The events of 2020 — the latest string of racial violence against Black Americans and the groundswell of popular support for the Movement for Black Lives, compounded with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a public health crisis that disproportionately affects people of color — compel our office, as individuals and as a unit, to accelerate current commitments and transform our work.
At the root of today’s intersectional crises is centuries-old structural racism, which manifests as income inequality, healthcare inequality, underfunded schools, mass incarceration and environmental injustice in communities of color. We can’t solve the climate crisis (or any environmental issue) without solving the inequality crisis in this country. We can’t achieve sustainability without achieving justice.
Dismantling the system of racial injustice that plagues our country requires directly confronting the culture of white supremacy, including the white privilege that manifests itself in the historical and continued exclusion of people of color from the environmental movement.
We have identified concrete ways that we can build on our past equity work to make our efforts and our community more deliberately anti-racist. It has taken centuries to create systemic racism and the climate crisis, and it will take very strategic and dedicated effort to address them.
In recent years, we have been engaged in a journey to elevate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Some of our recent and current work includes:
- Offering events and programming on topics of social justice, environmental justice, food justice, climate justice, etc.
- Drafting an Inclusive Events & Speaker Selection Policy to formalize and create accountability measures, and to ensure resources are allocated in alignment with DEI commitments.
- Hosting an internship program that recruits and hires a diverse student workforce and hosts two summer paid internship positions for graduates of the College Prep program.
- Developing a communication approach that expands the definition of “environmental impacts” to include social and health impacts, recognizing that these are one in the same.
- Centralizing resources on environmental justice on the OOS website.
- Proactively seeking partnership and working in coordination with colleagues and units across WashU that advance equity: College Prep Program, the CDI, Buder Center, Gephardt Institute, Office of Socially Engaged Practice, and others.
- OOS staff are required to take the “Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism” training provided by Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training and are encouraged to seek annual DEI professional development; staff have attended: Day of Dialogue & Action, HBCU Climate Change Conference, AASHE conferences, a 3-day workshop on DEI and sustainability, and numerous webinars.
- We coordinate with other WashU departments within the fields of Energy, Environment, and Sustainability on anti-racism transformation to learn from one another and hold each other accountable.
- We have collected anti-racism educational resources for our staff and curated a reading list connecting the dots between racial justice and the environment.
The Office of Sustainability desires to embed anti-racism and anti-oppression work in our unit’s strategic planning process and into the next university-wide Strategic Plan for Sustainable Operations (currently underway). In addition, we seek the support of partners to examine our unit’s policies, budget allocations and work culture (as we do the same) with the goal of clearly and transparently aligning them with our stated values on anti-racism and anti-oppression work. Focus areas include:
Continue to organize colleagues across WashU and within our networks to engage in learning so we have shared understanding and language around anti-racism, power dynamics, and transformation (keep bringing people in and along).
- Apply a Racial Equity lens to decisions, programs, and projects (Who is here? Who is missing? Who benefits? Who is harmed? What can we change to reduce disparate outcomes and impact?)
- Evaluate and assess the audiences of our programs and who benefits from our work to ensure that we are serving diverse populations, representative of the makeup of our community.
- Hire and retain staff & interns who are people of color.
- Review hiring practices to ensure a deliberately anti-racist, equitable process when hiring professional staff.
- Model anti-racist values and practice for students.
- Normalize a culture that increases the sense of belonging for our staff, students, and guests (e.g., accommodating staff with family or dependent care, what days and times of days events are held to increase access and inclusion, ensuring access to gender inclusive bathrooms and nursing facilities).
- Adopt and implement the Inclusive Events Policy. Once developed, offer as a model for event planners across campus through Green Event Resources and other partnerships.
- Collect & report on data disaggregated by race for programming where possible.
- Articulate and emphasize the social outcome of proposals as a tool to influence university leadership (alongside environmental impact, return on investment, and positive PR).
The Office of Sustainability recognizes that diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to the work of our unit, our partners and ultimately to the success of the collective movements for social and systemic change.
We defer to the leadership and expertise of WashU’s Academy for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (“The Academy”) to guide our understanding and expressions of values around diversity, equity and inclusion. The Academy defines these terms as follows:
- Diversity refers to demographic and representation. Consideration of diversity includes, but is not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, physical ability, and socio-economic status.
- Equity focuses on outcomes.
- Inclusion focuses on making sure diverse individuals can bring their whole selves to the workplace and decision-making spaces, and that their voices are valued.
As a team, we strive to create a work environment, programming, and collaborations that reflect a commitment to these values. If we are falling short, please connect with us and we will work to understand how we can do better.
For more details and context on diversity, equity, and inclusion, refer to page 22 of the Academy’s orientation document.
This webpage is intended to be a living document where we articulate our commitment to social justice and our ongoing work to make the Office of Sustainability a better place for all. To date, we have not done enough to address white supremacy culture within our department and within the sustainability movement, and we acknowledge that we must do more. The content above outlines our commitment to learn, grow, and act, and begins to create a structure to hold us accountable.
We have drawn inspiration and continue to learn from many colleagues. We would especially like to recognize the following for their thought-leadership and mentorship: Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne, Eleanor Pardini, The Academy, Tyson Research Center, Post Landfill Action Network.