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Environmental storytelling offers stage for the stories of people of color connected to nature

November 18, 2022

Sharing personal narratives of their ventures into and passions for the environment, Kellie Navarro ’23, Ebe Figueroa ’24 and Sejal Prachand ’24 captivated students on Thursday night in Lamarche Gallery. Orchestrated by Navarro as part of a three-part environmental storytelling series, the event intended to elevate the voices of students of color, who are often underrepresented in conversations of the outdoors.

Inspired by a similar storytelling experience as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, Navarro saw many possibilities for the stories that could be shared.

“It could be their story about going into the environmental field and why they’re passionate about it. It could be more like, ‘I love going into the outdoors and this is why;’ it could also just be like, ‘I’m really passionate about this one insect.’ It could be any variety of things,” Navarro said.

Attendees were drawn in by a variety of interests, from the themes of the stories to the idea of the event as a whole.

“[Prachand] told me that the name of their piece was ‘Crow,’ and so I was intrigued,” Elliot Norwood ’24 said.

The event appealed to Liliana Lines ’24, who appreciated how the stories were intertwined with the environment.

“I just like listening to stories, and I am an EOS major, so I’m interested in the environment,” Lines said.

Navarro took the stage first. She spoke about how her dreams of being a researcher and exploring the natural world were met with hesitancy by her family, as well as the necessity of placing students of color at the forefront of climate research as the communities most affected by climate change.

Interspersed throughout her story were instances when she felt particularly connected to the environment, such as her first dive. She saw an eagle ray above her, and it calmed her fears. She was reminded of the fact that her love for the ocean began through curiosity.

Prachand began and ended her story with a tale about a crow that sat above her as she birdwatched on a lake in Chicago. They took up bird watching on a whim after their first semester at Bowdoin, but the activity became a large part of their life. She relayed how watching a sea duck for the first time changed her perspective.

“Until that day I didn’t know there were types of ducks … I didn’t know how much beauty there was in the world,” Prachand said.

The connection Figueora described with the outdoors began when she was young. Her father would often take her and her siblings to Lake Michigan to play on the beach, and her mother has a green thumb that can bring back plants from the brink of death. She found her environmental perspective—that nature is something to be connected to and not conquered—in her identity as a Latina woman.

Despite spending a significant portion of her childhood outdoors, Figueora came to college feeling behind in the natural knowledge that many students obtained through their privileged relationships with the environment. She hopes to make the outside world more accessible.

The lack of access to the outdoors among people of color, both on a recreational and academic level, was a common theme in all three stories and something the speakers expressed they are working to change.

As a biology major, Navarro believes the department would better serve first-generation students of color like herself by hiring more faculty of color and increasing their support for these students. Navarro hopes that her storytelling event can help reduce the deficit in programming for people of color interested in the environment.

“I’m super excited to be able to highlight students of color on campus, especially in this very white field,” Navarro said. “I just feel like I haven’t seen an event like this, and that’s why I wanted to bring it. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but I was just excited to bring that to life.”


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