Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: What’s Next for the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge

August 14, 2020

The mission of the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge (SLA GC) is to harness UCLA’s research, expertise and education to help Los Angeles transform into the world’s most sustainable megacity by 2050. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have made it clear that we cannot achieve this mission without a stronger commitment to social and environmental justice. Without equity and justice for all, there can be no sustainability.

Recognizing that it is not enough to stand in solidarity, the SLA GC team will be developing an equity, diversity and inclusion action plan that will be incorporated into our expanded vision. As a small first step, our staff team joined the #ShutDownSTEM and #ShutDownAcademia movements on June 10—creating space to read, listen, educate ourselves, and commit on a personal level. Building on this foundation, we’ve engaged in several subsequent discussions and have identified the following immediate next steps:

We will draw on the expertise of a newly formed Faculty Advisory Cabinet. As part of the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge’s new chapter, we have formed a Faculty Advisory Cabinet comprising 22 leaders in urban sustainability from across UCLA. We anticipate that one of the Cabinet’s first priorities will be to identify a group of campus thought leaders who can advise on the specifics of an equity, diversity and inclusion plan. The action plan will guide how the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge will work to address systemic racism.

We will launch a Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship Program.  This fall, we will recruit up to three UCLA graduate students to work collaboratively with partner agencies in Los Angeles County and City. The fellows will work on research projects that directly advance the agencies’ goals for equity. Look for more details on this program in coming weeks.

We commit to supporting research on equity, diversity and inclusion. The Sustainable LA Grand Challenge team supports the development of major grant proposals that align with the goal and vision of the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. The equity, diversity and inclusion action plan will include specific recommendations for how our team can elevate and prioritize support of research addressing equity, diversity and inclusion as it relates to sustainability, as well as how we can best support researchers who belong to underrepresented groups.

Also pertaining to research:

-Equity, diversity and inclusion will play a major role in virtual “sandpit” activities that the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge team will host this fall. Participating faculty will have an opportunity to think big, build interdisciplinary teams, and pitch research projects for funding that will be transformative for Los Angeles. We are excited to share more details in coming weeks.

-We will more explicitly incorporate equity, diversity and inclusion into future sustainability report cards for L.A. County so that sustainability issues related to equity—such as water affordability and the disproportionate health impacts of air pollution on communities of color—can be better elevated to policymakers, media and the public.

-We will clearly identify UCLA researchers working in the areas of equity, access and justice in an online sustainability expert directory that is in development to make it easier for internal and external stakeholders to find, identify, contact and collaborate with this wealth of expertise and knowledge.

We will incorporate equity, diversity and inclusion into our signature undergraduate course. We are committed to increasing the diversity of students, faculty mentors and speakers who participate in the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, and will explicitly incorporate themes of racial equity and justice into the core curriculum and research projects.

We will pay student workers and researchers. We have renewed our commitment to compensating student workers and student researchers (with the exception of providing academic credit). As a policy, we will not offer or accept work from unpaid volunteers, as this reinforces the privilege of students who can afford to work without pay and narrows the pipeline for students interested in sustainability.

With these initial steps, the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge will begin to do our part in dismantling the systemic racism and other injustices that are preventing us from achieving true sustainability. The work is long-term and we are committed to joining the UCLA community in rising to the challenge.

-Eric M.V. Hoek, Director, UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge

-Cassie Rauser, Executive Director, UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge