Climate Justice is Key to Building Campus-Community Resilience

cover of Higher Education’s Role in Advancing Climate Justice
Higher Education’s Role in Advancing Climate Justice
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The resilience of any one campus is intertwined with that of the community in which it exists: it’s challenging to be a resilient campus without also being part of a resilient community (Climate Resilience Background). However, the collaboration required to build community resilience – made possible only through committed, trusting relationships – may very well be precluded by fraught relationships resulting from historical or on-going harm.

Consider the legacy of the 1862 Morrill Act, which dramatically redistributed 11 million acres of tribal lands from Indigenous peoples to form 52 land grant universities and was enforced by over 160 violence-backed treaties and land seizures (Lee & Ahtone, 2020). In modern day, institutions continue to contribute to the displacement of primarily Black and brown communities through their physical expansion and gentrification of surrounding neighborhoods (Baldwin, 2021). One such example includes Columbia University’s displacement of West Harlem. According to census data, “between 2000 and 2010, Manhattanville’s Black and Latinx populations witnessed significant drops, by 22 percent and 9 percent respectively, while its white numbers exploded by 231 percent” (Baldwin, 2021). Therefore, it is imperative that higher education institutions consider these relationships between themselves and their surrounding communities.

Advancing climate justice requires that the relationship between equity, justice, and community resilience simultaneously hold a mirror to the past, along with acknowledging ongoing harms and holding higher education institutions accountable to the communities they find themselves embedded within. “Resilience is the ability of a system or community to survive disruption and to anticipate, adapt, and flourish in the face of change” (Climate Resilience Background). Climate justice further demands that institutions intentionally break the cycle of (re-)enforcing these inequities through their climate action efforts by seeking fair and equitable climate solutions that are in collaboration with surrounding communities (guha, 2021). In doing so, institutions can move from extractive relationships with communities toward reciprocal partnerships.

The Next Generation of Climate Leadership

Since 2006, Second Nature’s Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments have offered the opportunity for campuses to boldly lead on decarbonization efforts and develop climate action plans (A Call for Climate Leadership). Later, recognizing the growing need to adopt an expanded definition of climate action, Second Nature introduced its Resilience Commitment and expanded organizational efforts to support member institutions in advancing campus-community resilience assessments to enhance climate action plans (Higher Education’s Role).

In the face of tumultuous social, political, and environmental stressors, higher education institutions are once again presented with an opportunity for bold leadership to tackle the world’s most pressing issues, including the systems and injustices that lie at the root of the climate crisis.

Chaz Briscoe, Chantal Madray, and Rachel Valetta. (2022). “Higher Education’s Role in Advancing Climate Justice,” Second Nature: Cambridge, MA.

Historical Legacy

Decolonizing Methodologies

In this book, author Linda Tuhiwai Smith explores the intersections of imperialism and research- specifically, the ways in which imperialism is embedded in disciplines of knowledge and tradition as ‘regimes of truth.’ This book features contributions from Indigenous scholars on Tuhiwai Smith’s continued relevance to current research.

Entangled Pasts: Land Grant Colleges and American Indian Disposession

Article from Cambridge History of Education Quarterly Journal chronicles the history of land-grant colleges and universities alongside the long-term impacts this has had on inequities in higher education. The article provides recommendations for how higher education can progress beyond land acknowledgements “to hold themselves accountable, as the Michigan State University statement says, to the needs of local Native populations. Universities might foster strong relationships with tribal communities, offer support services for Native students, promote courses and programs that teach Native cultures and histories, and in other ways serve Native populations.”

How Slavery Shaped America’s Oldest and Most Elite Colleges

NPR Code Switch podcast provides an overview of Craig Steven Wilder’s book Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities.

The Land Grant Universities Still Profiting Off Indigenous Homelands

Article detailing at least 16 land-grant universities making money from the expropriated Indigenous lands they retained from the Morrill Act. Research detailing the educational disparities Indigenous students experience today and the role higher education should play in reconciling the legacy harms of land-grant universities.

Higher Education Assets

American University Environmental Justice Toolkit

This environmental justice toolkit curated by Greener AU (American University) provides recommendations for higher education institutions to lead “campus greening” efforts, inclusive of social sustainability.

DEIJ Resource Center

Education. Advisory Board: An extensive guide to how DEIAJ practices can be bettered in education with 6 steps: manage vision & strategy, reimagine institutional administration, enhance faculty & staff, improve student success, redesign student learning and transform campus climate.

EJ Screen @ UMBC

EJSCREEN is an environmental justice mapping and screening tool that provides EPA with a nationally consistent dataset and approach for combining environmental and demographic indicators. EJ Screen @ UMBC is designed as an interactive dashboard and companion to the Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool. The dashboard displays information about the 11 EJ indicators and UMBC’s demographics. The GIS tool designed as a geographic companion for the EJ Screen @ UMBC Dashboard as a “map-centric” application where the user can interact directly with the map or enable additional functionality by selecting widgets on the top banner.

Intentional Endowments Network

IEN provides resources on how higher education institutions can take concrete steps towards addressing inequity and the climate crisis through social equity investing and climate investing.

Racial Equity & Social Justice Resources for the Sustainability in Higher Education Community

Racial Equity and Social Justice Resources for Higher Education (AASHE group sourced list).

The Role of College and University Faculty in the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement

Article published in the University of California Press explores the role of faculty advocacy in campus fossil fuel divestment across the United States and Canada. “Colleges and universities have played a critical role in the growing social movement to divest institutional endowments from fossil fuels. While campus activism on fossil fuel divestment has been driven largely by students and alumni, faculty are also advocating to their administrators for institutional divestment from fossil fuels. This article characterizes the role of faculty by reviewing signatories to publicly available letters that endorse fossil fuel divestment.”

Challenges and Opportunities

Advancing DEI in Higher Education

The U.S Department of Education completed this 95 page document, showing the importance of higher education in advancing social mobility and DEIAJ. It includes an account of opportunity gaps in colleges & universities, the current trajectory for underrepresented students of colour and leadership examples of providing access to postsecondary education for ALL students.

Colleges as Courageous Spaces

Harvard Graduate School of Education’s podcast titled, Harvard Edcast, discussing the importance discussing the importance and development of DEI work both in colleges and as a profession itself.

A Framework for Advancing Antiracism Strategy on Campus

Framework by NADOHE addressing ten priority areas where anti-racism strategies would significantly improve conditions for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students. The priority areas are as follows:
1. Institutional Structure
2. Policies and Procedures
3. Resource Allocation
4. Academic Equity and Student Success
5. Curriculum and Pedagogy
6. Hiring, Retention, and Promotion
7. Institutional Programming
8. Education/Training/Employee Development
9. Campus Climate/Culture
10. Admissions and Access

The Future of Academic Research on Climate Solutions

Outlines the importance of higher ed, provides research and recommendations for the future of research such as a centralized data repository to capture the many disparate climate solutions research efforts across federal agencies and research should be planned and implemented in partnership with members of impacted communities. It also talks about broadening participation and engaging non-academic partners.

Higher Education Needs a New Mission: How About Climate Justice?

Could our institutions of higher education be doing more with their abundant resources to promote a better future for all? As concerned academics, we see huge opportunity for colleges and universities to help build a more just, equitable, and climate-resilient society. We think a commitment to climate justice would provide the necessary framework.

The Importance of Diversity in Higher Education

Northeastern University published this article with three key reasons why diversity should be fully integrated into the daily operations of a higher education institution. The three reasons are: a shifting student body, updating curriculum and building stronger communities.

The Invisible Labor of Diversity Educators in Higher Education

This study offers insight into the magnitude and degree of “invisible labor” that diversity educators manage outside of their primary responsibilities such as mentoring students; collaborating with other departments, divisions, and colleagues to advance DEI initiatives; providing informal academic advising to students; and assisting students with accessing resources to meet personal needs such as financing and housing.

Medical Education and the Minority Tax

A journal, defining the minority tax in medical education and its impacts. In this journal, it is defined as the “additional responsibilities placed on minority faculty to achieve diversity.”

Mount Holyoke College’s Anti-Racism Plan of Action

Plan of action for campus to commit resources to anti-racism.

Mount Holyoke Colleges’ Community Commitment to Climate Justice (CC2CJ)

Campus initiative to address climate justice as a campus community.

New Directions for DEI in Higher Education

Association for Psychological Science: This report incorporates how DEI practices can be continued alternatively, as well as how to address the “minority tax”, and sharing how the University of Michigan’s DEI program has been successful. It includes many different leaders from different institutions, and how they can navigate DEI issues on their respective campuses.

The Role of the Academic Diversity Officer

The National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan interviewed a number of Academic Diversity Officers (ADOs) to learn more about how they view their role. Results from this study were published Fall 2019. The American Council of Education includes a blog series written by six ADOs who discuss their roles, the challenges they face, and the opportunities these positions bring to college and university campuses.


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