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Middlebury Geology Happenings

A Commitment to an Anti-Racist Community

By Thomas Wiegleb

“Many within Geosciences are currently having difficult conversations about racism…”

~Gabe Duran, URGE

The members of the Geology Department at Middlebury College are among the “many within geosciences” who observe fewer students of color enrolled in intro Geology classes relative to similar intro level classes in other departments. This is reflective of a documented problem in the Geosciences, exemplified by data published by Bernard and Cooperdock in 2018.  The data shows that in the past 40 years the community has made little or no progress in increasing the representation of minoritized groups among the population of geoscientists earning PhDs in the US.

Recognizing this issue and the systemic injustices it reflects and perpetuates, the faculty of the Geology Department decided to critically examine their own practices as scientists and educators, with the goal of improving the Department as well as the field of Geology at large.

In February of 2021 the Middlebury College Geology department became part of a 16-week program known as URGE: Unlearning Racism in the Geosciences, a program supported in part by the US National Science Foundation. All of the department faculty members plus many students signed a pledge committing themselves to learning about types of racism and sources of inequity in order to implement anti-racist policies and strategies to increase participation and support in the geosciences.

This action signals the commitment of the Geology Department at Middlebury College to actively address historic and ongoing injustices in higher education, hold themselves accountable, and implement strategies for change. The coordinators of URGE encouraged member pods to create bi-weekly deliverables that established clear and actionable plans for enacting and supporting anti racist policies and practices. One of the important threads running through each of the curricular units was establishing and publicizing baseline data against which to evaluate institutional progress. Beginning in Fall of 20201, all courses in the Geology Department will ask students to voluntarily self-identify as BIPOC or non-BIPOC. These data will be tracked each semester to establish departmental enrollment statistics and to evaluate our progress in diversifying the department. Of course simply passively collecting data is insufficient to encourage student interest or overcome structural barriers to participation. The Geology Department is committed to offering courses that appeal to a diverse array of students and that are accessible to students with no prior experience in Geology or Earth Science. 

For example: Dr. Allison Jacobel’s course ‘Earth’s Oceans and Coastlines’ begins by explicitly acknowledging the racist and exclusionary history of Oceanography. In her syllabus for the course she writes:

The early study of Earth’s oceans was undeniably motivated by colonial interests, including the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In this course we recognize the racist and imperialist roots of Oceanography, and enduring injustices in access to and acceptance by the field. We will highlight the work of scientists from marginalized groups and work to understand the obstacles they faced and continue to face. We will also examine and discuss issues of environmental injustice and racism that intersect with ocean science.

The course, which has no prerequisites, interweaves marine science and its implications for a diverse array of groups including the US and international communities of color disproportionately impacted by sea level rise, and vulnerable populations who depend on ocean resources for nutritional and economic sustenance. The course asks students to think critically about the roots of injustice and its implications in a rapidly changing world. 

It is crucial to note that the work towards a more just and inclusive world at Middlebury and beyond neither begins nor ends with the Department’s efforts. The proposals and commitments created by the Department’s URGE Pod are one of many steps we are taking towards unlearning and dismantling systemic racism and bias. We look forward to including many more voices and actors in this work as it moves forward and are eager to learn from and support the Middlebury community.

Students and faculty work closely not only in courses but also in research projects during the summer and throughout the year in senior thesis research. Student-faculty work includes projects throughout the world; for example, Lake Champlain, Vermont, Maine, the Uintas of Utah, Costa Rica, Antarctica, the North and South Atlantic oceans, the Buffalo River, British Columbia, and Montana. Most projects involve extensive field work plus use of sophisticated equipment in our labs here at Middlebury. Access to equipment is free and open to all students.


Annual Fall Field Trip, September 2016 - White Mountains

Led by faculty, Will Amidon and Jeff Munroe

Will Amidon's Environmental Geology

Fall, 2017

Department of Geology

McCardell Bicentennial Hall
276 Bicentennial Way
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753