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Students of colour views on racial equity in environmental sustainability

Abstract

Racial and ethnic diversity in environmental sustainability advances social equity and innovation, solving social-ecological crises. Yet, Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) remain underrepresented in sustainability fields despite high environmental concern. Universities provide pathways to sustainability careers and help diversify the field by making programmes more equitable and inclusive for racially minoritized students. Toward this end, we interviewed undergraduate BIPOC students in interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability degree programmes about their experiences. Their observations reflect a legacy of systemic racism that persists today within environmentalism. Many described motivations connecting ecological and social well-being but lamented limited interdisciplinary and global perspectives in the curriculum. Experiences of discrimination, lack of relatability and limited discussions of race led to feeling isolated and excluded. Support networks, extracurricular participation and BIPOC-specific opportunities improved student inclusion and belonging. BIPOC students hold knowledge unapparent to non-marginalized groups that illuminates pathways to racial equity in environmental sustainability.

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Fig. 1: BIPOC student experiences of exclusion and inclusion within environmental majors.
Fig. 2: Programme characteristics influence BIPOC students’ sense of isolation or belonging.

Data availability

The authors declare that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the paper and Supplementary Tables.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to P. Metzler for assisting in the creation of Fig. 1. This work is supported financially by a National Science Foundation Grant (DEB-1844531) to V.B.C.

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Authors

Contributions

C.E., B.R., T.S. and V.B.C. conceived the study. C.E., B.R., M.E. and J.M. conducted focus group interviews and provided editorial comments. J.M., M.H., A.H. and K.S. conducted analyses. T.S. wrote the paper with contributions from M.H. and K.S. All authors provided editorial comments on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tania M. Schusler.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Guide for semistructured interviews.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Tables

Illustrative quotes organized by thematic category (Tables 1–4).

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Schusler, T.M., Espedido, C.B., Rivera, B.K. et al. Students of colour views on racial equity in environmental sustainability. Nat Sustain 4, 975–982 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00759-7

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