How do scholars build justice and equity into their research? We asked five Gund Fellows—all of whom are tackling these critical questions in their environmental research—to share practical advice and lessons for faculty and students.
The five UVM scholars offered 11 tips— ranging from the need for self-reflection to the importance of collaboration—for cultivating a research focus on equity and justice. (See all 11 tips below.)
The researchers—Gund Fellows Leon Walls (CESS), Bindu Panikkar (RSENR), Pablo Bose (CAS), Rachelle Gould (RSENR), and Jesse Gourevitch (RSENR)—discussed their work and approaches at the Gund Institute for Environment’s recent panel discussion on Environment, Justice and Equity.
The event explored institutional racism and injustice and highlighted opportunities for learning and future collaboration. Presentations covered such topics as:
- Environmental health risks facing global refugee camps
- Environmental justice in Vermont
- A new environmental science curriculum for K-12 BIPOC students
- How losing nature disproportionally impacts people of color
- Five trends that are increasing equity and inclusion in ecosystem services research
Tips for building justice and equity into research
After the event, we asked our five panelists to share their advice for researchers wanting to build a focus on equity and justice into their own work. Here’s what they had to say:
- Educate yourself. Explore the equity and social justice work that has preceded you. There is no shortage of insightful viewpoints available.
- Study your field’s history. Investigate the history of your field and any prejudices that may be intertwined with foundational figures, findings, approaches, or beliefs. Acknowledge these and work to address their implications.
- Self-reflect. Engage in regular self-reflection about positionality and power. What are you able to say and do because of your position in society, in your research community, or with respect to people who are affected by your research?
- Collaborate. Don’t go it alone. Make equity issues a recurrent topic of conversation. Ask your colleagues how they are working to address equity issues, share what you are doing, and discuss sources of confusion, uncertainty, or discomfort.
- Don’t make assumptions. Try not to assume you already know the answers; be open to being surprised and challenged even if pathways and approaches seem self-evident at the outset of the work.
- Prioritize stakeholders. You may know why YOU want to do the work or think a particular question is significant, but ask why community partners or stakeholders might want to work with you. What do they gain from the collaboration? What is being extracted from them in the process? Beware of how holding onto ideology can obscure your vision of the complicated, intersectional, and often contradictory existences that we all share.
- Embed equity in your process. Consider how you can you address equity-related issues in recruiting students, deciding where and how to publish, sharing your work beyond academic publications, conducting fieldwork, etc.
- Be clear. Be clear for yourself and others what equity and social justice means to you. If equity and social justice are important, then they can be nothing less than core values and not afterthoughts. Your work should reflect this core value prominently.
- Find your methodological lens. For one panelist, Critical Race Theory (CRT) was nothing short of transformational, providing them with researchable questions and plausible answers.
- Disaggregate benefits and costs related to environmental change among individuals and groups within society. Who is made better and who is left worse off, and why? Without understanding these distributions, it is difficult to enhance equity and justice in environmental decision-making.
- Get started. Tackling issues of environmental equity and justice in research does not necessarily require major methodological or conceptual advancements. Too often, issues of equity and justice are placed on the backburner or are an afterthought in environmental research. But in many cases, addressing these issues is simply a matter of prioritizing them in your research.