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Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Duke Environment

There is a real gap in representation of low-income and BIPOC communities in Duke. The UEU is working with our Board Members, the Nicholas School for the Environment, and Sustainable Duke to bring more DEI&J and environmental justice programming to Duke at large. The UEU started the Environmental Justice Campus Committee (EJCC) in the fall of 2020 to better address campus environmental justice. Additionally, an EJ Symposium and other collaborations with different affinity groups were held last spring which aimed to bring career panels and events to Duke's diverse communities. The long term goal of the EJCC is to better incorporate environmental justice into administrative processes at Duke via curriculum changes, anti-racism initiatives, etc. The emphasis is on conversation, on recruitment, and to the creation of infrastructure dedicated to bringing in and supporting diverse individuals who are interested in environmental and EJ themes. 


Environmental Justice Campus Committee

Year Initiated: 2020-2021

We’re operating at a time of great stress and great social change. The BLM protests in 2020 finally initiated to a new level a dialogue within institutions, business, and communities that is crucial for effectively and equitably supporting communities of color, communities of diverse identity, and society as a whole. 


That being said, we feel that this is a moment to also engage in conversations of environmental justice and environmental health. Environmental degradation and the harmful extractive processes that dominate our economies, also perpetuate systems of inequality, inequity, and hazardous health that disproportionately impacts traditionally marginalized communities. 


We’ve seen this in North Carolina as we’ve seen it across the country and in countries all over the world. This is a longstanding, global issue of environmental mistreatment of low-income communities and communities of color. And Duke as both a promoter of environmental education and conscientiousness, as well as a globally recognizable brand prided for it’s international opportunities and connections, could do more to engage it’s communities and its students in conversations of environmental and racial justice. 


To ensure that conversations and education around environmental justice issues remains a priority at Duke for years, decades even, to come, the UEU has brought together representatives from Duke departments (both environmentally-centered and culturally-centered departments), Duke’s administrative and engagement entities (diversity centers), and environmentally, culturally, and racially-centered student organizations to form a committee on environmental justice. 


The purpose of this committee is to discuss what Duke has done/is doing in this space, what Duke could do better, and ensure that topics of racial and environmental justice are pervasive throughout undergraduate academia and programming as well as with conversations with Durham. 


The hope is that the Undergraduate Environmental Union could come in as a facilitator and moderator for committee conversations, with all participants acting on equal ground with a democratic system for decision making and sharing. 


Starting in the fall of 2020, the UEU began reaching out to faculty, student organizations, and administrators to put together a board for the Environmental Justice Campus Committee. Since then, the EJCC had met periodically throughout the spring semester to develop further environmental goals and benchmarks at Duke. Additionally sub-committees were formed to work on specific tasks relating to environmental justice, such as Duke-Durham relations, curriculum development, and event planning. 


  • Collaboration - We see this space as an opportunity for student groups, centers and entities who may not usually work together to come together and find opportunities to collaborate on programs, events, etc. Think of this space, first and foremost, as an opportunity to expand the EJ options within your own community and to share events and opportunities with other section of Duke.

  • Curriculum development - We would like to look into creating additional opportunities for EJ academic engagement. This would mean creating new, interdepartmental coursework centering around environmental justice and utilizing the knowledge and skills of multiple departments or centers, or finding opportunities to incorporate EJ themes into existing coursework and requirements. 

  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion - Duke’s environmental community could do much better in the way of diversity and representation. We see this committee as a great opportunity to bring environmental opportunity directly to the doorstep of Duke’s diverse student body, and to bring themes of justice, race, and culture to the environmental student body. We hope to put together a series of DEI events in the Spring that will introduce incoming freshmen and students of color and diverse backgrounds or identity to Duke’s environmental and cultural spaces. We hope that this committee can help in that endeavor. 

  • Major programming - EJ events are an important component of this committee. We see the primary event being an EJ symposium hosted in the fall with the help, support, and sponsorship of all the entities here. Something that keeps the community engaged with EJ themes outside of the classroom. 

  • EJ faculty opportunities - There has been talk of bringing in EJ faculty in the Nicholas School, a costly endeavor. We would like to propose a residential lecturer program facilitated by this committee. This program would bring in an EJ advocate from North Carolina to act as a residential lecturer, helping to fill in gaps in current EJ coursework or events. This not only gives those community members working on the front lines in this work the opportunity to share their wisdom with the student body, but it allows all departments or centers to split the cost for such an endeavor. This would be a rotating position. 

  • Duke accountability - We would like this committee to eventually be considered the go to for sustainability and justice based decision making at Duke. If a decision around issues like hog waste, renewable energy, the light rail (just to name old examples) comes up in Duke administration, it should come before this committee to make recommendations on the best ways to limit harmful impact to Durham or North Carolina residents. 

  • Inter-institutional/community accountability - We would eventually like this to take the form of a committee that brings together community members (from Durham) and representatives from other institutions to discuss cross-institutional decision making and accountability. In essence, this would be a space that ensures all local/regional institutions and decision-making bodies are being considerate, deliberate, and inclusive in their programming. 


Environmental Justice Symposium 2021

This event is a partnership between the UEU, the Office of Sustainability and Green Devils, Duke Conservation Tech, Blue Devils United, and members of the Muslim Student Association, sponsored by the Duke Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program.

Environmental justice is a topic of growing importance in the U.S. and around the world. As the environmental movement comes to terms with its racist history and as students, faculty, and staff at Duke work to bring EJ topics to the forefront of campus programming and academic opportunities, we're working to create an annual "showcase" for those interested in the intersection of the environmental and social justice.

The Environmental Justice Symposium 2020 was a large scale virtual gathering in Spring 2021 filled with keynote speakers, guest lecturers, networking sessions and "coffee chats", round robin presentations, and pre-recorded testimonials, all touching on environmental justice issues and solutions in North Carolina, the U.S., and around the world. It will bring together experts in the field and advocates working at the forefront of EJ problems to provide a space for broader discussion of environmental injustice.

Click here to view the EJ symposium website. This includes the bios for all the presenting speakers in addition to recordings of all the talks given during the symposium. We hope to make an environmental justice symposium will be a recurring yearly event.


  • Continuation of conversation - We see this event as the next big staple for student engagement at Duke. The UEU has been working hard to bring EJ topics to the forefront of Duke spaces, and we want this space to act as a catalyst for long lasting EJ conversations and collaborations. Ultimately, this program is a big conversation between people around the world. We see an event like this as a continuation of the discussions we've already started and the potential back bone for EJ at Duke. 

  • Student and alumni engagement - This is not just a communication space but a networking event. Environmental justice opportunities at Duke are not easily accessible or well known. For those students looking to do work at the intersection of environment and social justice, this is an opportunity to speak with people in the field and discuss this issue in-depth. ​

  • International partnerships - The biggest goal of this event is to expand conversations of environmental justice to encompass global environmental degradation and the mistreatment of "extractive" communities around the world and predominantly in the global south and on BIPOC communities. 

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