The JEDI Story Behind Forest(Reads)

The popular series is addressing some of the most important topics of conversation surrounding Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

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Whether taking the form of discrimination in the workplace or microaggressions woven into a casual conversation, at the core of racism are discriminatory acts against people based on their skin colour, religious views or cultural practices.

To help confront and address the root causes and histories that perpetuate racist and anti-Indigenous beliefs and acts into the 21st Century, UBC Forestry has launched a number of initiatives, including a webinar, podcast and the Forest(Reads) book club. UBC Forestry has also created an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council to address policies and structures within the Faculty, says UBC Forestry Assoc. Prof. and Assoc. Dean, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Hisham Zerriffi.

These initiatives were spearheaded by the former Assoc. Dean, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, UBC Forestry Professor Sarah Gergel; Estefanía Milla-Moreno, a graduate student in the Faculty; and Hisham, who previously chaired the council.

The last couple of years have brought to the fore many challenges to be addressed, notes Hisham. The global COVID-19 pandemic “raised all sorts of equity questions and concerns: from health impacts to employment and family issues that were often experienced to a greater extent among marginalized groups.”

The tragic murder of African American George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in May 2020 raised new questions and topics of discussion and spurred the genesis of various public initiatives.

“Our justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) approach to EDI makes clear that we also want to address issues of justice and power,” says Hisham. “Some of the topics we discuss can be uncomfortable or even controversial. At the same time, they are greatly needed to bring forward more marginalized voices that wouldn’t ordinarily be in the spotlight or heard.”

Forest(Reads) introduces UBC Forestry faculty, staff, students and interested members of the public to JEDI topics through a literary lens. The inaugural Forest(Reads), coordinated by graduate student Arial Eatherton, involved events and talks surrounding Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer. Conversations touched on the author’s examination of how scientific and Indigenous knowledge intersect in a world where many of us have lost touch with the life forces found within our natural environment.

Topics of black identity and belonging in parks and other outdoor spaces were explored in the 2022 Forest(Reads) book selection coordinated by graduate student Jaylen Bastos, Black Faces, White Spaces by cultural geographer Dr. Carolyn Finney.

“The book covers some of the deep roots of racism within the environmental movement in North America in terms of the legacy of how parks and park-related organizations were created, and how that history may be reinforcing the exclusion of members of some minority groups,” says Hisham.

Along with encouraging faculty, staff and students to read the book and attend the events, Hisham hopes the initiative “will spark more conversations and a deeper understanding of how to realize greater justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in our lives.”


Led by our very own Development and Alumni Engagement Office, and shaped by valuable feedback from our alumni community, the Spring 2022 issue of Branchlines showcases the dynamic and multifaceted fields of forestry. 

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