University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

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Master Naturalists advocate for diversity in ecosystems and volunteer program

Students gather on the University of Illinois Quad on a spring afternoon.
Students gather on Quad on a spring afternoon.

As part of its campus efforts, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is working with University of Illinois Extension to diversify its Master Naturalist program.

Extension’s Master Naturalist program provides science-based training to volunteers to help them become active environmental stewards in their community. Currently, the vast majority of the program’s volunteers indicate their race as white and there are limited service projects that specifically engage with communities of color.

Started by Professor Joy O’Keefe in the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences, the Diversify Master Naturalist Project is taking steps to make the program more inclusive by identifying and removing barriers for participants and addressing racial inequity in its training and programs.

Ross Wantland, director of curriculum development and education with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, worked with the Diversify Master Naturalist Project to focus on communities of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), groups that have been excluded from outdoor spaces.

Due to systemic racism practices, such as exclusionary housing, BIPOC communities are more likely to be impacted by pollution and climate change. However, they cannot advocate for change if they are not included in conservation efforts.

 “We’ve had the chance to explore from the ground up what structural racism is and what coordinators can do with this knowledge at the county level,” Wantland said.

Please visit the University of Illinois extension website for more information.