Nina Morris is the Sustainability Director for the University of Pennsylvania. She and her team lead and implement university-wide sustainability efforts and work to complete the Climate Action Plan. Previously, Nina worked for ten years at the University of Virginia's Office for Sustainability. There, she served as co-chair of the Civic Engagement Subcommittee and helped found and run the Equity & Environment Fund, host environmental justice events, served as co-chair of the Facilities Management Diversity Council, and worked closely with community partners on food justice efforts.
Caylin McCamp's previous employer required monthly full/half day DEI training. Caylin learned a lot and started to see many shared challenges and values between DEI and sustainability work. However, it was not until five years later in Caylin's master’s program that the connection was made between sustainability issues are not standalone issues but symptoms of systems of domination and oppression. This was a paradigm shift for Caylin who is now working to weave this new understanding into work. Right now, that looks like rethinking the content and focus of the University of Vermont's Eco-Reps program.
Establishing a culture where racial equity and social justice are an integral part of sustainability is an important step for many sustainability offices and practitioners, particularly for those where sustainability is predominantly viewed through an ecological lens. Consider both the internal culture of the office, committee or division, and its champions, as well as how the work of this office is viewed externally. For example, the sustainability office could already be incorporating DEI efforts into sustainability; however, students, academic and non-academic staff that interact with the sustainability office and its practitioners may not be aware of these practices. Diversity, equity and inclusion can be weaved into cultural and literacy assessments to help sustainability practitioners develop an understanding of how others across campus view the role of DEI within the sustainability office.
University Influence & Partnerships
Through strategic planning and collaboration, sustainability practitioners can further reinforce the role that DEI plays within sustainability work on campus and beyond. Strategies for university influence and partnerships include the following:
- Apply an equity lens to existing and future climate action plans and other sustainability plans for your campus. Work to set measurable goals around equity & social justice within each plan and report progress toward said goals.
- If you are asked to be a guest speaker in classes or on panels, think about how sustainability is being defined in those spaces. Is it inclusive of social issues? How will you share about what your office does?
- Start a conversation with the appropriate groups or people on your campus. You may be looking for a Chief Diversity & Equity Officer, a representative from the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Multicultural Resource Center Coordinator, a Title IX Officer, or a faculty member. You may also wish to reach out to staff who run college access programs such as TRiO or the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP).
- After establishing strong relationships with university and/or community partners, consider building a formal partnership to advance common goals. An example of this is the University of Virginia’s Civic Engagement Subcommittee’s response to the alt-right attack and protest in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11 and 12, 2017.
- Identify both the social and environmental outcomes of your project initiatives. Consider those most impacted by environmental degradation as part of the problem-solving process and ensure that remedies and solutions are created in collaboration with those groups.