SEAS DEI team wins 2017 Distinguished Diversity Leaders Award

Originally published: 
December, 2017

We congratulate the staff of the SEAS DEI Office on being awarded the University of Michigan’s 2017 Distinguished Diversity Leaders Award for their exceptional efforts to achieve a welcome, supportive, inclusive environment at SEAS. This prestigious award celebrates those in the U-M community who exemplify the university’s commitment to diversity.

The winning team from SEAS consists of faculty member Dr. Dorceta Taylor, and staff members Sonia Joshi, Kafi Laramore-Josey, and Molly Lutton. These members and the entire SEAS DEI team work on a school, university, and national scale to create and advance diversity in a field—environmental sciences and natural resources—that traditionally has not been diverse.The team was nominated by M'Lis Bartlett, SEAS Research Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer.

In 2014, Dr. Dorceta Taylor published an extensive and ground-breaking study entitled The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations & Government Agencies, which is the most comprehensive report on the lack of diversity in the mainstream environmental movement to date. The report found that despite being over 30% of the U.S. population and supporting environmental protections at higher rates than whites, on average people of color have not broken the 16% “green ceiling” in the environmental organizations surveyed. Non-profit boards were only 5% people of color. Unconscious bias, discrimination, and insular recruiting were identified as the top three reasons why leaders of color face barriers to hiring and retention in the mainstream movement.

Due to her research findings, Dr. Taylor received national acclaim and significant financial support to implement programs that take concrete steps to address these issues. Dr. Taylor has prioritized her work to diversify the environmental field through efforts at SEAS and through programs that support diversity in the field on a national scope.

Within the school, SEAS DEI Program Manager Sonia Joshi facilitates workshops on topics ranging from social identities, tokenism/ spokesperson, intercultural awareness and partnering across differences to promote inclusion for students and staff; hosts SEAS-wide multi-cultural events and activities to create a sense of community and inclusion within the Dana Building; and offers on-going individual and community support to students, staff and faculty. She also co-created the DEI Leads Community of Practice for DEI practitioners university-wide to support each other and share program ideas in an effort to further implement diversity, equity and inclusion within the university.

Kafi Laramore-Josey is Program Manager for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (DDCSP), a two-summer undergraduate diversity program, based at U-M, that serves as a pipeline for underrepresented students to pursue admission into SEAS or other environmental programs for graduate work. During its first two years, 40 undergraduate students from universities and colleges across the country spent their summers conducting research with faculty at U-M and working in local environmental organizations, including the Ecology Center, National Wildlife Federation, Legacy Land Conservancy, Huron River Watershed Council, Growing Hope, Clean Energy Coalition, and the Sierra Club.

In a parallel program, Dr. Taylor and Molly Lutton facilitate the Environment Fellows Program (EFP), which places select underrepresented graduate students from universities across the country at environmental philanthropic organizations and national environmental non-governmental organizations, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, for a paid summer fellowship. In its first two years of programming, 40 graduate students have been part of EFP, including 11 SEAS students.

This multipronged effort to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in and across the university and the nation has been instrumental in creating a pipeline for underrepresented environmental scholars to enter into environmental professions. Through this work, the shift has begun to make the environmental field more inclusive and equitable for those from underrepresented backgrounds.