gets bigger as you ascend into environmental leadership positions, faculty and administrative spaces even more so. This year, President Pryce called together a climate change and sustainability taskforce created to determine best practices as the university looks to move forward and become the climate change University. of the 24 listed members of the task force. Only four are people of color, three of the participants are black. This is not to say that progress on environmental justice and climate change issues does not occur without a diverse decision making body. But perhaps a more diverse group would allow for more nuanced conversation. For very dialogue surrounding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that goes deeper than a state of acknowledgement of the issue. And September 2019, I reached out to the former undergraduate program coordinator for the environmental science and policy and earth and ocean science majors. To understand the demographics of the programs. The numbers were as follows of 98 majors and minors, two were Native American, five were Black or African American, five considered themselves multi racial, 15 identified as Latino, 19 as Asian and 52 as Caucasian. I want to make clear that this disparity does not fall solely on Duke shoulders. As previously mentioned, the environmental movement as a whole has struggled for decades with its perception of end inclusion of people of color, and those of low income backgrounds. Some say that the implicit racism and discrimination within environmental spaces came to the forefront with the idealization of john Moore, the father of our national parks, and the founder of one of the most influential environmental nonprofits in the country, the Sierra Club in the late 1800s. John Muir established nature as something to protect, while at the same time ostracizing black and indigenous communities as something other savage and as something that did not belong out in pristine natural spaces. Many early Sierra Club members and leaders were vocal advocates for white supremacy and eugenics. David Starr Jordan, for example, served on the club’s Board of Directors during Muir’s presidency and pushed for forced sterilization laws and programs that deprived tens of thousands of mostly black Latinx indigenous and poor women of their right to bear children. Let’s keep in mind that this history lesson is not designed to in any way diminish environmental and justices in this country to a single individual or group. Like All forms of racial discrimination and injustice. These issues are based out of a multitude of systemic malpractices. But some say this was one of many starting points. From that point forward, the relationship between nature and people were wholly separate. Back in the mid to late 1900s. The traditional environmental movement at the time was myopically focused on wilderness conservation and endangered species, not people or the needs of urban communities. At the same time, the environmental justice movement was rising up to fight air and water pollution from industries that disproportionately set up camp near low income communities and communities of color. environmentalism became a comparison between fighting for the dolphins or the polar bears, and fighting for human lives. And that disparity has carried over into the way environmental topics are taught, and the way that environmental clubs and organizations are structured. Let’s circle back to that, to learn more about why the environmental community for her fell flat compared to the work she did for me head day.
A lot of the people in Mi Gente come from a very similar background, obviously, like there’s obviously cultural thing, but even without that, a lot of us come from, like, low income, predominately first gen, backgrounds. And so there’s just this, I can’t really put my finger on exactly what it is, but there’s just kind of this environment of like support and, and just kind of, you know, I feel very welcome. And like, respected and like, like my voice and opinion in those spaces, like matter. And again, I don’t really know what it is about, it is just the vibe that I get from those spaces. And then when I, especially at Duke, when I’m in like predominantly white spaces. You know, we know that the especially white demographic at Duke is kind of more wealthy. And it’s just I don’t really get that vibe. And I’m not saying that they’re like, doing it on purpose that they’re like ostracizing me or anything like that. Like, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. But I do get this vibe, where I just I don’t know, I just don’t feel like as welcome. And as comfortable. I’m, I guess, expressing myself as I do in like Latin x spaces. So I think that’s kind of like the difference in terms of like, why maybe feel comfortable being in a leadership position in one space versus another? But um, yeah, I guess in terms of gaps, in terms of like, what, you know, each organization stands for, like, we hit there and like, environmental organizations. Yeah, I mean, I, you know, the common trend with environmental movements and organizations is that they just don’t really have that much of a focus on environmental justice. And if they do, it’s kind of like a very secondary thing. Like the biggest focus is like environmental, like big pictures, sort of climate change things. And then, and then kind of like a sub categories like, Oh, yeah, and then there’s also this thing of environmental justice. When in reality, like, it’s, I think environmental justice is one of the main cruxes of the environmental movement, and it’s definitely not given as much as touch attention as it should. I guess maybe that’s why, like, I also don’t feel qualified, because I’m like, Well, I feel like I represent people in me. Because, you know, they’re similar to me. But then environmental organizations, I don’t see how the work that I’m doing here is like affecting people from backgrounds like me. And so I feel like that’s one of the major gaps of, you know, a lot of environmental organizations in Duke and just in white spaces in general is that you know, it’s not that people of color don’t care about environmental issues or anything like that. It’s just that there isn’t a space for us in those in those groups in those demographics that like it just it doesn’t feel like we can really do much for communities. And I think a lot of people of color, kind of just stay away from environmental movements, because they’re like, well, I can make my voice heard and make more of a difference in this other space. So I’m just gonna stick to that.
Maya Ghanem is a Lebanese Syrian American identifying sophomore and a program to student who described a similar gap.
I think I’ve always, I mean, since I was really, really young, I’ve always been interested in the environment and and I care a lot about climate change. And we’re like as a very young thing like Elementary School. Um, we learned about you know, recycling and the ice caps are gonna know and the poor There’s, like all of that was very, I mean, it was very important to me. And it led me to try to, you know, care about conservation. But it always felt very, like abstract and distant, like the effects of climate change seemed so far the future back then didn’t really feel tangible. So that was just something that I noticed since I was young. But then once I visited Lebanon, for the first time, I think I visited in like 2008. I think that was the first time where I realized that, like climate change, air pollution, environmental disasters, are they have tangible impacts on people now, like, it’s something that is happening to a lot of people right now. It’s not something abstract. And when I realized that, I also saw that like the, the reality of environmental disasters are very different for people in Lebanon than they were for my affluent community back home. When I was living on, I was there in the height of the garbage politic scandal. This is basically the government I mean, the government is very corrupt. But it was to the point where they didn’t have waste management, basic waste management, and they just like didn’t throw away their trash, they like just threw it on the beaches, there is no system there in place. And eventually, the government decided to burn their trash just into the atmosphere. And that was horrible. For the atmosphere there, it really so much pollution, so many greenhouse gases. And, you know, that’s something that was very tangible for the Lebanese people. Trash that wasn’t burned was piled along our beautiful coastline. And that was something that was really difficult to see. And, you know, like the air pollution there, you can see like, there is a tangible difference between Lebanon, and 1000, Oaks, which is where I live in America. And that was just, I think that was when I started to realize like, certain populations really have. They live with these consequences now, and they were living with it before. So that’s when I realized, like climate change is not a future thing. It’s something that’s happening now, in terms of the environmental space, outside of the rational justice community, I will do, I will say that, I have felt that it’s definitely a very white dominated space. And I never really, I mean, I tried to get involved in a few environmental clubs in my freshman year, but I wanted to focus on the Middle East. And I never really felt that there was a space for that. So I kind of just decided to become involved with Middle Eastern organizations, Muslim organizations instead, I mean, my program to is environmental, health and justice, and I’m going to focus on the Middle East and North Africa as comparative study with the United States. And the main reason I want to program to is because I wanted to have more of a focus on the Middle East. And I didn’t feel like the environmental science major, really allowed space for that as much. I just think that it would be nice to see more of different regions and different identities represented within the environmental curriculum.
Moving on to the context of environmental academia more specifically, the university has robust environmental programs, the the Nicholas School of the environment, as well as entities like the Nicholas Institute for Policy solutions, and the Energy Initiative act is shining examples for traditional environmental excellence. But in Fall 2020, several graduate students at the Nicholas school came together and drafted a petition demanding that the institution improve upon its work around diversity, equity, inclusion, and support of its students of color. Here’s an excerpt from that petition, which refers to the moment of racial reckoning that took place in summer 2020.
These inequalities are embedded in the environmental sciences and in the history of Duke University as an institution. The current reality of the racial diversity of the Nicklaus school shows the links We must go to address racial inequalities within our own community. Our students, faculty and staff are harmed by the lack of racial diversity in our program as a result Students receive an imbalanced and lower quality education perpetuating poor cross cultural communication skills, historical ignorance and feeding into continued systemic oppression. If we take seriously the charge that it falls on all of us to help change America for the better, we must realize that the history and practices of science and conservation have ties to white supremacy. We must take concrete steps changing our culture, curricula, resources and recruitment practices in order to reach those stated goals. systemic racism cannot be solved by merely holding events that promote selective empathy or by burdening a few respected and overworked faculty members and students to educate others. Nicholas school the environment has an obligation to genuinely and transparently support as black students, faculty, staff and community members.
Rani Kumar, whose voice you just heard, was one of the student leaders in the creation of that petition, a second year Master’s of environmental management students, she shared her insights into the graduate environmental community at Duke.
The reality of the Nicholas School is that even before it’s really you know, a whole year ago, before any of the action the summer that like the reckoning, quote, unquote, has been going on. After the murder of George Floyd, students of color, the Nicholas school we’re already having these conversations. My second day walking in the door. I had a we had a concrete I had a conversation with students of color that I that I saw about like, wow, this, this sort of interaction just happened to me or somebody has told me that I have to join x club that represents diversity because I am X number of they were diverse group. And so for this whole time that I’ve been at the Nicholas school, students of color have been really concerned, and like working on these issues. And just things that would come up in class and sort of just these problematic things that we saw throughout the school. So it wasn’t really a question of like, oh, like, we need to sit here and think of like, what’s going on with ourselves after we are awakened from what’s happened happening in our country, it was like, No, this has been going on at the Nicklaus school for so long. And we are just like, sort of the most recent students to sort of encounter this. And I hate to say the word like, kind of capitalize on the energy, but it wasn’t really even that it was sort of like, this is a moment where we need to speak up and say, like, Hey, we can’t just pretend that everything’s fine here to the Nicklaus school has been, like really willing and tempting to listen to this. And I think, you know, some people have been in their roles for like, a short amount of time. So it’s definitely again, you know, it’s always that story of like, oh, it takes time to do these things. I think the reality is when you look at peer institutions that the medical school is, you know, I would say like, I don’t even know how many years behind but like, you know, if you look at the University of Michigan, they’ve already had this like really statement of like, like effort towards like, equitable, equitable institution decolonizing their curriculum for like five years plus now and you know, the Nicholas school is starting it today, after they sort of have this national reckoning. So, I guess the feeling is like, yes, it’s great to have a response. And it’s great that people say that they’re committed. It’s just, you know, kind of sad that it took, like, literal, you know, people in the streets. People sort of having this dramatic awakening to really have people move into Nicholas school because not like these conversations weren’t happening before.
I will note that the institution responded favorably to the grad students demands hosting several open forums to address student concerns and faculty questions directly. into her credit, the entirety steelman has done an excellent job of remaining engaged and acting as an advocate for environmental justice and greater faculty representation at the Nicholas school. In March, the Nicklaus school hired its first indigenous faculty member to officially joined the institution in early 2022, and whose expertise works at the intersection of hydrology and environmental justice. Environmental Justice topics have been sprouting up in introductory environmental coursework, and enjoyed faculty, staff and students spaces. And several students have worked over the last couple years to create an environmental justice health course. For those interested in learning more about such topics. Let’s hear from Rebecca Vidra, Senior Lecturer in the Nicholas school and director of the Duke Environmental Leadership Program. She’s been one faculty advocate for incorporating environmental justice into the curriculum was the advisor for the environmental justice health course this past fall, and helped create a North Carolina focused environmental justice Duke engage program for this upcoming summer.
So I was really inspired this summer by the organization of students around the organizing of students around pressing the Nicholas school to do more in the environmental justice space. I was impressed that it was sort of a groundswell of grassroots activism as somebody studies that and hopes for that and around environmental issues, it was kind of cool to witness that happening in our own community. And I think the Nicholas school has responded mostly adequately. But I think we all recognize that a lot of change has to happen. And it’s not just there’s no one solution, that, you know, we have a whole long list of things that we could be doing. And we’re going to meet different people to be working in these different spaces, we’re going to need to do this in partnership with our students and with our staff and with our community. There’s no this is not easy to fix, it’s not just going to get fixed by the hiring of one person, or even a cluster of people like this is like systemic change. And that’s not easy. I, I’m sort of optimistic. People are, like, honestly, wanting to engage. And that’s important, because I think once we start to disengage that we know we’re going to lose some momentum.
There is good happening. But the progress is slow. A concern for students like Ronnie, who are noticing the momentum dwindling, and fear these pushes, will only continue to lose traction, the further out people get from the protests last summer.
The moving on is already happening. And I already feel it in myself to write the the semester comes. And you know, the first meeting, I don’t remember how many we had, we had like, you know, 200 plus people on the call when Dean thought he was like talking about these things. last meeting, there was maybe like 30. And, you know, half of the people were people who worked on the petition. There was a there’s a racial justice arc seminar that the that was like, put in place in response to petition and the people who are taking the course are the people, you know, the 20 people, like half of them worked on the petition. So it’s like, yeah, that there was high interest in the student body and and the faculty. And I think that their credit, I think that faculty are staying interested in so as administration. So yeah, the reality is it has faded and people aren’t as interested. And you know, if you if you’re able to step back, because you’re not directly impacted by it, then you step back. And that’s something unfortunate and like even myself, right, like, there’s moments when I’ve had to take a step back because I want to get my econ homework done, you know, or I want to get my GIS homework done. But it’s Oh, yeah, it’s already happening.
We spoke to Nicolette Cagle, the Nicholas School’s director of undergraduate diversity, equity and inclusion, and environmental science and policy lecturer to understand what the Nicklaus school needs to improve on specifically.
So when we look at faculty, staff and students, so the Nicholas school, we noticed that there is severe under our presentation of people of color, and our students and faculty, that that’s something that we can see. And by people of color, referring to blacks, indigenous people and Latinos, in an American context, I think it’s important that we differentiate diversity, that’s kind of homegrown American versus international scholars, because because we’re talking about two different things there. The Nicholas isn’t unique in these disparities. But we see them and for a long time, the administration has wanted to have success in reducing those disparities and actually bringing in robust numbers of people of color into the nickel school. And we’ve had strategic plans, saying these things since the early 2000s, at least, and is difficult to know which strategies are most effective, and to have funding for those strategies and save campaigns for those strategies. And I think that’s where the Nicklaus school is right now is that we’ve been in this this holding pattern of recognizing there’s a problem recognizing there’s a problem and the environmental fields, more generally, like we’ve got tons of data on that now. And not quite knowing what to do, writing a plan and then not fully implementing it or implementing things for a couple of years in it, like not not working or not having the desired outcome. And one of the things I feel like the next school is doing differently now is recognizing that it’s not just a numbers game, right where our goal shouldn’t be to brand people, people of color insulin necklace, gold Just so that we can have statistics that say we’ve got people of color in the Nicklaus school, our goal needs to be actually creating an inclusive environments where everybody’s voices are heard, where everybody has power in the system, and where people can actually succeed. And so we’re shifting to creating those conditions for success right now, instead of just trying to recruit, recruit, recruit without providing any social support, without having any modes for true inclusion. So I think there’s a big change in the last in the last couple of years. It did take me a ton of time and study to get where I am. And I’ve got to say that, I still don’t feel them anywhere close to where I need to be in my understanding of issues around identity and inclusion, I will always need to work at this. And that is because of my identity. I am white, middle class cisgender woman, I spent a lot of my life not having to think about these issues. And I will have to spend the rest of my life making up for that deficit. And so in a school where a lot of people come from similar backgrounds, to me, a lot of people are white, a lot of faculty and white, a lot of them come from middle class backgrounds that not everybody come from upper class backgrounds, quite a few come from lower socioeconomic classes as well, where we all just need to do work throughout the rest of our lives in order to understand these issues. So in terms of actual training in the Nicholas school, for a long time, we haven’t required training, we had opt in training. And there’s always been this quarter of, I don’t know 15, or, or maybe even 20 faculty members that are like all in and you see them there at every training, and they have been for 10 years, right or more. And they are into it, and they are reading and they are doing the self reflection. And then you have like, you know, other folks where this hasn’t been a priority. So one of the things that we’re starting to do in the Nicklaus school just this year, and this is, as the direct results of the petition for racial equity that the Nicholas school receive received, we are now requiring some trainings for understanding why this stuff and what I mean by this stuff is understanding human difference. techniques for creating inclusive environments, why this stuff is important. So those opportunities are being developed more and more. But there is a ton of energy around it this year more energy than I’ve ever, ever seen. In my time at the Nicklaus school. I think that this energy has definitely derived from the protests this summer. But more importantly, the students stood up and very clearly told us what they wanted. There is no ignoring them. In my opinion, beautiful petition that came out from the student body. It needed to be addressed. I think there’s a difference diversity of opinions and approaches and the Nicklaus school to how environmental justice could or should be included in the curriculum.
There is a group of extraordinarily committed faculty that have have been on committees before have wanted been on committees thinking about and evaluating our curriculum in terms of environmental justice, thinking about ways that we could include more environmental justice coursework, thinking about ways that we can include more environmental justice themes into our classes. But they’re relatively small, small group, again, if maybe 1010 folks that are really committed, interested and knowledgeable about these things. I think that in the Nicholas school, there tends to be hesitancy to include subjects in the curriculum for which we don’t have an experts on faculty. So we don’t have an environmental justice focused faculty member. And that means like, who teaches a course on environmental justice? So right now the Nicholas school has a graduate level course open on environmental justice. We bring in someone from The outside to teach that. But for a course that we can’t guarantee is going to be taught every year because that person isn’t a faculty member. It’s almost doesn’t seem like appropriate soon. clewd environmental justice component is a required part of the curriculum for folks that are committed to environmental justice like me, but that’s also not my area of specialization. I’m, I’m an ecologist by training. It also seems wrong from a faculty perspective, to be teaching issues about which we’re not experts. And so I think that some of the hesitancy that we see in the Nicholas school is that is the, you know, we talk about white supremacy, culture norms or just norms of academic culture. Being right, being the expert, that hierarchy of knowledge is really strong in the academic community. And people don’t want to miss stuff. They don’t want to promise things that they can’t deliver. And so getting over or pushing past the hurdles of academic culture and hierarchy is a very important step. For us to increase some of environmental justice we’re seeing in the curriculum. Another important step is to actually hire an environmental justice professor. And kind of create this environmental justice, curriculum or pod or focus in the Nicholas school that was that a lot of these issues.
So why is this representation important? It ensures that the institution is being considerate in its work. It ensures that assumptions are not made about the way the university can and should interact with communities, and that the university doesn’t take an I know best attitude when it decides to implement a project outside of its walls. And most importantly, a mind to representation ensures that any student can come to Duke and feels comfortable exploring the issues that most resonate with them. I’ll save our discussion of solutions to these problems for part two in our environment episode. But before we go, as always, we like to end with a poem. This piece is a duo poem by Kenya Newsome and nesher. Ruth her as a part of the split this rock 2015 dc Youth Slam. It is a back and forth and to do it of environmental degradation from the perspective of white and black communities. This is environmental justice.
Kenya Newsome and Nesha Ruther
When the end of the world comes, where will we be? Probably, at home, in the middle class suburb of Takoma Park, Maryland Eating an organic dinner bought from our local CO-OP My privilege pressing hard through plates and window panes I won’t feel the effects of the crumbling world my parents have worked so hard to preserve. I live in DC, where murder rates topple skyscrapers, looking over your shoulder is a natural Reflex and in the end my melanin is never able to save me, Because even mother nature has begun to discriminate. She is sinking under toxic waste landfills, built by men who look like me In poor neighborhoods full of people who look like me Does she know only some of her children are dying? Black kids are raised in so many different kinds of fear, Trained to count down the days until dirt as dark as melanin will swallow us whole. I have the good fortune of not fearing the people around me, so I tend to the ground beneath me, saving water and electricity But I won’t feel the deep rooted damage like she will Like oppressed people everywhere will People in power dispose of waste where no one important will go looking Where no one important is living Out of sight out of mind Not knowing where your trash is going is a privilege Exhale out chemicals someone else will breathe in Kettleman City California, Kettleman Hills hazardous waste receives a grant to expand their landfill In a city where 96% of their population is of Latino descent Minorities have always been seen as more trash than treasure Turning towns into dumping ground, because if a population is dark it must be dirty When the end of the world comes, at first, only a few will go with it. My people are always the first to die and the last remembered But what happens when there are no more black bodies to burn? Who will be the next the earth will swallow? Before the tornados turn great cities into dust bowls and there won’t be anyone left to inherit our destruction We will both go dust to dust, both just want a world where our children can grow Our generation is one of unlearning prejudice One of second chances and standing together There are reparations to be made, healing the earth and all people in it Seeds to be sown, in the ground and in communities Too much to do that we can’t do alone That we can’t do until we both are equal Till we are breathing the same air Drinking the same water Seeing past our own privilege, And seeing each other.
Thank you for joining us for this latest episode of bridging the gap. Please be sure to tune in for part two in our eco experiences episodes, where we’ll dive a bit deeper into best practices for overcoming the diversity, equity, inclusion and justice gaps in environmental spaces at Duke. See you next time.