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IRISE Working to Tackle Issues of Inclusion and Sustainability

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Jon Stone

Media Relations Manager

Jon Stone

Postdoctoral students present their research during the Diversity Summit

Feature  •
IRISE postdoctoral fellows present their research during the Diversity Summit. (L to R) Daniel Olmos, Holly Okonkwo, Angel Hinzo, Dale Broder and Pranietha Mudliar.
IRISE postdoctoral fellows present their research during the Diversity Summit. (L to R) Daniel Olmos, Holly Okonkwo, Angel Hinzo

The intersection of diversity and sustainability is not a connection many considered before the 17th annual Diversity Summit. However, after hearing from keynote speakers and attending various panels at the summit, the DU community may find it easier to understand how the two topics are interconnected.

For DU’s Interdisciplinary Research Incubator for the Study of (In)Equality (IRISE), the link between the two topics has been a focal point for years. Five postdoctoral fellows have dedicated the past two years to researching issues of inequality, social justice and inclusivity. They are the second cohort to focus their research and scholarship work around these issues since the creation of IRISE four years ago.

“I think at first glance, people tend to treat sustainability and inclusion as completely different worlds,” says Tom Romero, an associate professor in the Sturm College of Law and assistant provost of inclusive excellence research and curricular initiatives. “The people who research the issue of sustainability have found clear intersections with the issue of inequality.”

Romero points to one recent example highlighting this connection — the Flint, Mich. water crisis. In a cost-cutting effort in one of the nation’s poorest cities, the state switched Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. When the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality failed to properly treat the corrosive water, it ate into the city’s iron and lead pipes and tainted the drinking water.

During last week’s Diversity Summit, IRISE’s five postdoctoral fellows were asked to present their research on what inclusion and sustainability have to do with inequality.

“It was a task they took on with great enthusiasm,” Romero says. “It was very easy for them to do this because [the connection] was obvious to them in the work they were doing.”

Daniel Olmos researched Los Angeles’ ban on gas-powered leaf blowers in the late 1990s and the impact it had on immigrant workers. Angel Hinzo, Dale Broder and Holly Okonkwo looked at STEM access for Native American students in high school, the lack of access to quality STEM education in some Colorado schools, and how African American women are navigating higher education to become scientists. Finally, Pranietha Mudliar studied watershed management in India and how different castes have set aside differences to reach solutions.

“Many of these projects are community-based and connected to DU,” Romero says. “We’re not just delivering content — we are able to get meaningful data out of it to help us understand more about the challenges that we are facing in the Rocky Mountain region.”

Romero and his team are now in the process of designing IRISE 2.0, re-imagining the future of the program. Their goal is to create solutions to racial equity gaps in education, health, income, housing and employment. These are all areas of concern identified in the Losing Ground report created by Rocky Mountain PBS.

“All of these issues are interconnected,” Romero says. “We thought, ‘here’s a great opportunity to use IRISE as a fulcrum to bring the resources of the University together to tackle the challenges facing our community.’”

To read about how DU's Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship & Learning is turning conversations from the Diversity Summit into meaningful action, please click here.