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Assistant professor Monica White hired to lead environmental justice teaching and outreach

Monica White has been named assistant professor of environmental justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a new position created and shared by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Monica White

White will play an active role in the research, teaching and outreach activities of both units in the area of environmental justice, with a particular focus on environmental health burdens faced by vulnerable communities.

She currently serves as assistant professor of sociology at Wayne State University and is a former Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. She received her doctorate from Western Michigan University.

“Professor White’s community-based research is on the cutting edge in the field of environmental justice and will be of great value to the university, our students and our community as we continue to build momentum in this area,” says Gregg Mitman, interim director of the Nelson Institute. “She brings expertise in a diverse range of environmental health and social justice topics, including food systems, land use and race and gender studies.”

White’s research focuses on documenting the history of black farmers’ collectives, cooperatives and experiences in the Midwest. She is currently studying the grassroots organizations and communities of color that are engaged in developing sustainable community food systems in response to issues of hunger and food inaccessibility. In 2009 she was awarded a Humanities Center Faculty Fellowship from Wayne State for her work studying the urban gardening movement in Detroit and the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.

“The opportunity to have someone on our campus who brings together urban agricultural and environmental justice issues is a huge development,” says Daniel Kleinman, professor and chair of community and environmental sociology. “The number of ways in which she’s going to enrich our community through scholarship, teaching and mentoring is very exciting.”

White will teach core courses in the two units, including “Global Environmental Health: An Interdisciplinary Introduction” and “Environmental Studies: The Social Perspective.”

“I am excited about this position and look forward to joining a community of scholars who are engaged in conversations around sustainability, urban areas and food access from several different perspectives,” she says.

White says she is eager to interact with UW-Madison students and introduce them to the creative and innovative ways that communities are transforming the urban landscape.

Monica White
White’s research focuses on documenting the history of black farmers’ collectives, cooperatives and experiences in the Midwest.

“I am deeply committed to offering students the opportunity to discuss the relationship between environmental health, environmental justice and food systems,” she says. “I want to create a space for students to inquire about the impact of social demographics on food options and access, and then, using community-based research methods, allow them to combine both theoretical and practical understanding to conceptualize sustainable cities.”

White will also play a leadership role in advancing the Nelson Institute Community and Environmental Scholars Program and other community-driven environmental education, research and engagement activities.

Through direct service, research, personal networking and community organizing experiences, the Community Environmental Scholars Program offers a diverse cohort of undergraduate students an academic framework for examining the links between environmental studies and community service and developing perspectives and solutions around complex issues.

White will maintain her connections to the urban agriculture movement in Detroit and develop similar networks in Milwaukee and Madison, broadening opportunities for student involvement.

She will begin at UW-Madison for the Fall 2012 semester.