Pacific Northwest Just Futures Institute for Racial and Climate Justice

University of Oregon

Date Posted: May 4, 2022
Submitted by: Sarah Stoeckl
Content Type: Case Studies
Office or Department: Sustainability Office

Project Overview

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) Just Futures Institute is a transformational regional platform for racial and climate justice funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. We hold collaborations among the University of Oregon (Eugene and Portland), the University of Idaho (Moscow), and Whitman College (Walla Walla, WA). We conduct our work through research clusters that foster anti-racist futures primarily in rural areas through collaborative research, publications, community engagement, applied courses, pedagogical experiments, digital platforms, and academic incentives to increase access to higher education for historically underrepresented communities, including Indigenous, Latinx, Black, working class, and first-generation students and faculty. Each partner institution offers specific programs and unique perspectives that we integrate into a set of shared products.


Oregon has a dark history of racial discrimination. In 2020, flames, literal and metaphorical, were raging through our forests and streets. Climate wildfires forced 40,000 Oregonians to evacuate as 500,000 prepared to flee. Even before nearly 1.6 million acres in the PNW burned, protests for racial justice ignited in Portland, Oregon, following the murder of George Floyd. These fires signaled climate change and social unrest in a region shaped by White Nationalism. State and territorial constitutions excluding Blacks from Oregon and the legacy of Ku Klux Klan chapters, sundown signs, racial segregation, and White militias persists, discouraging Black settlement in the PNW. At the University of Oregon (UO), activists recently toppled pioneer monuments in their frustration with landmarks to Indigenous displacement and genocide. We recognize our region’s painful history but refuse to allow this narrative of intolerance to flourish. Now more than ever is the time for imagination. Higher education can help rectify the devastating consequences of intersectional racism and climate change by envisioning a just future for the PNW. This is why we proposed a regional research initiative based on research, teaching, mentorship, and outreach that engages underrepresented communities, faculty, and students.


Our collective work is constituted by various research and digital open-access projects, as well as capacity-building initiatives to support emerging climate and racial justice leaders, specifically in BIPOC, low-income, rural, working, and migrant communities. We are committed to ethical research and dissemination practices delineated in a series of twelve (12) Research and Data Justice Principles. Informed by these principles, we seek to decolonize historically hierarchical university-community relationships.


The project is spearheaded by John Arroyo as Director, Alaí Reyes-Santos as Associate Director, Stephanie LeMenager and Marsha Weisiger as CO-PI’s, and Mark Carey and Laura Pulido as Co-Advisors. Additionally, Alayne Switzer provides administrative support, as well as the support of two Coordination Graduate Employees. This core team provides project management; convenes partners; builds connections between the initiative, community partners, and others; and reports on grant progress to the Mellon Foundation and other stakeholders.


Funding from the Mellon Foundation for the Just Futures Institute began in January 2021, and the funding is projected until December 2023, potentially up to December 2024 with an extension. Our key project milestones thus far include the publication of our website in September 2021, the hiring of various student researchers throughout 2021, the publishing of the Partnership Pedagogy Toolkit, the awarding of two course development stipends, the announcement and hiring of three post-doctoral fellows, the recruitment of our first Just Futures Environmental Justice Fellowship cohort, and our first Research Justice Principles Workshop. We are currently in year 2 of 3, and have many more large projects underway.


The project is primarily financed by a $4.5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, and also draws on the FTE/contracts of multiple UO staff and faculty.


Cluster 1: Sustaining Racial Justice Through Academic Incentives Tackles the intertwined injuries of racism and climate change to yield a new pipeline for recruiting and retaining Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

2021 Deliverables: ● Created and recruited two postdoctoral positions within the Center for Environmental Futures (CEF) and the Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies (IRES) department. ○ CEF Postdoctoral Fellowship: 24 applicants. ○ IRES Postdoctoral Fellowship: 29 applicants. ■ All interviewees identified as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. ● Accounted for research, professional portfolios, life experience, and commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in assessment process.

Cluster 2: Ice, Society, and Climate Justice Initiative Merges the humanities-based Glacier Lab and the natural sciences-based Ocean-Ice Lab. The initiative includes an annual field-based course/workshop, course development stipends, and student research awards.

2021 Deliverables: ● Two undergraduate research awards. ● Two faculty course development awards.

Cluster 3: Sustaining Indigenous Lifeways through Outreach and Public Engagement The Tribal Climate Change Project (TCCP) contributes to the Climate Change and Indigenous People’s (CCIP) Initiative through increased Native student involvement and connections with indigenous communities.

2021 Deliverables: ● Hired and mentored one graduate student. ● Climate change research and outreach with PNW tribes, including undergraduate students from tribal colleges

Cluster 4: Sustaining Inclusive Cities Spans five interrelated initiatives: the Collaborative for Inclusive Urbanism, the Albina African American History StoryMap, the PNW Field School, Highway Historical Markers in Oregon, and an Access and Equity Research Hub.

2021 Deliverables ● Onboarded three graduate student employees and hourly workers. ● Wrote and submitted several peer-reviewed publications (equity and planning, COVID and race, new immigrant destinations) ● Graduate Latinx housing studios in planning (City of Hermiston, OR); Cultural heritage workshop in historic preservation on African American spaces in Portland ● Hosted three Lunchtime Colloquium Events (75 attendees). ○ May 7: The PNW Just Futures Institute in the College of Design
■ Arroyo, Mladinov, and Buckley discussed how JFI can prompt community-based research ○ May 14: Diverse Housing for a Diverse State: How to Implement Oregon’s New HB2001 ■ Nuovo and Keyes discussed HB2001 implementation as a measure to address the shortage of affordable housing in Oregon through “missing middle” strategies ○ May 21: Mapping Diversity ■ Kive and Williams discussed how digital humanities offer new ways to bring out the implications of historical data with mapping tools.

Cluster 5: Sustaining Climate Justice and Health through AfroIndigenous Healing AfroIndigneous Healing incorporates storytelling and healing practices in conversations about Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), trains students to engage in related climate and racial-justice research, and recruits students of color and working-class students as research interns. The Digital Scholarship Services (DSS) develops digital dissemination tools that enable accessibility, long-term preservation, and discoverability, while honoring the cultural specificity of healers and communities.

2021 Deliverables: ● Mentored students in community-engaged research and digital scholarship. ● Onboarded one graduate student employee and two interns. ● Developed digital scholarship curriculum with communities of color. ● Increased access to Spanish-speaking communities: ○ Project presentation (English and Spanish) with scholars and librarians serving Spanish-speaking communities. ○ Spanish-language website and book for the Healers projects (in-progress). ● Gathered assets for AfroIndigenous Healers project. ● Created Digital Humanities principles and charter. ● Developed Digital Scholarship curriculum. ● Published book Sanadores.

Cluster 6: Stories of Fire University of Idaho researchers, in partnership with local communities, are developing a multimodal, polyvocal Atlas that gathers, tracks, and maps stories and images of wildfire, especially those that foreground connections between fire, social/environmental justice, and underrepresented rural and BIPoC voices.

2021 Deliverables: ● Hired Creative Writing and Environmental Humanities In-Residence and Project Coordinator. ● Recruited three MA/MFA student interns. ● Hosted two Justice Mapping public workshops (90+ registrants). ● Hosted two virtual events (80 attendees) to develop community workshops. ● Announced Stories of Fire Pre-Doctoral Fellowship.

Cluster 7: Next West Media Lab The Next West Media Lab (NWML) is a four-week summer field program for BIPoC students that focuses on digital storytelling: podcasts, short videos, and photography. NWML creates a safe space for BIPoC students to focus on how Manifest Destiny is narrated in the rural, eastern portions of Washington and Oregon. Whitman College collaborates with the University of Oregon and the University of Idaho to recruit BIPoC students.

2021 Deliverables: ● Hired two consultants to guide course structuring. ● Quin Nelson hosted a talk about teaching racial and climate justice at elementary and college levels. ● Solidified partnerships: Maxville Museum, the Joseph Center for Arts and Culture, and the Homelands Institute in Wallowa County. ● Identified BIPOC podcast instructor – Krystal Abrams with Beyond Toxics. ● Accepted to American Society for Environmental History’s Pedagogy panel.

Cluster 8: Sustaining Anti-Racist, Economic Dignity through Research and Experimental Pedagogy The interrelated crises of systemic racism, climate change, and the pandemic make clear that we need new ways to map, visualize, and imagine the PNW to prepare strategically for just transitions that address economic dignity, immigrant rights, and the integrity of our climate. Our purpose is to empower BIPoC students to share their stories; support faculty in developing racial justice-focused courses and project-based learning; and center Participatory-Action-Research methods and collaborative digital design to create an audiovisual epic of PNW race and labor histories—and futures.

2021 Deliverables: ● Sustainability Faculty Fellows Program: ○ Recruited first cohort. ○ Hosted pedagogy workshop with Heritage University. ○ Developed racial justice pedagogical toolkit.

● Just Futures Fellowship - Environmental Justice Fellowship: ○ Received 35 applicants; Selected nine. ○ All fellows identify as Black, Arab American, Latinx, Indigenous, working-class, and first-generation. All are women or non-binary.

● Labor and Education Research Center: ○ Created bilingual report on the rights of essential workers. ○ Published A State of Immigrants (English and Spanish). ○ Presented report via the City Club of Eugene Panel; radio presentation with City Club of Eugene; and Community Forum with Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics.

● Atlas of Essential Work: ○ Highlighted stories of under-represented workers. ○ Researched and built connections to solicit content. ○ Onboarded two graduate student employees.

Press: ● New grant will create an institute for racial and climate justice | Around the O ● UO’s new institute fighting the common roots of racial and environmental injustice | Oregon Public Broadcasting ● University of Oregon to start environmental justice institute after receiving $4.5 million grant | The Oregonian

Publications: ● A State of Immigrants: A New Look at the Immigrant Experience in Oregon | LERC ● Partnership Pedagogy Toolkit | UO Office of Sustainability ● “From Racism to Anti-Racism: A Typology of Local and State Government Responses to COVID-19 Discrimination.” Journal for Planning Education and Research ○ Lee and Arroyo ● “Calling Out Anti-Asian Discrimination during COVID-19: Local Government Responses in Unexpected Places.” AAPI Nexus Journal: Asian Americans & Pacific Islands Policy, Practice and Community 18(1&2). ○ Lee and Arroyo

In-progress: ● Sanadores: Descolonizando el Conocimiento ○ Editora Buho, Lara and Reyes-Santos ● Afro-Indigenous Women Healers in the Caribbean and Its Diasporas: A Decolonial Digital Humanities Project ○ Gaede, Lara, Reyes-Santos, Thornhill ● American College & Research Libraries Data Literacy Cookbook, edited by Getz and Brodsky. Manuscript in Press. ○ Chapter: Data Management & Sharing ○ Thornhill ● Sixty Years of Racial Equity Planning: Evolution of an Ethic ○ Submitted to Anti-Racist Futures special issue of Journal of the American Planning Association ○ Arroyo, Bernstein, Sandoval ● Viruses Don’t Discriminate but We Do: Jurisdiction Race-Neutral Responses to COVID-19 and Asian Americans ○ Arroyo and Lee

We also highlight additional examples of JFI’s work with diverse partners below. • The Next West Media Lab is working with Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, individual members of the Colville Reservation, Beyond Toxics, and Euvalcree • The Sustainability Faculty Fellows (SSF) Program developed and shared a pedagogical toolkit for racial justice with UO faculty through the Environment Initiative workshop hosted by JFI and the University of Maryland’s Office of Sustainability. • The Digital Scholarship Services (DSS) engaged community partners through Critical Methodologies workshops, coordinating with the Oregon Health Authority Drought Conference, and attending the EJ and Water meetings. • Connect EJ Fellowships and SSF with Center for Latino and Latin American Studies

Lessons Learned

Intellectual Property Challenges Managing intellectual property generated by the Just Futures Institute, created significant challenges. The university originally developed a proprietary rules agreement that would require all copyright to reside within the university to enable it to disseminate research findings publicly, including derivatives, without faculty and community partners’ input. While this PRA met Mellon requirements, it proved to be an issue for JFI projects that rely on collaboration and co-authorship with socially vulnerable and systemically excluded communities. Trust and the recognition of community knowledge is essential for these projects to be successful. After many conversations with UO staff and faculty across disciplines, such as Native Studies, Latinx Studies, and Environmental Studies, new proprietary rules agreement and community partner agreements were created by the university to permit the clear delineation of copyright and dissemination practices with community partners as collaborators and authors of research findings and assets.

Collaboration Logistics Another significant challenge was launching a regional hub (across UO and our partner campuses – including multiple units). Each of these units and departments had varying policies for hiring students and staff, budget administration, and grants management. The university had yet to embark on a project at this scale and significant time and labor was spent on streamlining the necessary processes and infrastructure to launch JFI. These challenges delayed progress by several months, including accounting for faculty and staff on 9-month contracts (especially at our key partner schools that are on a semester, not quarter, system).


Links and Materials