All posts by Caroline

Equity in camn – December 2020

Hello fellow Texas Master Naturalists! Caroline here, to continue our series on what our revitalized Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee is working through right now.

Our December committee meeting continued inspecting our reflections on the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, with a focus on Individualism. I chose this topic because I know that rugged individualism is a thread I’ve always associated with naturalists, and has informed how I show up to outdoor spaces: I wanted to climb to the very top of every rock! To find special, beautiful places that no one else knew about! To earn the most volunteer hours with CAMN so I could get those sweet, sweet pins to show off my dedication!

Yeah, it’s a little ridiculous. I see that now.

I’ll admit, though, the topic of individualism probably wasn’t the best topic for our budding anti-racist group. CAMN itself is a pretty cooperative organization, one that prioritizes transparent access to Board members, Board member rotation so things don’t get too stale, mentorship, group projects, connecting with fellow members-in-training, and connecting with nature through field trips, Advanced Training, and chapter meetings. So our conversation felt a little forced at times, perhaps a little too intellectual for where we, as a group, were at the moment. This doesn’t mean that CAMN doesn’t have work to do in this area, but with our still-early analysis, it was hard to find the patterns of individualism within the organization. That being said, I’m proud of the group for giving our most to the conversation.

Here was our agenda, for folks following along at home:

  1. Introductions – everyone got to share the story of how they came to be a Texas Master Naturalist
  2. Reading of a Land Acknowledgement (borrowed from UWSA until CAMN can establish our own)
  3. Grounding Exercise
  4. Group Discussions (no break-out rooms this time) on the following questions:
    • What are some examples of ways individualism shows up in CAMN? How might it show up in your own conservation work? Your enjoyment of the outdoors?
    • How might a norm of Individualism limit the audiences that CAMN serves? How might it serve to exclude some community members who do not benefit from white privilege?
    • How does a norm of individualism (and white supremacy culture) affect our relationships and the strength of the CAMN community?
  5. Grounding Exercise
  6. Close Out – everyone got to share something they’re taking away from the discussion

Really, the power of these three committee meeting since our revitalization in the Fall, has been in our building community and trust among one another. We are practicing talking about race, which is no small feat for folks who may have been brought up to believe that speaking about racism *was* racism, or that talking about race was counter-productive, or that racism was “over now”. We’re building the muscles required to be okay sitting in discomfort. We’re building up a racial analysis, and learning what it means and feels like to be anti-racist. We are practicing slowing down. Feeling full feelings that we’re used to pushing away. We’re confronting long held beliefs and unlearning those that no longer serve us.

We’re also, critically, learning to re-engage with the parts of our humanity that we lost when we decided, probably as young people, to embrace our white privilege and stop feeling deep empathy in response to racial harm.

Really, what I call the revitalization of our committee… it’s a hard pivot away from intellectual discussions and analysis and attempted action, toward heart work. I now believe this is a critical step that too many DEI teams miss out on, who may instead stay laser-focused on “outcomes” and “measurable impacts” and “just doing something already”. Notice how these tactics lean on the white supremacy characteristics of A Sense of Urgency, Quantity over Quality, Progress is Bigger/More, and perhaps Perfectionism. Oftentimes Paternalism.

This pivot away from the head and toward the heart means regaining our humanity. When we close ourselves off to feeling someone else’s pain, we’re protecting ourselves. And in the case of white privilege, we’re protecting our elevated position in society, which we did not earn. By not challenging white supremacy culture, we’re also protecting the systems that continually harm our friends who do not benefit from white privilege. And the truth is that everyone is harmed by white supremacy culture. Not just people of color. Take a look at the reading linked above and identify which of those norms and beliefs have hurt you in your life. For me, perfectionism stands out high above the rest.

By inspecting our own self-protective stance and allowing ourselves to feel all the feelings associated with looking at racial harm, it can hurt. It can hurt a lot. And yet, what a gift to ourselves and our peers, to feel it fully and to share that vulnerability. And what a deep privilege to have the *choice* to allow ourselves to feel those uncomfortable feelings, as opposed to being subjected to them day in and day out. To live into adulthood without having to feel them if we did not want to. Do you see how the Right to Comfort, explained in the link above may, be showing up in your life?

In my mind, becoming anti-racist is a bit like therapy. We can’t “learn” or “think” or “analyze” our way into healing, personal or societal. We’ve got to say out loud deeply held (sometimes unconscious) beliefs. We’ve got to look at them, and consider whether they match up with our personal values. We’ve got to feel the emotions they bring up. Fully. We’ve got to be in community with people who will not judge us for the heinous things we’ve found out we believe. Who will hold us in deep regard because we had the bravery and wisdom to name them. Who will help us hold ourselves accountable to making the necessary adjustments to our beliefs and behavior.

We’ve got to build our own wisdom and knowing, our own racial analysis. Again, just learning about racial justice, it’s not going to get us to a place of anti-racism. We’ve got to feel and reckon.

I’m no expert. But I can tell you that I am in this place. This birth canal of feeling and vulnerability and building deep wisdom. It can be really uncomfortable and, frankly, it’s exhausting and sometimes isolating. AND it’s been deeply healing for me personally. It’s meant I now have a path to build deeper, more meaningful connections to all the people I love in my life. And it’s given me the push I needed to help bend my communities toward equity and inclusion.

I know that we’re all capable of walking this path and caring for one another as we do so. This is lifelong work that we’ll never truly finish. But we all deserve a world that is more equitable, just, and inclusive. The little steps we take today will make a big impact wherever we are.

Won’t you join us? Feel free to each out to the committee at diversity@camn.org or me directly at diversity-chair@camn.org to join the committee or to learn more about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Confronting paternalism in conservation and camn

Greetings, fellow Master Naturalists! Caroline here, to continue our series on what our revitalized Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee is working through right now.

In our November committee meeting, we continued our education toward the goal of bending CAMN toward becoming a truly anti-racist organization. As a currently majority white member and white led organization, this requires a lot of upfront education. And a lot of unlearning of what got us here. Because make no mistake, majority white spaces did not end up that way accidentally or automatically.

No, there is a culture that permeates these spaces, including CAMN’s, that perpetuates itself and by definition excludes the wisdom and connection of people who do not fit within its idea of “normal” and “ideal”. To name it, this is called White Supremacy Culture. And the distinct characteristics of White Supremacy Culture are what the DEI Committee has begun to unpack as it relates to CAMN, the larger American conservation movement, and even our own lives outside of CAMN. We will leverage this list over the course of many months as we attempt to divest from this culture.

I’ll be honest, when I first read this list, which was introduced to me by the local organization Undoing White Supremacy Austin (UWSA), I had a pretty visceral reaction. These norms and unsaid rules are the air that I have been breathing my whole life as a white lady in the U.S. It was (and continues to be) really hard to extract these items from, well, what feels normal. And it has been extremely painful. Because these norms have ruled my life and they have caused me pain… and by wielding them, I have caused pain to many, many others. Some were strangers, some were my dearest loved ones. And knowing that I will never be perfect at anti-racism work, that I will continue to cause harm, that the best version of myself would only be able to minimize the harm I cause? Yeah, talk about a wake up call.

And what a daunting task: to dissect the very air that I breathe and to unlearn the characteristics that I have learned over a lifetime to expect and to idolize. To begin to divest from these norms. To learn how to counteract them. Whew. I’m tired just revisiting what a monumental task it is.

And yet, the people who suffer the most from White Supremacy Culture–Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color–need and deserve white people to begin and sustain this process of unlearning. White Supremacy is a problem created by white people. Therefore it is a problem for white people to solve. We must expel it from our personal lives, our conservation work, our paid workplaces, everywhere.

We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and care. White Supremacy Culture certainly doesn’t do that–it does the opposite. It punishes those who deviate from its unwritten rules. It isolates them and devours them. White people get devoured by it too. I know I have.

People of all kinds can perpetuate or choose to reject these cultural norms. I’m excited and, honestly, solemn and wary, about CAMN undertaking this unlearning process. It’s painstaking work to look at the harm we ourselves have caused. And again, it is so worthwhile and so necessary. Real lives are on the line and they deserve better.

Paternalism, specifically, is deeply intertwined with American conservation. The movement’s early heroes supported and participated in forcibly removing Native Peoples from their historic homeland in order to make national parklands more accessible to white Americans. Many supported Eugenics, and actively perpetuated White Supremacy Culture. This legacy impacts our outdoor spaces today, often making them physically and emotionally unsafe for our peers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The legacy endures in what outdoorsey people are expected to look like, in which conservation organizations get the majority of funding, in who gets harassed in public parks, in who is rarely hired for job opportunities in the sciences. We’ve got a lot of work to do to counteract these oppressive ideas, practices, and norms. Join us, won’t you?

The DEI Committee November meeting centered two readings:

1. The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture (focus on Paternalism)
2. Reckoning with the Racist History of American Environmentalism

And the agenda looked like this, if you’d like to follow along:

  1. Introductions – everyone gets to introduce themselves, their identities, and how they’re feeling at the moment
  2. Land Acknowledgement (borrowed from UWSA until we can establish our own)
  3. What is white identity? A brief history, based on learnings from the book Stamped: Racism, Anti Racism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
  4. Grounding Exercise
  5. Break Out Discussions on the following questions:
    1. Initial reactions to the readings, White Supremacy culture, and the topic of paternalism
    2. Discuss examples of environmental paternalism
    3. How might CAMN and other majority white environmental groups cause paternalistic harm? How have we?
    4. What antidotes should we keep top of mind when attempting to support and engage with Black, Indigenous, and communities of color?
    5. How do we minimize our harm so that we do more good than harm? How will we know when we’re being successful in this?
  6. Grounding Exercise
  7. Close Out

Won’t you join us? Feel free to each out to the committee at diversity@camn.org or me directly at diversity-chair@camn.org to join the committee or to learn more about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Creation of camn’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (dei) committee

In 2017, CAMN created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee to ensure that CAMN is serving our WHOLE community by focusing on diversity and inclusion where we haven’t done so actively before. Currently we are in the planning stages. Our proposed timeline includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Identifying and communicating the issues (we did a presentation… more below)
  • Defining a Diversity and Inclusion chairperson role with a vote on our board of directors, as well as an interested committee
  • Developing some discussion tools for sharing ideas and reference materials
  • Drafting a Diversity and Inclusion statement for our chapter
  • Creating a document to outline our chapter’s approach to identifying inclusivity issues, reaching out to people of color or other communities not typically included in leadership or membership of conservation organizations, and finding ways to engage more of our community at many levels
  • Codifying this in our Chapter Operating Handbook
  • Reviewing the processes and guidelines regularly
  • Presenting at the 2018 TMN Annual Meeting in Georgetown, TX.

Presentation

Presentation creators at 2017 TMN Annual Meeting. l-r Caroline Taylor, Monica Ramirez, Marc Opperman. Not pictured: Virginia Palacios.

A few of us got together because we share some beliefs about where our organization can grow and expand. We believe we can’t fulfill the mission of the Texas Master Naturalist Program – the part where it says “…within their communities” – without reaching out to underserved segments of Austin and our surrounding counties, and including everyone in our conservation and outreach efforts. We want our membership, board of directors, new-member training, and public meetings to be welcoming to people of color, the LGTBQ community, and people of any age group (to name a few). Every segment of our membership should do its best to represent the community we live in. We believe  the very future of conservation initiatives in Texas and the United States depends on engaging more diverse members as the demographics of the country shift toward Latinos and other non-White populations.

As such, we presented at the Texas Master Naturalist 2017 Annual Meeting on diversity in conservation and serving the whole community. You can find that presentation here: Diversity in Conservation – TXMN Annual Meeting 2017

Introducing CAMN’s Revitalized diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee

Greetings, fellow Capital Area Master Naturalists! As the new Chairperson of our revitalized Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) Committee, I’d like to introduce our new blog series to give CAMN’ers insight into what the DEI Committee is learning about and doing right now.

The new vision for the DEI Committee is that we start taking the necessary steps to help CAMN develop a culture and practice of anti-racism. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “anti-racism,” all that really means is that CAMN members are trained to see evidence of racism (which often hides in plain sight!) in our normal volunteerism and that we take action against it because we *don’t* want racism to continue unchecked in the spaces where we have influence (and that’s a lot of spaces!). Racism shows up in institutional policies, practices, and procedures. It shows up in the culture that we all contribute to. It shows up in our work places and in our personal lives. And yes, it is still tangibly affecting us and our loved ones today and every day.

Why is anti racism applicable to CAMN, you might ask? We are a nature-based volunteer group, after all. Well, as a consultant with the City of Austin’s Equity Office so poignantly put it last month, we certainly wouldn’t want any CAMN member to be sexually harassing members of the public on a hike. And just as critically, we don’t want any CAMN members causing racial harm on a public hike either. Both kinds of misbehavior cause real harm to real people. And that’s not what CAMN is about.

For the sake of transparency, I’ll be sharing each committee meeting’s pre-read materials, agendas, and take-aways as committee members brave the urgent, vital, and sometimes painful reality of the racial equity work that lays ahead for CAMN. We can’t change what we don’t understand. And we can’t claim to be on a particular side of history if we’re not actively working toward it.

Because CAMN is a majority white organization led by mostly white-privileged people, our (virtual) October committee meeting was centered around whiteness and white privilege. Our pre-reading material was the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege by Peggy McIntosh. In it, you’ll find a list of 50 privileges that those of us who appear to be white experience on a regular basis. If you choose to engage with this material, I encourage you to read it not as an intellectual exercise, but with your heart fully engaged. If you are white or white-passing, consider with each item, what would your life be like if this statement was not true for you and your loved ones? What feelings does it bring up? Where in your body do you notice sensation when you feel those feelings? For me, it’s oftentimes sadness that shows up as a lump in my throat or anger that arises as a burning pit in my stomach.

In this month’s committee meeting, we discussed the article as well as our reactions to it. We broke out into small groups that discussed the questions listed below. These kinds of discussions can be challenging and unsettling, and they may bring up unexpected emotions. It’s important to breathe and check in with our bodies in these moments. These reactions can always teach us something very important. We shared a brief grounding exercise at the start and end of the discussion so that we could settle our bodies and minds. Here’s a 1 minute grounding exercise for you to try out!

Discussion questions based on the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege:

  1. Which items on the list apply in your life?
  2. Are there any from the list that you didn’t connect with?
  3. How did reading the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege make you feel?
  4. How comfortable are you talking about race generally?
  5. What about this committee’s work excites you the most?
  6. What about this committee’s work are you most nervous about?

As we closed out the meeting, I heard committee members share hope that we can make real change together. I heard folks say that they were less afraid of what lay ahead and felt accepted on their learning journey, even if they felt like beginners. And an appreciation for having a community that is committed to making our outdoor spaces physically and emotionally safer for the people of color in our service area.

Members of this committee are not expected to be experts on racism or white privilege. They’re expected to come to the work with open minds and hearts and a willingness to engage in a meaningful way. We can make our outdoor spaces tangibly safer for those who do not benefit from white privilege. It’ll take a lot of work from a lot of us to do it. And I for one believe that we can and that we will.

I invite you to share and discuss this reading with your loved ones, and remember that no reactions or feelings are off limits. Just remember to breathe through it 🙂

Interested in joining our committee? Have feedback for us? Email Caroline at diversity-chair@camn.org any time. Please expect responses to take up to one week.

Integrating Nature into the City with ImagineAustin

Imagine Austin is a 30-year plan established by the City of Austin aiming to help Austin grow in a compact and connected way.  In order to involve the community in this effort, the ImagineAustin Speaker Series was born. Every few months, a collection of speakers from all over the country join one another to discuss quality of life issues pertinent to our favorite city. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending an ImagineAustin Speaker Series on Integrating Nature into the City.

The night’s first speaker, Dr. Ming Kuo, is Director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She presented very convincing evidence for the prevalence of (the not quite medically diagnosable, but well documented) Nature Deficit Disorder. Her assertion was this: studies show that, without nature, people display all the symptoms that any animal does when it is living in an unfit environment; this includes social breakdown, psychological breakdown, and physical breakdown. She gave us a broad taste of the science that shows that the presence of nature in people’s lives improves focus, generosity, friendliness, feelings of well-being, and peace of mind, while it lowers the likelihood that people will litter, behave violently, and report feeling isolated.

Even as a fairly new field of study, in the last thirty years, the effects of nature on human health that have been shown are robust. Luckily for those in charge of keeping our communities happy and healthy, Dr. Ming noted that it is not only hiking through forests and mountains that have this effect on us. Small green spaces, neighborhood parks, and even pictures of natural scenes improve our health and happiness. So frame a picture of your favorite outdoor space, and place it somewhere that will lift your spirits!

Patrick Murphy, who recently served as the City of Austin’s Environmental Officer, and was Assistant Director of the Watershed Protection Department, spoke next. He gave the audience a feel for the unique treasures and challenges of Austin’s natural spaces. He told us that in the city of Austin, there are 65 creeks, 885,000 people, and a longstanding record of ground-breaking environmental decisions. Austin was the first city in the U.S. to protect its trees under law, and it’s one of the few that protects its creeks such that they are allowed to flow naturally.

With 2 million people in the greater Austin area today, he was happy to report that the city is growing exactly as city planners twenty years ago designed it to: with most of the population growth focused in the city core, Austin is able to keep its natural green spaces and protect the expansive preserve land that runs throughout the city. This helps drive land development to where the city can spare it, and ensures that the ecologically sensitive regions, like those that recharge our aquifers, remain less developed. Surely, just about everyone in Austin can appreciate that.

When Laine Cidlowski, Project Manager for the Sustainable Washington D.C. Initiative for the District’s Office of Planning, spoke, I got the feeling that the Austinites in the crowd were feeling pretty proud of how well Austin’s natural spaces are faring compared to so many others. But what Laine had to show us about her work in the District of Columbia show just how committed they are to sustainability. She asserted that any city that attempts to strengthen their green presence will struggle with how to quantify a given space’s degree of sustainability. So, D.C. did just that. They have developed the Green Area Ratio (GAR): an environmental sustainability zoning measure that development sites across the city are expected to meet. The GAR score expected for land developers differs based on the zone and intended use of the site being developed, and it does not yet apply to all development around the city.

For those land developers that are held to a minimum GAR score, the question is not, “should we add anything that’s ‘green’?” but, “how can we leverage our space to get the highest Green Area Ratio?” This calculation has pushed land developers to get creative with how they “green” their spaces, not if they will. Being only two years old, this will be interesting legislation to watch in the years to come.

To learn more about the panelists, see the ImagineAustin Speaker Series website.