Title: “Them Swing Pon Trees!” - How 500 Jamaican High School Students Describe Nature Conservation Professionals
Date: September 26, 2023
Location: KJCC Library (Room 215)
CLACS proudly hosts, “Them Swing Pon Trees!” - How 500 Jamaican High School Students Describe Nature Conservation Professionals, by scholar Leo Douglas (NYU Liberal Studies).
A light lunch will be provided. Free and open to the public with RSVP. For any questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The extent to which religious identities, gender norms, social constructions of class and histories of marginalization create meaning for the environment and those that protect it, thereby defining the perceptions and interests of African American and Afro-Caribbean peoples in nature conservation programs, has received little attention. Despite the disproportionate designation of sites in tropical nations as priority hotspots for nature conservation globally, even within societies dominated by black and brown peoples, nature conservation remains white in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors, even where dark-skinned people are the overwhelming majority. Many argue that this lack of representation stems from the absence of economic opportunity, the privileged nature of outdoor activities, and the lack of environmental education programs. My project documents the perceptions and attitudes of 500 randomly chosen Jamaican students towards people who self-identify as nature conservation experts. Across four years (2014-2018), I used photo-elicitation and participant observation to investigate the language and associative meanings students used to describe nature and conservationists as well as the evolution of these meanings as they got older. The preliminary analyses show that overall participants made value-judgements about wildlife biologists and the practice of conservation based on culturally defined norms. Students commonly described conservationists (irrespective of the conservationist’s gender or race) using culturally loaded, often gendered expressions and words, such as “nasty,” “brave,” “Tarzan,” “curious,” and “vacationer.” Gendered and racialized descriptions appeared to emerge and become further entrenched with increasing age of the respondents. Additionally, participants increasingly utilized Jamaican (versus Standard English) to articulate such descriptions, hence the study’s collaboration with linguists to identify the cultural identity salience with which such beliefs are held.
This study aims to illuminate key undescribed identity-based and deep-rooted issues that preclude the wildlife conservation community becoming more appealing to communities and scholars from brown and black communities. The study goes beyond the existing discussions of the structural and institutional barriers faced by historically marginalized groups in the United States (African American, Native American and Latino stakeholders) that belie their equitable representation in conservation organizations, in particular within leadership positions. Thus, it aims to further deconstruct nature conservation as a racialized space and argues that material effects of the under-representation of peoples of color in conservation professions are deeper and more consequential than is commonly described. The study, a first long-term investigation of its kind, provides a description of the experiences and lessons from a parallel, non-American, Afro-diasporic experience. It thus honors and integrates multiple black experiences and highlights themes that appear to link historical oppression within the African diaspora to how global nature conservation is practiced. The data also calls attention to the underlying concerns of local stakeholders of nature conservation programs and centers their words and stories in ways that potentially challenges the relevance and legitimacy of current nature education and conservation DEI efforts in both the developing and developed world.
Leo Douglas is a Clinical Associate Professor at Liberal Studies in the School of Arts & Sciences, New York University (NYU). He received his Ph.D., a Masters of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, and an Advanced Environmental Policy Certificate from Columbia University. His Ph.D. research examined social conflicts about native Caribbean Amazona parrots and their conservation. He is a past-president of BirdsCaribbean, the largest single international NGO focusing on biodiversity in the Caribbean region, and he served on the board of BirdsCaribbean for 14 years, nine of those years as either President or Vice-President of the organization. His previous professional experiences include work as the Executive Director of the NGO BirdLife Jamaica, and a project manager for the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID-Jamaica) Sustainable Watershed Management Project. He is a former Fulbright OAS Ecology Scholar, Government of Jamaica Millennium Scholar, Musgrave Medal Winner - for Distinguished Eminence in the Field of Science, a Partners in Flight (PIF) Leadership Award Winner - for Outstanding Contribution to Bird Conservation, a 2021 NYU Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award recipient and a 2022 NYU Faculty Fellow in Residence. Both his academic and NGO work and interests focus on the intersections of blackness, biodiversity and environmental education. Beyond academic scholarship his public outreach and advocacy includes documentary-making and the curation of both visual and performing arts-works designed to enhance public education about birds and the love of nature.
Note on Accessibility:
This event is free and open to the public with RSVP. The event is held on the second floor, the building has a wheelchair ramp and elevator. For any questions or to notify us of additional accommodation requests, please email clacs@nyu..edu at least a week prior to the event.