OSE Statement on Environmental Justice

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July 8, 2020


During the summer of 2020, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) issued statements condemning the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Ahmaud Arbery, and other victims of police brutality publicized and unpublicized. In these statements, CLAS also denounced the violent measures taken by law enforcement against peaceful protesters in Iowa City and throughout the United States and supported efforts on campus to further understand why these measures were taken and how to prevent them in the future. It is essential that steps are taken within all social systems, including government, higher education, and the private and public sector, to address the systemic racism and oppression that continues to perpetuate white supremacy. In the words of CLAS, “We must work together to break down the structures that continue to hurt and marginalize others and use our collective expertise to not only highlight the painful reality of racism and historic oppression, but also to collaborate in confronting it on a daily basis.”  

We, the Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE), acknowledge our role in the legacy of systemic racism and accept our responsibility to address the biases and inequities within our organization that contribute to racial injustices. We are compelled and committed to actively working to dismantle the constructs of systemic racism within the field of sustainability, on our campus, and in our community. As defined by the Brundtland Commission, a sustainable world is one “that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In this respect, sustainability, as a concept, transcends environmental concerns to place human wellbeing at the center of our common future. It is impossible to pursue environmental priorities, such as environmental justice, without recognizing and rectifying the deep racial and social inequalities that exist within our society, especially inequalities that stem from a legacy of systemic racism and its continued effects on Black and non-Black people of color. Environmental justice cannot be achieved without achieving justice for People of Color globally. The face of the environmental movement is undeniably monochromatic and unrepresentative of those facing the brunt of environmental issues. The environmental field has comfortably resided in racist systems. In order to create lasting change, this calls for recognition of privilege and detachment from systems that profit from racism. 

In order to create a truly sustainable world, we must commit our full support to the fight for social justice. As the representatives of the OSE, we believe that it is critical for our Office to embody and promote these values on campus and in our community. Our student interns put together the following action steps which have been adopted by our Office as a whole. 

Expand the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) section of the OSE Strategic Plan and create annual DEI action plans. 

Support initiatives of the Sustainability Charter Committee specifically related to inequities in the 2030 Sustainability goals to ensure equity for all members of our university.  These efforts include:

- An assessment of the DEI efforts of this committee and work with appropriate leaders of shared governance to ensure that the voices, insights, and knowledge of People of Color are represented and reflected in the committee’s work.

- An expansion of the Underrepresented Students in Sustainability program, with full time staff directly overseeing the program. 

- A charge to the 2030 Sustainability Goals Subcommittee, as well as our own Charter committee, to address possible inequities in the 2030 Sustainability Goals to ensure that all members of our campus and Hawkeye Community will reap the benefits from these targets. This includes bringing diverse participants into these conversations, committing to the expansion of the Underrepresented Students in Sustainability program, increasing Environmental Justice initiatives through academic work and research, and hiring and retaining diverse faculty, staff, and students.

- A charge to the 2030 Sustainability Goals Subcommittee to recognize that the University of Iowa is located on the unceded homelands of multiple indigenous nations, including the Báxoǰe (Ioway), Sauk (Sac), and Fox (Meskwaki). We ask that the Subcommittee advocate for and appropriately support the Native American Council in their creation of a land acknowledgment to ensure that these nations are justly recognized. As an institution, we must highlight and acknowledge the history    that has allowed for the growth of this university by continually building relationships, through scholarships – whether research or financial aid – partnerships, service, and education to further acknowledge the stolen land on which the University sits.

Expand funding opportunities for students from underrepresented populations to intern with the Office of Sustainability.  

Partner with the Center for Advancement on the creation of scholarships for underrepresented students to study sustainability.  

Collaborate with CLAS’s academic departments on classes that are under the OSE’s content focus to advocate for inclusion of the work of activists of color in syllabi. This can be done by actively working with professors to build lectures and teaching materials that avoid white washing sustainability history.   

The OSE recognizes that we all have a role in addressing racism in our community. We take responsibility for our shortcomings in addressing the racial inequalities that affect our students, faculty, and staff. As we move forward, we commit to create space for People of Color at our university, to offer our tools and resources to uplift communities, and to provide tangible assistance in the fight against systemic racism. These efforts will be made a priority and will be continued as a promise to our current and future students.