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YSE Launches Database Highlighting Environmental Professionals of Color

The database establishes a repository of profiles on professionals from across the U.S. who contribute to the environmental, health, climate justice, and other related fields.

The Yale School of the Environment's  Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Sustainability Initiative (JEDSI) has launched a database detailing the careers and personal stories of more than 200 environmental professionals of color in the United States.

The database, the most comprehensive of its kind, features professionals in the energy, Indigenous land rights, conservation, climate, and environmental justice fields, such as Shalanda Baker, who is leading the Justice40 Initiative at the U.S. Department of Energy, and Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Michigan pediatrician whose research helped exposed the Flint water crisis. It details various career paths and provides early career professionals with role models.

“In environmental spaces, a person of color often finds they are the only person of color in the room.," said Dorceta Taylor, professor of environmental justice at YSE and JEDSI director, who is leading the project. "These profiles provide a way for people to tell their stories. Projects like this help environmental professionals of color, especially young people, identify each other and help build networks that can complement their educational and work experiences. The database provides opportunities for students and environmental professionals to know who they can reach out to who can help with questions about job opportunities and career paths."

The database,  called “People of Color Environmental Professionals: Profiles of Courage and Leadership,” was compiled from publicly available information, interviews, surveys, and correspondence with environmental professionals with more than 15 years of experience. It includes information on their early life and education, career, research and publications, institutional websites, LinkedIn profiles, and mentors. It also provides options for users to search professionals by specific filters such as geographic regions of the country, professional fields, institutional affiliations, and job positions. At least 500 more profiles will be added this year with plans to continually expand.

“We are constantly adding names to the list. It will never be finished, which I think is one of the best parts of it,’’ said Katherine Allison, senior researcher manager at JEDSI.

Allison worked with JEDSI Program Manager Meg Daupan on the development of the platform.

“I was really surprised by how ready people were to speak with us and how it was so uplifting for them,” Daupan said. “They thanked us for elevating their voices. They feel their voices are getting heard with this database.”

Daupan added that she found it helpful to learn more about the challenges and struggles environmental professionals of color have faced.

“Often, you only see people’s success. We rarely hear about their struggles, the different aspects of their lives, and what led them there. It’s a good platform for them to share their journeys, which can inspire the younger generation,”  she said.

Projects like this help environmental professionals of color, especially young people, identify each other and help build networks that can complement their educational and work experiences.”

Dorceta Taylor Professor of Environmental Justice

Taylor, who is one of the nation’s preeminent scholars in the field of environmental justice and has authored numerous influential books and studies on the environmental movement, emphasized that including personal stories and mentoring experiences adds to the database’s utility and potential to encourage people to explore environmental career paths.

“Students of color can be very afraid to say they don’t understand something. They may have imposter syndrome. They are so programmed to think they must know everything and that they must succeed at everything,” Taylor said. “But if you have 600 people talking about their challenges and struggles, it takes the stigma out of not knowing everything or asking for help. It helps students realize, ‘Oh, everybody encounters difficulty and goes through a little bit of struggle. Everybody gets up one day and cannot figure out how to do something.’”

Map with pins throughout the continental U.S.

People of Color Environmental Professionals

A database of profiles of courage and leadership maintained by JEDSI

Carolyn Finney, an author, scholar, and cultural geographer whose profile is included in the database, said it calls attention to professionals who have been making an impact in the field but had little recognition. Finney, who is currently an artist-in-residence at Middlebury College, has focused her work on environmental justice and environmental humanities, shedding light on the experiences of African Americans and other marginalized communities. The work, she says, has often come with a price.

“If you challenge a system that hasn’t served you or others, you can be pushed outside. It’s going to cost you something. There may be times when you feel lonely and alone, misunderstood, and disappointed,” said Finney, author of the book “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors.”

Finney said the database helps people of color who may feel alone know they are part of a family.

“I think it's always been important for people to understand that you have folks of color who have been doing this work for a long time,” she said. “This database elevates our presence in larger conversations. It elevates us in terms of recognition and our value, that we have something to offer, and have had something to offer for quite some time.”

Taylor said the database also will be an invaluable tool for promoting inclusion in the field.

“In the U.S. alone, we can now dispel the idea that there are no people of color who are qualified for environmental jobs. We are demonstrating that diversity does matter,” she said.

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Taylor, along with YSE’s Karen Seto, Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science, and lecturer Pat Gonzales-Rogers, and several alumni are also featured in the database.  Other Yale faculty in the database  include  Paul Turner, Rachel Carson Yale Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in Yale's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS)  and Yale School of Medicine;  Ruth Blake, Edward P. Bass Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at FAS and professor of chemical engineering and environment; and  Marianne Engelman-Lado, a visiting professor at Yale Law School and guest lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health. The profiles of several other faculty and staff at YSE will be added throughout the year.

Numerous current and previous JEDSI staff also worked on the database, including Haille Rae, a program manager at YSE; former JEDSI consultant Carla Dhillon; Yale Conservation Scholars Program Manager Te’Yah Wright ’23 MEM; and JEDSI Fellows Lily Fillwalk ’24, Claire Nichols ’24, PwintPhyu Nandar ’24, and former fellow Tabitha Sookdeo ’25.

Taylor conceived of the project in 2004. The first version was published digitally and in print in 2005, and a second was launched in 2016 at the University of Michigan.

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