Autumn 2020 Open Spaces Conversations: October 9

Program on the Environment students, staff and faculty are invited to the first of our fall series of Open Spaces Conversations on Friday, October 9, 3-5 PM. This first event will feature Prof. Anu Taranath (English & CHID). Further information about Dr. Taranath is available at

More about Open Spaces Conversations from PoE Director Gary Handwerk:

“On Race: Talking, Listening, Making Change”
A Series of Open Spaces Conversations in the Program on the Environment
Autumn 2020: Friday Afternoons, 3-5 PM

The widespread protests of Spring 2020 against police violence and systemic racial biases in American society have made clear the urgent need for all of us in this country to work with vigor toward better, more open discussion on matters of race: its history as a term, as an idea, as an experience, and as it continues to deeply impact contemporary society. Building on suggestions made in the Spring PoE Town Hall, I have been talking with PoE faculty, staff and students over the summer about how to advance these conversations…which need to be sustained over time if we want to make real progress in our society-wide awareness of the differential impacts of race and other socio-cultural inequities.

As Director of the Program on the Environment, I am inviting you to participate in a series of Friday afternoon conversations this fall, which will take up the topic of race and related issues in American society. These will be structured conversations, including campus leaders from across UW familiar with different aspects of racial experiences and climates in the specific space we all share, our common campus. The conversations are intended to have both an historical and a pragmatic dimension, exploring what key individuals who have helped create change within and beyond this university have learned about the processes of institutional and social change, and reflecting upon how to apply those personal and historical lessons to foster further movement forward.

At the same time, COVID has made in-person conversations risky even for highly important issues. So our format will by necessity be virtual—which has some advantages in allowing us to record the sessions, expanding the number of people who would be able to attend, and enabling wide engagement via Chat and other features of Zoom.

Over nine weeks, we will alternate two formats. For weeks 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9, we plan to have two invited speakers, initially conversing with each other about an issue on which they have convergent experiences, then opening out to wider issues, and finally interacting via Chat and other features of Zoom with the audience. In the alternate weeks, we will use the same Friday afternoon time for further conversation within the PoE community—commenting, debriefing and reflecting upon issues raised in the public sessions. These conversations are designed with you, the PoE majors, as the primary audience. We will also be inviting undergraduate students from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences to the public sessions…and they may schedule their own separate off-week conversations as well. The first session will be with Anu Taranath, the UW Teaching Professor and independent consultant on diversity issues who led our spring Town Hall, and deal with how to begin talking and listening about race. For more information about Anu, see her consulting Web site:

This will be a long series of events; I don’t expect many of you will be able to attend all of them. But that isn’t necessary; showing up when you can, for as long as possible, would be great. Different individuals among us will be coming from very different places as well, some with extensive experience about conversations on race, others perhaps beginners, many (like me) somewhere in between. That mix is in fact one of my goals in designing what I hope can be a broadly participatory set of conversations.

I want to encourage all of you to think very seriously about attending at least some of these sessions and to participate in this process of collective education. The talk will be exploratory, seeking to find ways that more of us, from our different backgrounds and with our varied life experiences, can communicate more fully and frankly about some of the most delicate and most important topics in American society. And, as we all know, race and social justice issues impinge specifically, in both direct and indirect ways, on the environmental issues that are at the center of our curriculum.

To encourage your participation, I will also be offering 1 credit of independent study credit (C/NC, with me listed as instructor) to any of you who feel able to commit to attending the majority of the sessions and doing a modest amount of reflective writing about your experiences. While RSVPs are not required (we want to encourage everyone to drop in on sessions even at the last minute or for part of the time), we would like to get some sense of possible numbers of attendees. So I would ask that you reply at this URL ( if you do plan to attend the first session. Those of you interested in the independent study credit should contact me directly at: .

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and for thinking about whether you can fit some of these conversations into what I realize, looking ahead, will be a busy and intense autumn quarter. I look forward to getting to know many of you better as a result of these events.

Here is a list of confirmed participants and titles:

October 9: Anu Taranath (Teaching Professor, English & Comparative History of Ideas), “Talking about Race: Dynamics, Difficulties and Direction”

October 16: PoE students, staff, and faculty

October 23: Shawn Wong (Professor, English) and Terryl Ross (Assistant Dean, College of the Environment), “The UW Diversity Course Requirement: How It Came to Be”

October 30: PoE students, staff, and faculty

November 6: Chad Allen (Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement) and Iisaaksiichaa Ross Braine (UW Intellectual House), “TBD”

November 13: PoE students, staff, and faculty

November 20: TBD

November 27: Thanksgiving Holiday

December 4: Isabel Carrera Zamanillo (College of the Environment Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) and B J Cummings (Manager of Community Engagement for UW Superfund Research Program), “Environmental Justice Education and Community Action”

December 11: TBD