Photo 1: Students and mentors learn who their pairs are at the Reveal Event, February 9, 2019

Author: Dylan Kennedy (they/them), Student Course Facilitator for Students of Color Environmental Collective Mentorship Program, UC Berkeley Class of 2020 B.S. Society & Environment

We know the environmental movement can be better, especially for the rising generation of advocates, educators, and activists of color. Lack of diversity in the environmental sector is a serious issue, contributing to the perpetuation of an environmental discourse that centers colonialist thought and history, and excludes the invaluable voices, experiences, and knowledge of people of color. University faculty and coursework is no exception. For students of color, this lack of representation in the classroom can create a sense of alienation, invisibilization, and frustration leading to low retention of students of color in environmental studies and consequently, the environmental movement as a whole.

With this in mind, the California Outdoor Engagement Coalition has partnered with the Students of Color Environmental Collective (SCEC) this Spring to institutionalize a mentorship program for students of color to connect with environmental professionals of color in their desired field. Born out of student initiative in SCEC, this program aims to increase retention of students of color in the College of Natural Resources with a student-run course structured to build community, network professional resources, and engage in valuable discourse on the realities of surviving and thriving in a white-dominated movement.

Photo 2: Students and mentors participate in a small group discussion activity at the Mixer Event, March 14, 2019

In early February, mentees and mentors met for the first time at our Reveal Event. Students are paired with mentors based on alignment with professional goals and personal identity, to meet with throughout the semester. Mentors’ professional backgrounds range from environmental law at the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), to outdoor education at NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), to gecko breeding at their own business!

In class sessions led by our student facilitators, Jed Lee, Sarah Naameh, and Dylan Kennedy, mentees participate in discussion and complete coursework designed to enrich and guide the mentorship process along themes of mentee aspirations, community/identity, tangible action, self-actualization, and self-care. This month, mentors and mentees came together again at our Mixer Event to build community and strengthen the professional network of environmentalists of color starting here in Berkeley. Moving forward, the excitement shared by mentees and mentors alike has been invigorating-- mentees even voted unanimously to hold class every week instead of every other!

This semester is the second run of the SCEC mentorship program, and the first of many in partnership with the Coalition. Let’s center diversity, equity, and inclusion in our mission for a green future!

Photo 3: Students and mentors get outside for an activity led by student facilitator, Jed Lee, at the Mixer Event, March 14, 2019.