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University launches the Center for Environment, Community, and Equity

Community members involved in environmental disciplines gathered to share ideas on the center’s future

American University’s new Center for Environment, Community, and Equity held its campus-wide launch event Oct. 20. Students, faculty and staff from various environmental disciplines were introduced to the center’s leadership and their vision for the function of the CECE. The event closed with remarks from keynote speaker Maxine Burkett, deputy assistant secretary for oceans, fisheries and polar affairs for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. 

The CECE will facilitate collaboration between different schools and departments working to solve issues related to the environment. Simon Nicholson, associate professor in the School of International Service and director of the CECE, described the center as a solution to a communication problem at AU. 

“The new cross-campus Center for Environment, Community, and Equity was born out of a pretty simple observation — we have amazing people at AU doing environmental work, and we don't know each other,” Nicholson said. 

The event was held so student and faculty researchers who are interested in engaging in an interdisciplinary network could come together to envision its structure. The CECE’s Assistant Director and Operations Manager, Justine Williams, said the center’s leadership are interested in receiving input from the community about how to best form the CECE.

“We are most excited for attendees to feel excited about the opportunities and about working with us to co-create our roadmap for the year and beyond,” she said.

Associate Director of the CECE and associate professor of environmental science Sauleh Siddiqui said that within the environmental disciplines, there have been informal attempts at communication across campus for years, but that there had always been the desire for something structured that would more effectively facilitate collaboration.

The Center for Environment, Community, and Equity’s leadership says the center will utilize interdisciplinary collaboration to emphasize intersectionality in the conversation about environmental issues. Diana Burley, the vice provost of research and innovation at AU and a professor of public policy, said the CECE is going to push research at AU to approach issues while appreciating their complexity.

“The world doesn't exist in disciplinary silos. We do at universities, but that's not how the world exists,” Burley said. “The fact that CECE is able to attack these problems from a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary perspective just makes it all more powerful.” 

Malini Ranganathan, a faculty affiliate on the CECE and an associate professor in SIS, said that she hopes the center will emphasize receiving input from the community. 

“It's really imperative that community voices lead research priorities, and our students are demanding this of us,” Ranganathan said. “It's not about experts trying to dictate research ideas to communities, but community voices leading the design of research. That is what it means to actually decolonize research.”

Mollie Russell, who is completing a master’s degree in sustainability management at the Kogod School of Business, is also hoping to see community engagement being a focal point of the CECE. 

“I work for the Office of Zero Waste, [and] there’s really not a glue between that and the actual academic departments,” Russell said. “I’m hoping that [CECE] fulfills its vision of being that.”

Faculty members are another part of the community who the CECE hopes to engage on this project. Claudia Persico, an assistant professor with the Department of Public Administration and Policy, said she hopes to see the center bring faculty together with other groups to foster collaborative thinking.  

“They can provide pots of money for faculty and students to work together,” Persico said.“They can facilitate research, and that research can have community dimension.”

Nicholson emphasized that the end goal is to push AU to create a lasting impact on solving environmental issues.

“At the moment, we are not, as a campus, having the impact that we ought to be having, given the talent of the people that we have. The center is going to help to fix that, is my hope. But at the moment, it’s a promise,” Nicholson said. “What we need everybody here to do is to start coming to us with ideas, to start buying into the need for this type of effort on the campus and to give it support.”

wwhalen@theeagleonline.com 

Correction: Justine Williams' is the assistant director and operations manager of the CECE, not the executive director. 


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