For more information about the “Equity in EE” Learning Community that came out of the June 2018 Center for Diversity and the Environment‘s “Building the Foundation: Exploring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” course, please visit http://eeanm.org/equity-in-ee. And we at EENM are grateful for the time and support that the Center for Diversity and the Environment has invested in us!
Updated March 2020: As we endeavor to support authentic and meaningful educational opportunities for all New Mexican students, we embrace diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice as central to our work. Our organization is listening, learning, and taking action to become more equitable and inclusive in order to support the transformation of the field of environmental education. Currently, our leadership (EENM Board of Directors and staff) is digging deep to support individual growth around diversity, equity, and inclusion. This involves developing an understanding of the structural inequalities and power and privilege dynamics that influence education in New Mexico. Also, this means celebrating and amplifying the organizations who are reflective of the communities that they represent and ensuring that we listen and learn from educators doing work in areas like environmental justice, cultural ways of knowing, and civic education.
Through our efforts to shift our organization, we have begun applying a lens of equity and inclusion to all facets of our work. In practice, this looks like the following examples:
- Shifting organizational culture
- Broadening the definition of environmental education to value the many who provide access to the outdoors for youth and environmental learning including those in environmental justice, community engagement, health and wellbeing, outdoor recreation, and conservation.
- Recognizing that compensation, including salary, of educators is an issue of equity and supporting fair compensation of EENM staff along with strongly encouraging other New Mexican organizations and agencies to do the same
- Rethinking hiring processes including how job descriptions are written and marketed along with valuing worked and lived experiences. This also includes updating our interview process and embedding transparency into compensation
- Creating a clear recruitment process for our Board of Directors that values diversity of perspective and experience along with reflecting our organizational values. Redefining our Board of Directors and staff as the “EENM Leadership Team” to reflect shared power
- Taking time to reflect on current organizational culture and strategize how to shift culture to value all perspectives
- Defining organizational values – https://eeanm.org/eeanms-organizational-values/ (draft finalized by the community in fall 2018)
- Opening organizational decision making to be more inclusive and transparent
- Opening action teams and planning groups to community members beyond staff and Board members
- Giving community members active roles in designing and planning our gatherings, with staff and board members serving in a supportive role
- Restructuring our work to be community-centered and responsive, such as having our community co-create the Best Practices Tool for EE Program Development
- Supporting our community to lead our strategic planning process and define our mission, vision, and strategic direction (completed in 2019)
- Providing space for learning and growth
- Using more inclusive language when opening meetings, such as acknowledging ancestral lands, and evolving our language and approach as we learn more
- Launching a learning community to provide a space to continue to explore diversity, equity, and inclusion (http://eeanm.org/equity-in-ee)
- Visioning what an equitable field of EE could look like: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uYwwjPPdy8xLhzMlkm4KO8RPYLlSRBr4PtTbfqrayN0/edit?usp=sharing and https://eeanm.org/programs/summit/
We recognize that we are still at the beginning stages of this journey, and that this vital work is never finished. Our efforts will continue to evolve as we engage in dialogue and reflection around our vision for a more equitable future.
During our 2017 Environmental Literacy Summit, we asked our community the following questions:
- Why is diversity, equity, and inclusion important to our community?
- What is next for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in our community?
Here are the responses from our community: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Breakout Conversations
We have received questions about why EEANM is investing time and energy in this work internally and for our EE community. Below are some of the questions we have received along with our responses. For more research and resources on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, please visit the Center for Diversity & the Environment’s resource page.
“I don’t see how diversity, equity, and inclusion work is relevant to the field of EE. It doesn’t have a practical application to my day-to-day work.”
- New Mexico is a state rich in diversity—over 50% of our population is comprised of people of color, and about 75% of youth are youth of color.1 However, environmental educators in New Mexico (and nationwide) are predominately white women. In order to develop students with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to be responsible stewards of the environment, we need a movement that appeals to and benefits people from all walks of life. That means that we need to provide EE experiences that are relevant to and inclusive of the widest possible audience.
- Countless studies show that communities of color care about and support environmental issues.2 We know that many communities who have not historically been a part of mainstream environmentalism have played a vital role in caring for the natural world. In New Mexico, there is a deep well of traditional environmental knowledge and a strong history of environmental justice that can inform and strengthen EE programming. Acknowledging, respecting, and incorporating these perspectives will help us to broaden our public support and network of partners, become more adaptable and resilient to change, and ultimately allow us to have a larger and longer-term impact.
- We have a responsibility to ensure that EE programs are operating in an equitable and inclusive way, and that all students, regardless of background, are receiving high quality, relevant, and fulfilling EE opportunities. Everyone has a right to connect with nature and to experience the lifetime benefits to health and happiness that come with a relationship to the outdoors.
“I don’t see the importance of focusing on my own attitudes and perspectives. We need organizational, not individual change.”
- Diversifying an organization is a difficult, ongoing process that takes time. In order for diversity efforts to be sustainable, they must work hand-in-hand with cultural change in an organization. Cultural change requires looking at diversity on a continuous basis, interweaving diversity efforts throughout organizational operations, addressing power dynamics, and creating a workplace where all staff feel seen and valued. This is impossible without the full investment of every staff member and authentic, trusting relationships between staff members and communities of color. In essence, if individuals don’t change, the organization they represent cannot change either.
- The field of EE is ultimately made up of our individual perspectives, values, beliefs, and actions. Therefore, we have a primary responsibility for transforming ourselves before attempting to transform the broader field of EE.
“But kids are kids, and EE (as it is) works for everyone.”
- Access to nature and environmental education should not be a matter of privilege, and yet many communities experience barriers to recreating and learning outdoors. EE can and should help to break down these barriers and ensure that everyone feels comfortable, safe, and welcome outside.
- EE is most effective when it addresses issues relevant to its audience. However, by focusing on issues related to forest ecology, habitat conservation, or wilderness, we may be leaving out communities of students who rarely experience these environments. Students from urban environments, for example, might find other environmental issues—such as air and water pollution, toxic waste, and urban wildlife—more relevant to their lives. We have to ensure that those setting the EE agenda are crafting programs that have broad accessibility and that are inclusive with regard to content, communication, learning styles, and respect for other ways of knowing.
- The notion of sustainability encompasses environmental integrity, as well as social equity, shared prosperity, and cultural vitality. Many EE programs leave out these social and cultural aspects of sustainability, despite the interconnectedness between natural and human communities. EE and multicultural education have the potential to connect through values such as (natural and human) diversity, belonging (to a place or community), respect and compassion, justice and equality, empowerment, societal reform, and global perspective.3
- We have to take the time to meet communities where they live, listen to their needs, and offer EE opportunities that are responsive and relevant to them. Students should be able to see themselves in their education. Otherwise, they may not be willing to invest in critical and challenging environmental issues. In this way, cultural responsiveness and environmental literacy are intimately connected.
- U.S. Census Bureau, 2010.
- Bonta and Jordan, 2005.
- Nordstrom, 2008.