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Howard University officially launched its interdisciplinary Department of Earth, Environment and Equity, or E3, at a small kickoff ceremony held at the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library on Monday. The new department will welcome its first students in the fall.
“Honestly, I have received more inquiries regarding getting this department started, from students and from faculty, than [for] any other program that we have moved on in my eight years in this role as provost,” Howard University Provost Anthony K. Wutoh said in remarks at the event. “I don’t say that because it troubled me — I say that because they really underscored how important this was to our students, how important this was to our faculty.”
The department will offer undergraduate degrees in Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, Atmospheric Science and Earth System Science. Wutoh described the interdisciplinary approach as one that would “synergize” research across fields, enabling student and faculty researchers to “make an impact in the way that Howard needs to make an impact.”
Howard’s College of Arts and Sciences will house the E3 Department. While the university already offers an interdisciplinary environmental studies major, the new department aims to expand opportunities for collaboration and connections between the academic disciplines.
“Around the country, there are a lot of environmental science departments that focus on the biology, chemistry and the physics of the problems. And then there are some other departments that focus on environmental studies — public policy and social science,” explained Dr. Rubin Patterson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, in an interview. “And then there are a few that actually will focus on environmental humanities, thinking about environmental ethics and environmental history and environmental literature — cli-fi, as they call it now, climate fiction. But given that we are the College of Arts and Sciences, we embody all three of them: natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.”
Patterson has pushed for the creation of a department focused on climate and the environment since 2014, when he joined Howard’s faculty as chair of the sociology department. He said Howard’s selective admissions and academically competitive student body makes it important to create compelling opportunities for students to encounter environmental coursework, because graduates go on to become “transformational” in leadership roles across all sectors.
“We don’t want to create a new department, just to be an average department—this has to be a standout,” Patterson said. “And this department is going to be that way. It’s going to produce the next generation of African American leaders in environmental justice and environmental science and climate science.”
One current student spoke at the launch event — Kennedy Williams, a junior majoring in Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies with a minor in political science. Currently, Williams serves as an intern for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
“The creation of the Department of Earth, Environment and Equity is a monumental step towards paving the way for Black students to have a voice in the fight against climate change,” Williams said in brief remarks at the event.
Dr. Janelle Burke, the director of the current interdisciplinary environmental studies program, said Williams is among 65 students majoring or minoring in the subject.
“We’re hoping to welcome even more students who will be cutting edge scientists, social scientists, lawyers, sustainable fashion designers — who could be future leaders for sustainable, equitable and environmentally conscious change,” Burke said.