Building in Justice at the School of the Environment

We are excited to announce that in January 2022, Duke Faculty Advancement fully funded the Nicholas School's “Building in Justice at the School of the Environment” initiative spearheaded by Drs. Liz Shapiro-Garza and Nicolette Cagle.

Looking for events developed by the Building in Justice initiative? Please visit our EJ Events page.

Project Summary

Environmental justice (EJ) is a conceptual framework that allows researchers and practitioners to explore and explain the ways in which environmental harms and benefits are distributed and the root causes and the long-term impacts of observed disparities. The need to build awareness and application of the EJ framework among environmental leaders has become ever more apparent as the world grapples with implications of structural racism, colonial histories of exploitation, and the increasingly evident, and disparate, impacts of climate change and many other issues. The Nicholas School of the Environment, as a recognized leader in the fields of environmental sciences and in training the next generation of environmental leaders, is itself wrestling with how best to inculcate a focus on environmental justice into our teaching, research and engagement. To address this need, the Building in Justice at the School of the Environment initiative will build greater awareness among our faculty and staff of the roots and manifestations of environmental injustice, the strategies being employed to counter these issues, and its relevance to our mission and daily work in ways that also strengthen the sense of community and shared vision and purpose among our faculty and staff.

Project Objectives

The Building in Justice at the School of the Environment initiative has two overlapping goals:

  1. To build a greater awareness among our faculty and staff of environmental justice as a concept and framework and of its relevance to the teaching, research and engagement mission and daily work of the Nicholas School of the Environment.
  2. To build a greater sense of community and common purpose and vision among our staff and faculty through the shared learning opportunities and experiences we have proposed and the collaborative efforts they engender.

Project Description

To inculcate the EJ framework into all aspects of the mission and work of the Nicholas School of the Environment with greatest efficiency and sustainability, most of the proposed learning opportunities will be “built into” existing institutions and organizations. This proposal therefore does not request additional funding for the majority of these built-in events and activities. However, we also propose two new, stand-alone environmental justice-focused activities that will both fill gaps in existing offerings and serve as the primary catalyst for the community and collaboration building that will be generated through this initiative. These include: (1) two environmental justice panel discussions; and, (2) two environmental justice field trip experiences for faculty and staff.

Building on Novel EJ Activities

The following are the “build-on,” novel activities that we propose to develop and promote as key components of the Building in Justice Learning Series. Register and find more info about these activites here.

Applying Environmental Justice Panel Discussions. We will organize two panel discussions with Duke faculty and staff who have built a focus on environmental justice into their research (spring 2022) and teaching/advising (fall 2022). Where relevant, we will also invite community partners who have been involved in the projects discussed. The purpose of these two panel sessions, which will include a robust Q&A period, will be to help our faculty and staff understand from their peers the relevance of EJ to their own research and teaching and some of the best practices and costs and benefits of doing so. Our hope is that it will also foster direct collaborations among the presenters and our faculty and staff.

Field Visits to Communities Experiencing and Contesting Environmental Injustice. We also propose to organize two field visits to communities in North Carolina experiencing environmental injustice where Nicholas School faculty already have connections and strong relationships. These trips will have a twofold purpose. The first is to ground the concepts and frameworks our faculty and staff have been exposed to through the Learning Series by understanding, in a holistic and experiential way, the impacts to people and places of environmental injustices. The second will be to build on the existing connections with these communities and our faculty members to discuss, plan and develop additional collaborative efforts to connect and support strategies to contest the environmental injustices through engaged scholarship and teaching. We have worked closely with two of our faculty members, Dr. Sherri White-Williamson and Dr. Ryan Emmanuel, to develop plans for field visits for our faculty and staff organized in conjunction with the Environmental Justice Community Action Network (EJ CAN) to Sampson, Duplin and Robeson Counties, NC and the other with The Lumbee Tribal Government to Pembroke, NC. One of the trips will be held in the spring of 2022 and the other in the fall.

Building in EJ Activities

  • Introduction to Environmental Justice in Division Meetings. The Nicholas School of the Environment is organized into three Divisions: Environmental Science and Policy; Marine Science and Conservation; and Earth and Climate Sciences. We plan to schedule, “Introductions to Environmental Justice” presentations and discussions during biweekly meetings of each Division during the early months of the spring 2022 semester. The intent of these sessions is to provide, in contexts in which open discussion is expected, an introduction to the basic framework of environmental justice and its relevance to the research, disciplines and teaching of that Division. These sessions will also provide us with an opportunity to broadly promote the subsequent events in the Learning Series.
  • Incorporate Environmental Justice Speakers into Existing Seminar Series. We have worked with the organizers of the existing seminars primarily attended by Nicholas School faculty, staff and students to agree to include 1-2 speakers in their spring and fall 2022 series who apply the EJ framework in their research and engagement activities. These are the Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health (ITEPH) seminar led by Dr. Joel Meyer, the Earth and Ocean Sciences (EOS) seminar led by Dr. Brad Murray and the University Program in Ecology (UPE) seminar led by Dr. Justin Wright. These seminar leaders, and the doctoral students also involved in developing and organizing the seminars, have all expressed great enthusiasm and support for this proposal.
  • Environmental Justice and DEI Training. We will plan to build on and promote our existing series of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training for our faculty and staff that focus specifically on understanding the roots and impacts of systemic inequities and of ways and means to address these through our teaching and research. Past trainings have included workshops on Culturally Inclusive Pedagogy, Centering Marginalized Voices in the Classroom, and Handling Uncomfortable Moments in the classroom.
  • Cross-Promote Annual Environmental Justice Conference. We will strongly cross-promote the annual environmental justice conference organized every spring by the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. The conference brings together scholars and practitioners focused on a wide array of issues. It will therefore not only provide a deep introduction to the EJ framework, but also opportunities for our faculty and staff to understand the relevance to their own research, teaching and engagement.
  • Cross-Promote Community-Engaged Scholars Collaborative Events. We will also strongly cross-promote as part of this Learning Series, the talks and workshops organized through the Community-Engaged Scholars Collaborative of Duke Civic Engagement in order to ensure that our faculty and staff are introduced to best practices in community-engaged scholarship and teaching.