This post is the first of several about the the Environmental Inequality class that I finished teaching at Howard earlier this month. It was my third time teaching the class. I wrote about its first incarnation at UC Santa Cruz in 2012 here, and shared my Howard University syllabus from 2015 here. Here’s what I did this time around:
The first time I taught the class, I kept the assignments simple with pop-quizzes and take-home essay exams. The second around, I had students do research and writing on websites they built themselves. You can find an overview of that assignment and all of the prompts I gave the students to complete it here.
This year we did a community-based research project. I’ve wanted to do a class project like this for a long time but the timing has never been right. The first time I taught Environmental Inequality at UC Santa Cruz I was filling in for my advisor for one semester only. It didn’t seem to make sense to do an intricate community-based project when I couldn’t design the project to last over multiple semesters. Also, it was my first time teaching my own college-level class as a graduate student. Also, my dad was ill. The second time I taught the class, last fall, I was brand new to Washington D.C. and didn’t yet have local contacts with whom to collaborate. This fall the timing was finally right. I had put some time into getting to know local organizations, and thought I could use the project to continue to get my bearings on the world of Washington D.C. environmental justice activism. Here’s the project overview from the syllabus above:
This semester we will work on a collaborative research project with the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Empower DC, and ANC commissioner Rhonda Hamilton from the neighborhood directly adjacent to Buzzard Point in Washington, D.C. Buzzard Point is currently being redeveloped. It will be the site of the new DC United Soccer Stadium and many other new construction projects. Our work will involve conducting oral history interviews with residents living near Buzzard Point to document their family history in the neighborhood, relationship to the community and to the adjacent Anacostia River, and experiences with pollution and development. We will host guest speakers as well as go on field trips and conduct off-campus research activities as part of this project. The Anacostia Community Museum will then add the transcripts to their archives and create a booklet based on your interviews to distribute to research participants in the winter of 2017. When the booklet is ready (early 2017), there will be an optional reception at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum to which you will be invited. This effort is a pilot project to upon which I hope to build a longer-term research relationship with our off-campus partners. You will be provided with detailed assignment prompts to guide each stage of your work as the course progresses.
In the next few posts, I’ll share reflections on the boat tour we took as a class on the Anacostia River, the interviews the students conducted, and some of our in-class activities. Some of the posts will also have slideshows. Stay tuned!
Although the weather continues to be hot here in Washington D.C., summer has come to an end for the students and workers of Howard University. I attended the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting just as school was beginning. This conference is spectacularly ill-timed to take place right before or during many schools’ first week of classes every year. I cancelled my first day of classes and taught two days later after getting off a red-eye from the West Coast at 6am.
Regardless of how you spend the last few days of summer, you may feel overwhelmed by the administrative details associated with resuming classes and committee work each fall. Because I think there are few life-problems that a good list can’t help address, I created a Back to School Checklist this year to help me remember some of the details that need to get taken care of for a smooth start. Feel free to adapt it for your own purposes as you like, I know I’ll be adding things as I remember them. And if you’re really list-crazy, take a look at the fun ones available at Knock-Knock (I find their “Pack This!” list particularly helpful). Or check out Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto – if nothing else, it’ll make you glad you don’t have to worry about whether you left a pair of scissors inside the last person you did surgery on before sewing them up.
Back to School Checklist
- Confirm class time and space
- Check audio-visual supplies: screen, projector, speakers
- Finalize Syllabus
- Update readings
- Add new dates for each class meeting that correspond to this calendar year
- Look at campus academic calendar and add dates to syllabus as needed (campus closed, last day to drop, etc)
- Update assignments
- Schedule guest-speakers
- Schedule office-hours
- Create course website (Blackboard, etc)
- Make sure that enrolled students are in the system
- Add syllabus
- Upload readings
- Set up places for students to turn in work for each assignment
- Set up gradebook
- “Publish” site so it is visible to students
- Create attendance sheet
- Create sign-up sheets (for example, if students will each facilitate a day of classroom discussion)
- Order required books at campus bookstore
- Put required books on reserve at campus library
- Add chalk, eraser, or whiteboard pens to teaching bag as needed
- Add paper and pens for big nametags on desk as needed
- Prepare lesson plan and slides for first day of class. Make time to:
- Do names and/or ice-breaker
- Introduce self
- Introduce class – with hook!
- Review syllabus – use screenshots of book covers when possible
- Sign up for assignments that are date-specific
- Take attendance
- Collect information of students hoping to get in to class
- Get students signed up for independent study classes as appropriate
- Create proxy library accounts that let students check out books to my library account
- Schedule first team meeting with students
- Reserve room for team meeting
- Prepare for first meeting
- Review and organize prior student work
- Prepare list of projects and tasks to be divvied up amongst group. Decide how many people are needed for each project
- Create agenda
- Create sharable to-do lists and timesheets
- Update IRB “how to” document that details what students need to give me in order to be approved by the IRB as research assistants
- Update all other “how-to” documents as needed to support student tasks
- Select and upload introductory readings to help frame research tasks
- Add students to Google Drive folder that houses group files
- At first meeting
- Background on research projects and descriptions of tasks
- Divide up tasks
- Describe optional events happening this semester that students can participate in as part of their weekly hours to supplement their learning
- Share contact information
- Assign background reading
- Give overview of the IRB and the describe the documents students need to provide to be approved by IRB as research assistants
- Get familiar with the documents in the shared folder on Google Drive
- Review project communications and tracking (to-do list, hours sheet)
- Schedule training for students with librarian on how to find scholarly articles
- Pick weekly meeting time
- Schedule meeting between each project group and myself to provide training about how to get started with their task
- Add campus calendar dates to personal calendar (due dates for grades, last day of classes, etc)
- Add dates on department calendar to personal calendar (faculty meetings, report due dates, etc)
- Make work plan for year/semester
- Post office hours on door
- Return or renew library books
- Clean office!
I chaired a panel discussion on “Overcoming Corporate Threats to Academic and Community Research on Industrial Animal Production” earlier this month at the annual meeting of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences. The panel was organized by Zoe Ackerman at the the Rachel Carson Council. It focused on the experiences of people whose health is impacted by the North Carolina hog industry. More specifically, panelists discussed industry intimidation and legal tactics designed to suppress research on the health impacts of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) on their nearby human neighbors. Steve Wing, the leading scholar on this topic, was part of the panel design, but in the end was unable to join. However, the following panelists gave a great overview of the issue and how it relates to broader threats to research in the public interest.
Keep an eye out for more work to come on this subject coordinated by the Rachel Carson Council. Also look out for announcements about the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network’s annual summit. In the meantime, the video below provides a short overview of our conversation. See also the following pinterest board where I collected articles I used to inform my framing remarks, which are not included in the video. I linked Steve Wing to Ignacio Chapela, William Cronon, Tyrone Hayes, and Anita Sarkeesian, who have all experienced serious push-back from the industries and social groups threatened by their research. Like many of the other panelists, I emphasized how industry relation against scholars has a chilling effect on the kinds of questions that we ask.