Racial Justice and Equity in Environmental Science and Beyond

Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $1,000

Letter of Intent:


Amid the ongoing protests that followed the death of George Floyd, the student-led Diversity and Inclusion Group (DIG) in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences organized a department-wide conversation on race. Participating graduate students, faculty, postdoctoral researchers and department staff discussed problems and solutions within small groups and a consensus emerged that, as a precursor to becoming more anti-racist, we must educate ourselves about the history and the present day manifestation of racism within our field. Following this meeting, a smaller group of department members participated in a student-led reading group about race in academia. Motivated by the fruitful discussions in this reading group and a desire to engage a larger portion of the department in this conversation, we created a special topics class for Autumn quarter For the first time in its history, our department will offer students academic credit for learning about issues of racism and equity as they relate to our field. DIG recognizes that as atmospheric scientists we can practice anti-racism in two primary ways. First, we can work to make a more inclusive environment within our own field. Second, we can take into account the systemic inequities that exist when developing our studies and when we inform policy decisions. The latter mission is consistent with goal 10 of the UN sustainable development goals, which states that, “To reduce inequalities, policies should be universal in principle, paying attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized populations.” We have identified five main topic areas for our course: 1) Indigenous rights 2) Environmental justice in cities 3) The history of scientific racism 4) Climate Justice and the global south 5) Whiteness, science, and academia Our course will focus on guest speakers and will be made broadly accessible to the entire Department of Atmospheric Sciences. We are currently recruiting at least one guest speaker to speak to each of our five focus areas. Some of these topics are best addressed by non-academic speakers, such as climate justice activists or employees at non-profit organizations. Giving an honorarium to speakers not only shows our appreciation for their work but also compensates them for their time. Moreover, it allows us to recruit more diverse speakers who may not have community outreach and service built into their salaries as many academics do. With the support of our department chair, we have leveraged virtual learning to our advantage to ensure that all interested department members will be able to participate in this course. In a typical quarter, the Atmospheric Sciences department has two seminars each week, which are consistently attended by much of the department. The chair has allowed us to use the time slot of one of these science seminars for our course. Additionally, a virtual platform allows us to recruit a more diverse set of speakers as the burden of traveling to the department to deliver a talk in person is removed.


The immediate impact of this project will be realized within the Atmospheric Sciences department. Initial evaluations of success will be based on the number of attendees and the level of engagement from department members. Another short-term goal will be to foster broader faculty and community participation in DIG. DIG is student-led and has primarily been a graduate student group, but is open to all department members. Our short-term goal is that this course increases the number of people regularly attending DIG meetings, and doubles the number of faculty and administrative staff attendees (2-3 additional attendees). A medium-term measure of impact is an increased focus on anti-racism in the Atmospheric Sciences curriculum in future quarters. This is the first time that the Atmospheric Sciences department will offer a formal course on race and equity. The materials that we develop for this course can be used again for future courses on this topic and components of the course can also be interwoven into the required science curriculum. Thus, our medium-term goal is to create an accessible archive of our materials (including slides, readings and recorded lectures) at the conclusion of the course. Our long-term goal is that this course and the discussions and actions that follow it lead to higher representation of underrepresented groups within the student body and the faculty of the Atmospheric Sciences department. However, due to small sample sizes and slow turnover, we will only be able to evaluate changes in racial diversity on the timescale of multiple years. If this project is funded, we will use departmental funds to invite a keynote speaker in addition to our other five speakers, such as Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, that will likely solicit broad interest throughout the College and university. We plan to open and advertise the keynote speaker to a broader audience so that members of our College and the university at large can participate. Additionally, this course will provide a template that other departments can follow if they wish to design a similar course in future quarters. Our best quantitative tools for measuring the impact that this course has had on the culture of the Atmospheric Sciences department, the College of the Environment, and the University of Washington, are the University Climate Survey and the College of the Environment’s Culture Survey. Finally, we have invited academics and activists from the Seattle area who have not engaged with our department before to be guest speakers for our course. We hope that our discussions with these speakers initiate more longstanding communication and collaboration between our department and other academic departments as well as activists in the Seattle area who focus on climate justice, urban environmentalism and anti-racism.


  1. $200; Honorarium; Guest speaker on the topic of indigenous rights
  2. $200; Honorarium; Guest speaker on the topic of environmental justice in cities
  3. $200; Honorarium; Guest speaker on the topic of the history of scientific racism
  4. $200; Honorarium; Guest speaker on the topic of climate justice and the global south
  5. $200; Honorarium; Guest speaker on the topic of whiteness, science, and academia
Primary Contact First & Last Name: Rachel Atlas