SEAS Equity and Justice Initiative Update
In Fall 2020, SEAS launched the Equity and Justice Initiative (EJI), whose goal is to combat racist ideologies and practices within the environmental movement and foster a culture at SEAS, U-M, and within society that advances equal rights for all.
SEAS leadership, in tandem with the SEAS Black Student Body and the SEAS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, developed an extensive EJI plan in which they identified immediate and long-term actionable goals for creating transformative change within the school, particularly for Black, marginalized, Indigenous, and underrepresented peoples.
“The initiative remains a top priority for SEAS,” said Dean Jonathan Overpeck, “and while much work remains ahead, it’s been wonderful to see steady progress, training, and programming to ensure we continue to learn and improve as a school.”
Included here are highlights of the EJI progress thus far. Read the most recent progress report here.
- SEAS has hired three new DEI staff, including a new Director of Diversity, Equity, and Community, Lauren Davis, who reports directly to Dean Overpeck to ensure DEI is at the highest level of leadership in the school. The other DEI team members are Vanesa Jackson, Program Manager for Graduate and Undergraduate Student Diversity Services, and Kristen Surla, DEI Recruitment and Training Specialist for Faculty and Staff Development.
- SEAS will be welcoming two new environmental justice experts to our faculty. They will teach in the Environmental Justice program and advise students. We are finalizing details now and will share more information soon.
- Several additional faculty searches are underway that are aimed at further enhancing DEI and justice expertise across SEAS, and SEAS has a proposal pending with the provost for a collaborative four-person faculty cluster hire with the School of Social Work, the School of Public Health, and the Ford School of Public Policy, all focused on anti-racism, the environment, and health.
- SEAS’ incoming student diversity numbers have increased, indicating that progress has been made towards achieving equitable representation in the SEAS student body. In Fall 2021, 20 percent of incoming master’s students were underrepresented minorities, as compared to 14 percent in Fall 2020.
- SEAS Communications has developed more than 20 stories to elevate BIPOC voices and issues. Stories include Professor Kyle Whyte: Advocating for Indigenous People and Environmental Justice, Redlining and Environmental Racism, and Rethinking the Conservation of National Parks.
- Teams of faculty and students are engaged in curriculum decolonizing efforts. The pilot program began a year ago and received funding to decolonize at least one course per specialization, with the primary goal of revising syllabus content. The same model was used during the Winter 2021 and Summer 2021 semesters. During the Fall 2021 semester, the program team has been collecting data from past student and faculty participants to restructure and improve the program model based on “lessons learned” from the 18 faculty who have worked on decolonizing their syllabi so far, and the approximately 20 students who supported them.