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Untold Stories of the Conservation Movement: Race, Power, and Privilege

November 9, 2021 - 4:00pm to 5:15pm


Racism, sexism, and social class discord have been a part of conservationism and environmentalism since the dawn of these movements. However, most accounts of the conservation movement are filled with stories of wealthy white males protecting nature.  The stories of wealthy white females are infrequently told, and the lives and contributions of working-class white males and females, as well as people of color, are usually ignored.  Yet, gross social inequalities and discrimination are commonplace in the movements.  This talk explores racial and power dynamics in the history of conservationism/ environmentalism.

Dorceta Taylor will be in conversation with Emily Polk, Advanced Lecturer in Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric. This talk is part of the Center's Arrow Lecture Series on Ethics and Leadership. The series honors the late Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow, the Joan Kenney Professor of Economics and Professor of Operations Research, Emeritus.

Dr. Dorceta Taylor is a professor at the Yale School of the Environment.  Prior to that she was a professor of environmental sociology at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) for 27 years.  She was the James E. Crowfoot Collegiate Chair and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at SEAS. She also holds a joint appointment with the Program in the Environment. Taylor is the former Field of Studies Coordinator for SEAS’ Environmental Justice Program and a past Chair of the American Sociological Association’s Environment and Technology Section.  Professor Taylor received PhD and master’s degrees from the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Department of Sociology at Yale University in 1991, 1988, and 1985. In 2014 Dr. Taylor authored a landmark national report, The State of Diversity in Environmental Institutions: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations, and Government Agencies.  She authored a second diversity report in 2014 entitled, Environmental Organizations in the Great Lakes Region: An Assessment of Institutional Diversity

Taylor has published influential books also. Her most recent book, The Rise of the American Conservation Movement:  Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection, was published in 2016 during the 100th-year anniversary of the founding of the national park service. The book examines how conservation ideas and politics are tied to social dynamics such as racism, classism, and gender discrimination.  Revelations made in the book about the ideologies of John Muir, the slave-owning past of John James Audubon, and the eugenicist history of the Save the Redwoods League and the National Park Service have led to the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, and the Save the Redwoods League acknowledging the problematic discourses and actions of their founders.  Recent congressional hearing on lack of diversity in the Department of the Interior have also acknowledge the significance of this work as well as other institutional diversity research.

Emily Polk is an Advanced Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric and has a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Masters in Human Rights from Columbia University.  Polk is a writer, teacher, scholar, and mother who teaches and writes about community-led responses to climate change, the mobilization of social movements, and climate equity. She developed and taught some of the first courses at Stanford University on Gender and Climate Change, Communicating Climate Change, and Environmental Justice. Prior to getting her doctorate, she worked as a human rights and environment–focused writer and editor for nearly ten years around the world, helping to produce radio documentaries in Burmese refugee camps, and facilitating a human rights-based newspaper in a Liberian refugee camp. She has also worked as an editor at Whole Earth Magazine and at CSRwire, a leading global source of corporate social responsibility news. Her own writing and radio documentaries have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the Boston Globe, NPR, The National Radio Project, AlterNet, Central America Weekly, the Ghanaian Chronicle, and Creative Nonfiction, among others. 


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