All posts by Caroline

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 by 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 the idea 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.