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ENVS Statement on Anti-Black Racism

Further engagement: Resources for UO Black, Indigenous, and other Students of Color

June 5th, 2020

The Environmental Studies Program at the University of Oregon stands in solidarity with Black Americans. We stand against racially-motivated violence and discrimination. We say the names Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Miriam Carey, Trayvon Martin, Meagan Hockaday,  Eric Garner, Alexia Christian, Michael Brown, Mya Hall, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Tanisha Anderson, Philando Castile, Michelle Cusseaux, Tamir Rice, Atatiana Jefferson, Tony McDade, Renisha McBride, Ahmaud Arbery–and dozens more we could list, some whose stories will never be told. We applaud those who have made their voices heard in the collective work we all must do to dismantle white supremacy.

As an Environmental Studies Program, we have a particular responsibility to step into this moment. For too long, environmental issues have been understood as separate from issues of racial justice and settler colonialism in the United States. Yet, race and environment are deeply intertwined. As UO faculty member Laura Pulido has argued, one of the reasons it is essential to study environmental issues is that it helps us understand ways that racism operates in the United States. Additionally, there is a significant history of Black environmental activism, Black environmental art and literature, and Black environmental knowledge production in the United States that has for too long been ignored in the environmental stories we tell and the studies we conduct. The institutional history of Environmental Studies cannot be separated from the long history of institutional racism structuring higher education. Addressing the systematic violence and discrimination facing Black Americans requires ongoing work on ourselves as individuals, institutional work on our program, and significant work in our communities, including the work of listening.

We want to let you know some of the work that faculty, staff, and students in Environmental Studies are undertaking to address these issues. 

  1. We commit to deepening our work to recruit and retain diverse faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates. This includes essential work to make sure that Environmental Studies is an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone at the University of Oregon. 
  2. We commit to ongoing assessment and improvement to our curriculum. This is to ensure our curriculum addresses issues of power and privilege across the disciplines and that the sources we assign include the work of Black scholars, artists, activists, and authors. 
  3. Our faculty will continue to develop research projects that help us understand and address the environmental issues facing Black Americans, Indigenous peoples, and other communities of color. To this end, in June 2020, ENVS committed an initial $2,000 for research and/or teaching-related projects addressing anti-Black racism and environmental justice.
  4. Finally, we commit to continue to build partnerships with organizations working with underrepresented communities, especially organizations working on environmental issues facing Black Oregonians.

This work will be ongoing. We will use this page to post resources and updates on our progress in each of these areas. We also want to hear your ideas as faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students in Environmental Studies. How can ENVS contribute to addressing racial disparities in our program, at the UO, and in our communities? What work do you commit to do to address these issues?

Please reach out to Sophie Bybee, the ENVS office coordinator, at sbybee@uoregon.edu, who will continue to collect thoughts and comments to share with the ENVS Community-Building and Diversity Committee, as well as the ENVS Anti-Racist Strategies Working Group.

 In closing, we would like to share the work of poet Ross Gay.

A Small Needful Fact

By Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked

for some time for the Parks and Rec.

Horticultural Department, which means,

perhaps, that with his very large hands,

perhaps, in all likelihood,

he put gently into the earth

some plants which, most likely,

some of them, in all likelihood,

continue to grow, continue

to do what such plants do, like house

and feed small and necessary creatures,

like being pleasant to touch and smell,

like converting sunlight

into food, like making it easier

for us to breathe.

This poem is reprinted with permission from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

On behalf of the Environmental Studies Program,

Sarah Wald, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and English and Associate Director of Environmental Studies Program

Mark Carey, Professor of History and Environmental Studies and Director of Environmental Studies Program