Dr. Christopher Schell
Assistant Professor, Sciences and Mathematics, University of Washington, Tacoma
Chris Schell is an evolutionary ecologist and spokesperson for environmental justice. Dr. Schell’s research interests mesh with his concerns about environmental racism and the struggle for equity in communities of color. In addition to his teaching and research studies, he often counsels students who are experiencing issues that he dealt with as the only person of color during his graduate program in evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago.
The environmental results of classism and racism are often visible, particularly loss of green space which alters plant and animal diversity. Other historical issues such as redlining and Jim Crow laws segregated people groups to industrial areas and created urban heat islands. Schell notes such contrasts when he compares aerial maps of University Place with its adjacent Tacoma neighborhood.
While acknowledging these problems, Schell points out that the push to plant more trees and create green space benefits the environment, but also tends to raise property values and gentrify neighborhoods. He suggests more emphasis on planting community gardens as an interim measure which also address the problem of food deserts and keep communities intact.
Schell wants to address environmental and racial inequity through interdisciplinary efforts, working with social scientists and local citizens as well as field and research scientists. Currently, he leads the Grit City Project with the Point Defiance Zoo and Metro Parks to study the Tacoma’s urban wildlife and how these species have adapted to their environmental changes. Although he has recently accepted a position at UC Berkeley, he will continue to collaborate with the UW system in the research projects he has initiated in Western Washington.