Published: Oct. 24, 2023 By ,

A group of students from the CU Masters of the Environment Graduate program works with administration to incorporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) principles and practices across all sectors of the program. The student-led DEI Committee strives to create systems level change by implementing DEI initiatives in the classroom, curriculum, student culture, hiring process, and admissions process. Tori Manogue, current DEI Committee student leader, is passionate about the intersectionality of climate and justice work. Isabel Lisle, second-year Urban Reslience and Sustainability student, sat down with Tori as she shared more about the formation of the group, past successful initiatives, and current project highlights. 

History and Formation 

In 2018, Cohort two and three started the DEI Committee to provide recommendations on culture and curriculum improvements within the program. The initial goals of this very first committee were to: host an environmental justice conference at SEEC; hire an environmental justice instructor for the core curriculum; integrate social justice views into classes; provide student training around unconscious bias and effective allyship; and make the program accessible and more affordable for more students. The group planted the seed for these ideas to take root among students and staff passionate about creating change within the program. Over the years, student leaders guided the group in creating the DEI Strategic Plan and resources like the MENV Anti-Racism Statement and Resource Guide

In the summer of 2022, Zachary Malley took over as leader of the DEI group to help it formalize. They worked with administration to create two graduate student assistant positions and an action group framework that involved 5 different student led committees: 1. Inclusive Culture and Community, 2. Curriculum, 3. Hiring and Retention, 4. Coordination, and 5. the Core Team. MENV provided a significant amount of funding for these projects to support student research, leadership, and events related to DEI initiatives. 

Recent Projects 

Last year, the DEI Committee was successful in carrying out a number of projects. The group advocated for and participated in the hiring process for the current Assistant Director of Diversity Affairs and Student Success, Michelle Cadena. Michelle holds a passion for educational justice, identity work, and advancing student success in higher education. The group also participated in and provided feedback for all new faculty and staff hiring. They sat in on interviews with potential candidates and asked them specific questions about their DEI commitments and lived experiences in regards to incorporating inclusivity in the classroom. 

The team also created a student feedback form wStudents roller skating at the DEI retreat at Rocky Mountain National Park. here students can submit anonymous feedback to administration that they might not be comfortable voicing aloud in the classroom. Currently, the administration is reviewing the survey and the intention is that Michelle Cadena receives these responses and addresses concerns voiced by students. 

In addition, the group planned, organized, and held a Spring JEDIA (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Access) in Action Retreat at YMCA of the Rockies (pictured left). This event was originally spearheaded by the VF Corporation Diversity Leadership Fellows and adapted by the DEI Committee. The weekend retreat in Estes Park proved a huge success with over 30 students in attendance. The guest speakers and workshops revolved around steps students could take towards applying JEDIA action principles in their personal and professional lives. 

  1. Taishya Adams, founder of the Mukuyu Collective, led a self reflection activity designed to ​​weave in ways to deepen personal and professional commitment to anti-racism, co-conspiratorship, and capacity building. Students used beads to reflect the different ethnicities and races represented in their circles of friends, groups of peers, and networks of connections. 

  2. Andrea Murdock, Chef, Founder, and Owner of Four Directions Cuisine, demonstrated how to prep, season and maintain one of Mesoamerica's most important kitchen tools, the molcajete. Students ground rice, made salsa, and learned about indigenous food preparation. 

  3. Crystal Egli, Co-founder and CEO of Inclusive Journeys and Board Member for Hunters of Color, taught a workshop in identifying barriers to cultural change and how to work through them and maintain momentum. For Tori, this was a particularly impactful workshop exercise because you left the retreat with tangible takeaways on the personal steps you can take to break down the barriers you have for the work you want to accomplish. Tori shared that since the retreat she has been able to implement her personal barrier bashing takeaways which has led her to feel more empowered, have conversations with experts in the DEI space, and research the Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion benchmarks. 

  4. Gregor MacGregor, MENV ENRP Specialization Lead, taught a workshop called Disabilities in the Workplace: Experience, Law, and Allyship to teach students about the laws and policies that protect core JEDI principles, while building strategies to develop and implement these policies in their projects. 

Current Projects and Aspirations of DEI Committee

Current students in the MENV program are asking for more formalized Environmental Justice workshops, classes, and seminars. Students recognize the intersectionality between climate change and social justice issues, and they desire more professional skill development around these topics. This year, the team hopes to write a proposal for the creation of an Environmental Justice Core class. They will work with Michelle Cadena and present their proposed curriculum ideas to administration by the end of the year. 

The Committee also wants to build out resources around international student support, and they hope to plan a second JEDIA action retreat in the spring at no-cost to students. Tori is looking forward to leading the team to effectively “identify possible programmatic changes, understand what’s feasible, and push the envelope to move forward on important projects.” 

Unfortunately, a large chunk of funding has been cut from the DEI Committee this year. There are no stipends for Action Group leaders and funding for the retreat is limited. “The committee will be structured slightly differently”, Tori shares. Members will have meetings two times per month, the first being an open committee meeting with discussion based DEI topics, the second being a working meeting with members delving into 1-2 identified initiatives. 

How to Get Involved 

Tori hopes that first and second years from all specializations who are interested in the topic, work, and spaces of DEI will come together to join the Committee. The Committee will be looking to hire a first year GSA in the Spring of 2024. 

You can join the DEI Committee on Monday, November 6th and Monday, November 27th from 3-4pm in SEEC N224. 

There's also a handful of Environmental Justice classes offered Spring 2024, you can read more about them below: 

ENVM 6100, section 007: Climate and Energy Justice

  • Thursdays 5:30 - 8:00 p.m.
  • Instructor: Jorge Figueroa Serrano

ENVM 5051, section 001: Humans, Environment, and Justice

  • Tuesdays 4:00 - 6:30 p.m.
  • Instructor: Fatuma Emmad

ENVS 5100, section 001: Power, Justice and Climate Change

  • Mondays 6:45 - 9:15 p.m.
  • Instructor: David Ciplet

PSCI 7118, section 001: Foundations of Environmental Justice

  • Thursdays 2:15 - 2:45 p.m.
  • Instructor: Steve Vanderheiden

OREC 6100, section 002: Special Topics for Outdoor Recreation Economy: Foundations of Inclusivity in ORE

  • Asynchronous, 1/16/24 - 3/3/24
  • Note: 2 credits instead of 3
  • Instructure: Georgina Miranda

Students can also search for more Environmental Justice Classes in CU class search list through BuffPortal.