Office of Environmental Justice

Monica White

Under the leadership of Professor Monica White, the Nelson Institute Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) strives to be an inclusive community of scholars who share a passion for enhancing the opportunities for students to gain a better understanding of the causes and consequences of environmental justice problems and to learn how to work toward creating a more fair, just, resilient, and sustainable world.

From professors and students to partners and alumni, the Nelson Institute community includes a diverse group of people joining and extending the conversation around environmental justice, bringing methodologies and perspectives from across the humanities and social and natural sciences to explore current and emerging issues and to create real change.

Public programming and events, such as the Everyone’s Earth: Conversations on Race and Environment lecture series showcases and promotes voices of color, highlighting the issues at the intersection of diversity and environmental justice and is designed to raise public awareness around issues and opportunities related to diversity and inclusion across the environmental spectrum.

Everyone’s Earth events are conducted one or more times each year, either as standalone lectures or coupled with other Nelson signature events, such as Tales from Planet Earth film events and the Nelson Institute Earth Day programming.

Connect with us: New partnership inquiries or questions about the Nelson Institute Office of Environmental Justice should be directed to

Academic Programs

Community Environmental Scholars Program

Professor White plays a leadership role in advancing the Nelson Institute Community 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.

Group photo of Community Environmental Scholars Program students in a classroom

Campuswide Academic Engagement

Overhead view of six people sitting around a table looking at a map

UniverCity Year Program

Launched in 2016 with the Wisconsin Idea in mind, this three-year program facilitates engagement between the UW–Madison learning community and localities, ultimately bringing faculty, students, and community members together to address some of the greatest challenges facing Wisconsin’s local governments.

Now in its sixth year, UniverCity Year has engaged with thousands of students and faculty members on hundreds of projects in 14 counties and villages across the state.

In each partnership, the community is at the heart of the UniverCity Year program, ultimately selecting which challenges should be addressed and what projects would be most impactful. Each of the 14 municipalities has identified challenges or projects to address during this partnership that range from evidence-based decision-making and economic improvements to flooding mitigation and racial equality.

Community Partnerships

Native Nations Partnership Program

In May 2016, the provosts of UW-Madison, University of Wisconsin Colleges, and University of Wisconsin Extension collectively authorized a new initiative: the Native Nations_UW (NN_UW) Working Group.

The NN_UW Working Group was convened to partner with the Native Nations in Wisconsin on efforts to improve health services, preserve the environment, develop local economies, strengthen families, and expand educational opportunities, while supporting the overall goal of strengthening Tribal sovereignty.

Group photo of participants in the 2019 Native Nations Summit

Humanities Education for Anti-Racism Literacy (HEAL) in the Sciences and Medicine

Selected as one of 16 winning projects in the Mellon Foundation’s “Just Futures Initiative” competition, the University of Wisconsin–Madison-based “Humanities Education for Anti-Racism Literacy (HEAL) in the Sciences and Medicine” will bring together faculty, students, community members and Tribal partners to address a lack of awareness of histories of racism in academic disciplines, especially in scientific disciplines, and a lack of diverse representation in STEMM across sectors, from academia to industry.

Elizabeth Hennessy, a UW–Madison professor in the History Department and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, will lead UW’s project and Professor White is among UW-Madison’s cross-university team.

Three people talking and smiling while standing in a grassy field


The Nelson Institute acknowledges that the study of the environment has been associated historically with a narrow demographic of stakeholders, communities, and populations.

The result is a community that is predominantly white, largely middle-class, and politically green, rather than one associated with a diverse range of interested communities.

The Nelson Institute intends to expand the breadth of environmental studies and direct ourselves toward the values and concerns of diverse communities, and to learn from and educate people from all walks of life.

Aaron Bird Bear helping a young girl create a crayon rubbing from the


The Office of Environmental Justice and Engagement seeks to advance two goals of the Nelson Institute: environmental stewardship and social justice.

These goals will be accomplished through the coordination of  activities and events that focus on environmental and racial justice, decolonizing relationships with Native communities, and diversifying the constituency for environmental issues and action.

The office will also serve as a catalyst for new research and teaching that will better serve diverse communities in the region and beyond.