U named finalist for Racial Equity and Sustainability Collaboration award

U recognized by national organization for environmental justice project.

The University of Utah is one of five finalists for the Racial Equity and Sustainability Collaboration award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

The U’s project, “Integrating racial equity, social justice, and sustainability through general education learning outcome assessment,” uses learning outcomes for all undergraduates to understand the inseparability of racial equity, social justice and sustainability, said Adrienne Cachelin, professor (lecturer) in the Department of Environmental & Sustainability Studies and the project lead.

“Too often, sustainability education focuses on ecological science, ignoring the systemic link between the devaluation of black and brown bodies and the degradation of the environment,” Cachelin said. “It’s the same system at play—two sides of the same coin.”

The project was developed in response to a letter from students to the university administration that suggested granting a degree to any student that did not understand sustainability was “profoundly irresponsible.” Cachelin notes that many universities include a sustainability general education course requirement. However, the project’s interdisciplinary faculty team chose to focus on learning outcomes to ensure that undergraduates are likely to engage in conversations about the relationship between racism and environmental problems in more than one required course. The U’s General Education Learning Outcomes call for students to build skills in “judging the value of a system according to how it accounts for equity and inequity created by human actions,” and “analyzing a system focusing on the interdependence of people and planet.”

The award winners will be announced in an online ceremony on Dec. 9. AASHE empowers higher education administrators, faculty, staff and students to be effective change agents and drivers of sustainability innovation. The University of Utah is an AASHE member institution providing all students, staff and faculty with access to AASHE’s resources by creating a free account using an @utah.edu email address.