Environmental Science and Racial Equity

June 26, 2020

The past several weeks have put a spotlight on racial injustices that have plagued our country since before its founding. The injustices have brought outrage and the recognition that institutions need to help drive the change so surely needed. We at the Environmental Science Institute would like to express our support for racial equity. We wish to first acknowledge the ways in which racial justice is inextricably linked to climate change. As the NAACP states, “communities of color and low income communities are often the hardest hit by climate change.”

Racism and racial injustices stymie scientific progress. As Ayana Elizabeth Johnson states in her op-ed in the Washington Post, “As a marine biologist and policy nerd, building community around climate solutions is my life’s work. But I’m also a Black person in the United States of America. I work on one existential crisis, but these days I can’t concentrate because of another.” In her op-ed, she also quoted Toni Morrison who stated in a 1975 speech, “The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” The Environmental Science Institute is committed to supporting equity efforts by helping to educate our students, faculty, and staff about racial equity, amplifying Black STEM researchers’ work, and providing STEM role models to communities underrepresented in STEM through our outreach efforts. We have more work to do, including across ESI’s mission of advancing Research, Education, and Outreach in Environmental Science. As one of our recent Environmental Science degree (EVS) graduates, Meagan Yates, shared with us, I think that the EVS degree program has a lot of room for growth… diverse perspectives and backgrounds benefit everyone. 

 Last Friday on Juneteenth, our live Hot Science At Home event hosted Dr. Raychelle Burks on Science and the Avengers, and participants from two networks joined this event as part of the STEMteenth celebration, including #BLACKandSTEM and #RealTimeChem. Efforts like this will continue, as we endeavor to advance our equity efforts.

For two important perspectives on environmental justice and environmental racism, please watch Dr. Robert Bullard’s Hot Science-Cool Talks lecture: Environmental Justice: Progress Towards Sustainability and Dr. Tyrone Hayes’ Hot Science-Cool Talks lecture: From Silent Spring to Silent Night: A Tale of Toads and Men. To read other UT perspectives on recent events, please see those by UT President Jay Hartzell and the Jackson School of Geosciences Dean Claudia Mora.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to provide feedback on how we may improve our efforts. We are listening, and constantly learning. If you have questions or would like guidance on more racial justice resources, let us know and we’ll do our best to connect you with experts.

With Best Regards,

Jay Banner
Director, Environmental Science Institute