SMEA Students Name Their Favorite BIPOC Scholars

A black woman with long dreadlocks and glasses in a business suit stands at a podium with her arms held in the air mid-speech.
Berlin, Germany (February 8, 2012) – Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore speaks at the Radius of Art Conference. Dr. Gilmore is a Professor of Geography in the Earth and Environmental Sciences PhD program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). (Photo credit: Heinrich Böll Foundation, shared under a Creative Commons license)


In the last year we’ve seen a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and a growing movement against anti-Asian hate, against the backdrop of mental health, social, economic, and racial issues that were all exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities are organizing to resist the violence of systematic racism, not only pushing for systematic changes in policing but moving beyond that to challenge the very roots of our history and the injustices which our nation was built upon and which continue to impact so many.

Spurred in large part by these movements, many SMEA students dove into the work of BIPOC scholars both in and outside of the classroom. I asked SMEA students to name their favorite BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) scholars and to share why they admire them. I specified a preference for scholars working in marine- or environmental justice-related fields, but left suggestions open to any discipline and collected feedback anonymously to provide a safe space for student perspectives on their chosen scholars.

I hope this list of fantastic scholars serves as a great resource to help you expand the way you think about marine and other environmental issues and how you conduct your own work.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Suggested read: Gilmore, R. W. (2007). Golden gulag: Prisons, surplus, crisis, and opposition in globalizing California. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

“Ruth Wilson Gilmore writes about racial capitalism and prison abolition.”

“One of my favorite quotes from Ruth Wilson Gilmore, from a video on the geographies of racial capitalism, is: ‘Capitalism requires inequality, and racism enshrines it.’”

Joan Naviyuk Kane

“In college I went to a live poetry reading by Iñupiaq poet, Joan Naviyuk Kane, where she brought the Arctic physical and cultural landscape to life. I then bought her book of poems, The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, poring through the pages and trying to recreate her voice.”

Epeli Hau’ofa

“Epeli Hau’ofa (Tongan/Fijian) grew up in Papua New Guinea. He was a writer, anthropologist, and educator with influential essays like “Our Sea of Islands” and “The Ocean in Us” that advocated for a powerful view of Oceania. I have been reading his selected works in We Are the Ocean, which is the reason he is my number one right now.”

Shay-Akil McLean

Suggested reading: McLean, S. A. (2020). Social constructions, historical grounds. Practicing Anthropology, 42(3), 40-44.

“Shay-Akil McLean, a queer and trans evolutionary biologist and geneticist. He often goes by @hood_biologist on social media!”

Kyle Whyte

Suggested read: Whyte, K. (2018). Settler colonialism, ecology, and environmental injustice. Environment and Society, 9, p.125-144. doi: 10.3167/ares.2018.090109

“Kyle Whyte writes articles and research centered around environmental justice, climate justice, food sovereignty, and indigeneity, and is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.”

“Over the years, I have read multiple articles by Potawatomi scholar Kyle Whyte and have never been disappointed. From “Indigenous science (fiction) for the Anthropocene” to “Indigenous Climate Change Studies,” Whyte looks at the changing landscape of the future from an Indigenous perspective, providing an alternative viewpoint on the importance of decolonization and Indigenous futurisms.”

A man with a long, graying beard wearing glasses stands in front of a water body with snow covered ground and trees in the background.
December 25, 2020 – Kyle Whyte stands near a river in winter. Dr. Whyte is Professor of Environment and Sustainability and George Willis Pack Professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. (Photo credit: Kyle Whyte. Photo cropped and shared under a Creative Commons license)


Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

“Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a Mississauga Nishnaabeg author who writes about Indigenous ways of knowing and doing science. I am currently reading her book, As We Have Always Done, for a SMEA class on abolition ecologies, and it has been an intense learning experience about how to do science in a way that puts the power in the hands of Indigenous communities.”

Katherine McKittrick

Suggested read: McKittrick, K. (2021). Dear science and other stories. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

“Really loving Katherine McKittrick and Leanne Simpson currently.”

Dr. Melanie Malone

Suggested read: Malone, M. (2017). Using critical physical geography to map the unintended consequences of conservation management programs. Portland State University – Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3639. doi: 10.15760/etd.5523

Dr. Malone focuses on soil degradation, contamination, and spatial analysis, and she examines how environmental problems arise “through the emerging [framework] of critical physical geography.”

“I first heard of critical physical geography (CPG) when Dr. Malone gave a talk at SMEA last quarter! According to her dissertation, studies of the environment tend to be characterized as ‘purely social or purely biophysical problems.’ In contrast, CPG takes a holistic approach that integrates both. Her work in CPG seems super relevant to those of us in SMEA who are working at those intersections ourselves.”

Nick Estes

Suggested read: Estes, N. (2019). Our history is the future: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the long tradition of Indigenous resistance. Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books.

“Nick Estes. I love his work and activism! He’s a professor at the University of New Mexico and he’s also a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He speaks regularly about how decolonizing and Indigenizing our systems is essential to a greener, just future. He’s a co-founder of the Red Nation, a coalition of people advocating for Native liberation. The Red Nation just put out a book called The Red Deal, an Indigenous response to the Green New Deal. Here’s a video of Nick talking about the importance of treaties with Native Nations.”

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

Suggested read: Johnson, A. E., and Wilkinson, K. K. (Eds.). (2020). All we can save: Truth, courage, and solutions for the climate crisis. All We Can Save Project.

Ayana is a “marine biologist, policy expert, writer, founder of a non-profit think tank called Urban Ocean Lab, co-founder of a climate initiative called The All We Can Save Project, and co-host of the podcast How to Save a Planet.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer

“Robin Wall Kimmerer. I first read ’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass, in a class last quarter and I was immediately struck by her writing style! Dr. Kimmerer is a botanist and plant ecologist, and like Kyle Whyte she is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is a beautiful writer who weaves together both Indigenous science and settler science in her writing and research.”

“Robin Wall Kimmerer is an Indigenous scholar who talks about how it’s not our environment that needs to be restored, it’s our relationship to our environment that needs to be restored. I appreciate how much she advocates for greater reciprocity and deeper relationships with lands and waters. One of my favorite quotes of hers comes from a speech she gave at the 2014 Bioneers conference: ‘We are destined by our biology to take lives in order to sustain our own, and that utter dependence upon the lives of others sets up certain responsibilities which are simultaneously practical and spiritual.’”

Dr. Christopher Schell

Suggested read: Schell, C. J., Dyson, K., Fuentes, T. L., Des Roches, S., Harris, N. C., Miller, D. S., Woelfle-Erskine, C. A., and Lambert, M. R. (2020). The ecological and evolutionary consequences of systemic racism in urban environments. Science, 369(6510). doi: 10.1126/science.aay4497

Dr. Schell’s research focuses on animal behavior and human-wildlife interactions in urban environments. He relies on collaborative relationships in order to apply evolutionary theory to management issues.

“I first heard of Dr. Schell’s work when his paper, which Cleo is a co-author on, came out in Science last year. Every ecologist needs to read it! It’s a great review paper that weaves together natural and social science and shows how systemic racism impacts not just human populations but the environments we live in and near.”

This list mainly features established BIPOC scholars. Many more scholars, both established and yet-to-be established, are not mentioned here. I encourage you to continue seeking them out, and I hope you enjoy the links and information provided as much as I have loved learning from SMEA students about their favorite scholars. The endeavor to remedy marine and other environmental injustices is only beginning.

A black woman dressed in black, wearing glasses, and a microphone over her ear is speaking in front of a large theater screen. The picture displayed on the screen is a group of people meeting around a conference room table.
Vancouver, BC, Canada (April 16, 2019) – Ayana Elizabeth Johnson speaks during the Unplugged Session at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. Dr. Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert, co-founder of the Urban Ocean Lab, and co-host of the “How to Save a Planet” podcast. (Photo credit: Ryan Lash/TED, shared under a Creative Commons license)