If you are a member of KACEE, we probably have a lot in common. As Environmental Educators, we believe in the power of environmental education (EE) to change the world. We are life-long learners. We challenge the minds of the people we educate and hopefully even inspire some changes in behavior. We are innovators and we know that “rising tides lift all boats.” We want to reach all children through EE—children of all ages, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and gender and sexual orientation—so that all may develop and foster a relationship with the natural world.
How can we reach such a diverse audience? It is our job to make sure that the children we teach see a reflection of themselves experiencing nature and working in the field of science. Unfortunately, the reality is that many people of color don’t feel safe or welcome in places like nature centers, parks, and outdoor spaces—or even in science academia. For the past several years, I have been working to be more inclusive and do my part to encourage the children and college students I teach (who are from all backgrounds) to enter into the field of environmental education.
Recent events have made the importance of that work even more apparent. I realize that simply encouraging isn’t enough; I need to continue educating myself on how to best be an ally for people of color, and elevate and promote the voices of scientific and environmental professionals in the Black community.
I am a white woman from a small community in Kansas. Growing up I was rarely exposed to the realities of racism in the United States, having known very few Black people and living in a bubble of white privilege. While my childhood wasn’t always easy, I was never discriminated against because of the color of my skin. I will never fully understand what it is like to be a person of color living in a white dominant culture.
So, to educate myself on racial equity issues, where do I even start? It seems overwhelming and a bit uncomfortable. I think it is helpful to start small—and I want to share with you one of the resources that helped me get started on this work. As a biologist, college instructor, and Director of Pittsburg State University's Nature Reach program, I was drawn to a podcast episode that highlights the stories of Black ‘-ologists’ in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The episode, BlackAFinSTEM, was published on June 10, 2020 by my favorite podcast series, Ologies with Alie Ward.
If you have never listened to Ologies, you are in for a real treat. Science Communicator Alie Ward seeks to “elevate scientists to be like rock stars.” She interviews scientists about themselves and their work. In turn, listeners get to hear not only about the person behind the science, but also about entertaining, wondrous, and amazing facts about animals and things you never dreamed would be interesting. It is a true delight.
The June 10th episode features thirty “-ologists” who are @BlackAFinSTEM. These Black scientists share their own mini-stories and discuss ‘everything from electric fish snouts to turtle butts, falcon facts, birding tips, what it is like being #BlackintheIvory (meaning Black in academia), what they’d like allies and future Black scientists to know and more.’ Black birder, wildlife ecologist, and friend of NAAEE, Dr. J. Drew Lanham, is quoted in the episode; if you aren’t yet familiar with Dr. Lanham’s work, you can learn more about him here. Through KACEE, I have had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Lanham speak on topics such as connecting with nature as a way to relieve stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I share this podcast episode as a resource for the KACEE community to learn more about Black professionals in environmental education, and as an introduction to some of the barriers they face in environmental work and the outdoors, in an engaging and low-pressure way. I think this episode is a great jumping-off point to further our racial equity self-education, learning, and action.
I hope you will take the time to listen to this podcast—It is worth every minute. It’s a start, and it makes me hopeful that the future of environmental education will be a more inclusive and welcoming space, with more representation across race and ethnicity, as well as gender, sexual orientation, and people of all abilities.
KACEE Board Secretary
Pittsburg State University Instructor
Director, PSU Nature Reach Program