Loyola University Chicago

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Press Release - August 12, 2021

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Loyola University Chicago
Anna Shymanski
ashymanski@luc.edu, 402.980.7709

Dartmouth College
Amy Olson
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New Study: Emerging Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Leaders Call For Racial Equity in Environmental Sustainability Fields

New Research Includes Recommendations to Diversify Sustainability Fields of Study as Global Climate Crisis Continues to Grow 

August 12, 2021 - A new study published today in Nature Sustainability found that the dramatic underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in environmental sustainability fields leaves BIPOC students feeling isolated and excluded despite their strong interest in solving environmental challenges like climate change. The study, which was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of faculty and student researchers at Loyola University Chicago, DePaul University, and Dartmouth College, outlined these issues along with recommendations to diversify environmental sustainability fields.

“Solving complex environmental problems requires the diverse range of human experience, including the knowledge and perspectives of people most affected by environmental degradation, namely BIPOC communities,” said Tania Schusler, co-researcher and assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Environmental Sustainability. “We are tackling some of the most critical climate change issues ever seen. Many of the most creative solutions are coming from BIPOC leaders and communities; yet, they are often overlooked within sustainability fields. This research identified action steps that colleges and universities can take to open pathways for BIPOC students to apply their talents in careers that promote ecological and social well-being.”

Despite representing 38% of the U.S. population, BIPOC individuals comprised less than 16% of staff in environmental organizations in 2014, according to Dorceta Taylor of the University of Michigan. Green 2.0 reports that this number has since increased somewhat but environmentalism has a long way to go with respect to both compositional diversity and transforming its culture. The new research showed systemic racism persists within the field, resulting in discrimination, lack of relatability, and feelings of isolation and exclusion among BIPOC students. The research identifies avenues for change within environmental degree programs so that BIPOC students feel a sense of belonging and inclusion.

To make environmental sustainability fields more racially diverse and inclusive, the research recommended colleges and universities take the following steps immediately:

  1. Integrate BIPOC voices into the curriculum by incorporating literature by BIPOC, including Indigenous perspectives, inviting BIPOC as guest speakers, addressing social justice within courses, and partnering with local communities in course projects
  2. Train faculty and staff in diversity, equity, and inclusion
  3. Hire racially and ethnically diverse faculty and staff
  4. Actively recruit BIPOC students out of high school
  5. Create resources to support BIPOC students either through financial scholarships, research opportunities, and/or student groups

"In our research, the lived experiences for many students of color devoting their passions to study environmental science and studies are seen and heard,” said Charlie Espedido, co-researcher, recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago, and clean energy program manager for the RAY Diversity Fellowship at the Environmental Leadership Program. “Never would I have thought that our initial curiosities would transpire into collaborative research and efforts to uplift the diverse experiences of students of color in environmental degree programs. Our research highlights the personal journeys of inspiring environmentalists of color and the perspectives and experiences that the larger environmental community must reckon with for truly inclusive learning environments."

"A key finding from our study is that BIPOC students hold specialized knowledge unapparent to non-marginalized groups and real expertise in how universities can best create inclusive learning environments. Our methods can be applied widely across a variety of institutions and scientific disciplines, and serve to both strengthen BIPOC student communities and inform solutions for improving racial diversity, equity, and inclusion in environmental programs," said Bala Chaudhary, co-researcher and assistant professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College.

The study was conducted in 2017-2018 and initiated by then-Loyola University environmental science students Charles Espedido and Brittany K. Rivera. Espedido and Rivera served as co-researchers, working alongside Tania Schusler and Bala Chaudhary to collect data to understand how BIPOC students experience the environmental sustainability field and the steps that could be taken to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion. Additional data collection plus data analyses was provided by then-Loyola students Mia Howerton, Melissa Hernandez, and Kailin Sepp, as well as then-DePaul students Malcolm Engel and Jazlyn Marcos. The findings were initially reported in Nature Sustainability.

About Loyola University Chicago
Founded in 1870, Loyola University Chicago is one of the nation’s largest Jesuit, Catholic universities, with more than 17,000 students. Nearly 11,500 undergraduates call Loyola home. The University has four campuses: three in the greater Chicago area and one in Rome, Italy, as well as course locations in Saigon-Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Vernon Hills, Illinois (Cuneo Mansion and Gardens); and a Retreat and Ecology Campus in Woodstock, Illinois. The University’s 14 schools, colleges, and institutes include: the Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health, Quinlan School of Business, Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, Stritch School of Medicine, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Communication, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, School of Education, School of Law, School of Social Work, Graduate School, Institute of Pastoral Studies, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, and Arrupe College. Ranked a top national university by U.S. News & World Report, Loyola is also among a select group of universities recognized for community service and engagement by national organizations like the Carnegie Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Learn more about Loyola, like us at Facebook.com/LoyolaChicago, or follow us on Twitter @LoyolaChicago.

About Dartmouth College
Founded in 1769, Dartmouth is a member of the Ivy League and consistently ranks among the world’s greatest academic institutions. Dartmouth has forged a singular identity for combining its deep commitment to outstanding undergraduate liberal arts and graduate education with distinguished research and scholarship in the Arts and Sciences and its four leading graduate schools—the Geisel School of Medicine, the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced StudiesThayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business.

About DePaul University
DePaul was founded in Chicago in 1898 by the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), a Roman Catholic religious community dedicated to following the ideals of St. Vincent de Paul, the 17th century priest for whom the university is named. DePaul’s tradition of providing a quality education to students from a broad range of backgrounds, with particular attention to first-generation students, has resulted in one of the nation’s most diverse student bodies. With nearly 22,000 students and some 300 academic programs, DePaul is the largest Catholic university in the United States and the largest private, nonprofit university in the Midwest. It is nationally recognized for incorporating service learning throughout its curriculum and preparing its graduates for a global economy. More information is available at http://www.depaul.edu.