FAS faculty dream up, plan for Environmental Justice curriculum

A small group gathered last week for the first of three Climate in the Curriculum retreats. Photo by Daniel Alain Evrard

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A group of faculty led by Jason Beckfield, the Robert G. Stone Jr. Professor of Sociology, gathered last week for the first of three pilot retreats organized by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Office of Undergraduate Education and the FAS Dean’s Office. The two-day brainstorm and professional development opportunity focused on developing curricula in the emerging field of Environmental Justice, or the convergence of environmental concerns with equity and civil rights.

It’s an area of interest not only for Beckfield, a researcher known for his work on social stratification, population health, and climate change. “Our sense is that undergraduate students are increasingly interested in Environmental Justice specifically,” Beckfield said.

The retreat brought together at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod six faculty members and two graduate students from across the FAS. Represented departments included anthropology, history, government, philosophy, and sociology. Tamarra James-Todd, the Mark and Catherine Winkler Associate Professor of Environmental Reproductive Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, also joined the conversation.

Sociology Professor Jason Beckfield, left, led the retreat.
Sociology Professor Jason Beckfield (left) led the retreat. Photo by Daniel Alain Evrard

“She was the real expert on Environmental Justice in the room,” noted Beckfield, who also serves as associate director of the Chan School’s Center for Population and Development Studies.

The agenda included guest speaker Hiʻilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart, an assistant professor at Yale University with expertise in Indigenous Studies and food justice. According to Beckfield, “she gave an inspiring talk on how she thinks about her pedagogy in this space.”

The 2022 Future of Climate Education at Harvard University report called for an all-hands-on-deck approach to expanding climate-focused offerings, with lines of inquiry that incorporate multiple disciplines. In response, the FAS Dean’s Office and Office of Undergraduate Education tapped Beckfield to put together its first Climate in the Curriculum faculty retreat. By then, Beckfield was already engaged in Environmental Justice conversations with Social Sciences Dean and W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences Lawrence D. Bobo.

The retreat yielded new approaches to classes, seminars, and cross-campus collaborations. As select ideas come to life, close observers will spot the Environmental Justice theme cropping up across newsletters, event listings, and the College course catalogue.

Over the next two summers, the FAS Dean’s Office and Office of Undergraduate Education will fund more climate-focused retreats in off-campus settings that bring faculty closer to nature.

“When you’re in a setting like Woods Hole,” Beckfield shared, “it’s a lot easier to stay focused on climate.”

FAS faculty interested in leading or participating can learn more on the Office of Undergraduate Education webpage.