Activities

To grow our network, we have run focus groups to understand diverse perspectives on understanding the non-human world, promote relevant conferences, offered presentations at professional conferences, and publish papers in ecological and educational journals.

Focus groups

To better understand if current Ecology and Environmental Science (EE) curriculum supports diverse participation, we have run focus groups to characterize the ecological identity, or sense of belonging of under-represented people in EE fields. In our model, a person’s sense of belonging is influenced by their individual sense of identity, the interpersonal and institutional factors that influence academic experiences, and the match (or mismatch) between their personal views of nature and those of the EE education. Our focus groups investigate personal stories, shared experiences, and narratives of how individuals became interested in and remain in EE majors or professional positions. A preliminary summary of our findings can be found here.

Conceptual Model of Ecological Identity/Sense of Belonging supported by three legs: a person’s individual identity, the academic context, and their views of nature.

Conferences

Presentations

Ecological Society of America & Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution Joint Annual Meeting 2022 : A Change is Gonna Come; August 14-19; Montréal, Canada

August 15

Symposium contribution: Maria Miriti, “Inclusive ecology and the changing face of ecology” in Symposium“Four Dimensional Ecology Education (4DEE): Preparing for and Fomenting Change in Ecological Education,” 1:30-3:30pm

Human impacts on ecological systems such as urbanization and climate change are increasingly recognized as human dimensions of ecology; however, the demographic composition of ecologists is another important component of this human dimension.  Formal ecological inquiry originates and operates in social, political, and personal contexts such that the diversity of ecologists influences the scope and impact of inquiry, and the diversity of trainees.  Increased participation of women, international, and first-generation scholars coincides with the expansion of applied ecology and investment in ecology education through programs such as SEEDS.  Although racial diversity remains low, visibility of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in ecology is increasing with contributions that raise awareness of the value of and need for diverse perspectives in ecology.  As the face of ecology continues to change, there is greater need to interrogate the relationship between race and ecological inquiry.  This is especially true for considerations of the value of non-Western knowledge systems, the inequitable distribution of nature’s benefits, and cultural biases in foundational ecological knowledge.  I will present an overview of and preliminary findings from ongoing, interdisciplinary research that seeks to identify cultural barriers in ecology education and promote inclusive ecology and science education and practice. 

Ecology and the environment are frequently associated with white culture.  Such cultural skewness is associated with attrition of BIPOC students who pursue ecology and underscores the importance of interventions that support student retention and reduction of cultural biases in ecology.  Included among these is disregard of exclusionary practices or values embedded in the discipline such as the relationship between race and natural history, disregard for traditional ecological knowledge systems, and ecological understanding gained from urban environments.  Collaborative research is finding that positive appreciation of the natural world and a broad interest in science are insufficient motivations for BIPOC student retention in ecology programs but connecting ecology to socially relevant issues can increase interest and may improve retention.  Embracing the cultural identities of students can “give voice” to the overlooked ecological and environmental experiences of BIPOC students and permit authentic expression of diverse knowledge that can open new avenues for investigation, ultimately leading to new scientific insights.

Poster presentation:  Engaging faculty and students in developing inclusive ecology pedagogy for increasing diversity of ecologists (RCN-UNIDE), 5:00-6:30pm
To identify the barriers and challenges that must be overcome in order to support diverse participation in Ecology and Environmental (EE) fields. To build a sustainable and interdisciplinary network of faculty, students and practitioners in ecology and environmental science (EE), education and social sciences who develop, assess and promote inclusive pedagogy in EE fields. To characterize the ecological identity, or sense of belonging of under-represented people in EE fields. To develop pedagogical approaches and team-building interventions that foster social-belonging of diverse students in EE education.

Click here to view poster.

August 18

Contributed Oral Session: Ariel Rawson, Becky Mansfield and Maria Miriti, “The history of natural history and race: Decolonizing human dimensions of ecology” in Oral Session, “Broadening Participation and Impact 3” 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM
The relationship between natural history and the history of racism and its effects on ecological thought and priorities comprises a gap at the confluence of two contemporary trends. First is the resurgence of natural history, as many again consider it to be the foundation of ecological and evolutionary inquiry and advocate organism-centered approaches to address contemporary ecological challenges. Second are recent calls to make ecology a more inclusive and diverse field that will recruit and retain racially diverse ecologists. We take a trans-disciplinary approach to understand links between natural history since the 1500s, colonial expansion of European dominance, and the legacy of chattel slavery. Examining the contributions of key natural historians, we analyze how ideas about racial hierarchy are embedded in the “order of nature.” This history shapes not only who conducts ecological science but also who determines foundational ecological concepts. To reconcile the legacy of these foundational exclusions with recent calls for racial diversity in ecology, we turn to global environmental knowledge but emphasize those grounded in Black histories and experiences. We end by examining the implications of this work for ecological education and research on conservation, offering a fresh lens to finding solutions to today’s major ecological problems.
For centuries, natural history was the dominant form of natural science. Rationalizing an Order of Nature, it benefited from, justified, and provided essential practices and knowledge for colonial endeavors that enriched Europe and European descendants while creating ecological degradation, impoverishment, and violent living and dying conditions for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) globally. These are especially evident in the centuries-long, global endeavor of plantation agriculture. To justly center natural history in ecological decision-making, it must reckon with racist legacies and integrate global cultural knowledge. This is particularly true for the relationship between natural history, conservation, and education. Recognizing multiple forms of in-depth, largely descriptive yet still integrative, and useful knowledge is one way for ecology today to be more inclusive. There have been multiple pathways into the sorts of knowledge about nature that are the hallmark of natural history and which people are seeking in ecology today. Being open to such pathways and the unique knowledge of non-Western knowledge is a way to be more welcoming to BIPOC people and start to overcome the blind spots of western forms of natural history and ecology. Addressing racism does not distract from ecological science but improves ecological knowledge itself.

Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting 2021: Vital Connections in Ecology; August 1-6; Long Beach, CA

Session: Navigating a Gender-Biased World: Lessons from the Experiences of Women in Ecology Across Cultures and Generations
Title: “Acts of survival: Working to change the unacceptable disparities in ecological participation”
Presenter: Maria N. Miriti, Department of Evolution Ecology, and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University
Science is developed and practiced within social constructs. One outcome that is overlooked in the scientific community but acknowledged in the social sciences is that scientific values and knowledge production frequently omit the contributions and experiences of non-white people, especially those of Black women. This is problematic because cultural and social barriers are exacerbated in disciplines such as ecology that have chronically low participation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Although underappreciated by many within the scientific establishment, narratives from BIPOC depict lived experiences that can challenge traditional paradigms and raise awareness of institutional practices that contribute to marginalization and underrepresentation. It is increasingly documented that low racial diversity in STEM, including ecology, is strongly attributable to low retention of BIPOC and not recruitment, and that deficit approaches poorly explain low retention. Developing intersectional interventions, increasingly valued in STEM, benefits from the perspectives and experiences of BIPOC who have been retained, or survived, in institutions that are documented to provide minimal support for their success.
I will present results from a literature review that identifies barriers to retention of BIPOC students and faculty in ecology, and I will advocate for intersectional interventions. Pathways to improve retention of BIPOC in ecology include abandonment of color-blind interventions, changes in institutional reward structures, promotion of self-efficacy for BIPOC students, and development of culturally sensitive curriculum. To eliminate disparities and support diverse participation, all ecologists must be aware of, understand, and be willing to remove institutionally embedded cultural and social biases in ecology.
Link: https://cdmcd.co/kgya3p

Session: Energizing Ecology Faculty Mentoring Networks with ESA’s Four-dimensional Ecology Education Curricular Framework
Title: Enhancing 4DEE ecology education through the development and implementation of human-centered, place-based pedagogy to broaden the diversity of ecologists
Co-presenters: Carmen R. Cid (Department of Biology/School of Arts and Sciences, Eastern Connecticut State University) and Maria N. Miriti (Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University)
The Ecological Society of America-endorsed four-dimensional ecology education curricular framework (4DEE) includes a goal to elevate the human dimension in ecology pedagogy. An important component of the human dimension is the diversity of ecologists. The RCN-UNIDE, Undergraduate Network for Increasing Diversity of Ecologists, established in 2020 and comprised of ecologists, social scientists and educators, aims to address how cultural and social barriers impact human diversity in ecology and environmental disciplines (EE). Our approach builds from recent efforts in pedagogy and scientific communication that challenge “deficit” approaches to diversity enhancement because they do not address cultural and social barriers that contribute to the isolation and marginalization that is documented to reduce diverse retention in STEM academic programs. Our first-year objective is to conduct focus groups to investigate the personal stories, shared experiences and narratives of ethnically diverse STEM students and environmental professionals to identify the extent to which culturally value-laden concepts are foundational in EE. Here we share how the five-year UNIDE network can facilitate implementation of 4DEE pedagogy by contributing data on best practices to attract and retain diverse student populations.
Several elements of the four 4DEE dimensions are synergistic with UNIDE’s framework. These include integrating social justice with environmental research in human-environment interactions, connecting students’ field research experiences to their cultural ways of knowing, promoting project-based learning with diverse student teams, and focusing on student communication skills needed for co-production of environmental knowledge with diverse human communities. We share how these synergisms can enhance the citizen science efforts in conservation and restoration initiatives, and promote more socially equitable access to natural resources and ecosystem services. UNIDE’s focus group data will be incorporated in strategies to improve ecology curricula to aid in multicultural expansion of the 4DEE course and program transformations to build comfort, connection, confidence and capacity in all students. UNIDE network’s interdisciplinary approach can further test and refine ESA 4DEE multidimensional emphasis in the development of pedagogical materials that attract diverse students into EE career exploration. Both 4DEE and RCN-UNIDE face challenges in getting a broad group of faculty to modify the traditional ways of teaching ecology, which often excludes integration of the human dimension. Integrating UNIDE with 4DEE working groups can increase the number of human-centered, place-based case studies known to facilitate increasing diversity of environmental professionals. Collaboration will facilitate building a community of practice that integrates the social sciences in ecology pedagogy
Link: https://cdmcd.co/pEbG3J

Network publications

Miriti, MN, A. Rawson and B. Mansfield. In press. The history of natural history and race: Decolonizing human dimensions of ecology. Ecological Applications.

Woods, NN, ZH Leggett and MN Miriti. In review. The intersections of identity and persistence for Black women in ecology and environmental biology. Journal of Geosciences Education