Spotlight on New Faculty: Monica White

This fall we welcome Monica White as an assistant professor of environmental justice, a new position created and shared between our department and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. White will play an active role in the research, teaching and outreach activities of both units in the area of environmental justice.

whiteProfessor White received her PhD in Sociology from Western Michigan University and is a former Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. Her research investigates communities of color and grassroots organizations that are engaged in the development of sustainable, community-based food systems as a strategy to respond to issues of hunger and food inaccessibility.

Informed by the intersection of race, class, food systems, community development, urban geography/planning, and social movement literatures, Dr. White’s research examines how citizens of the city of Detroit engage in community gardening as a means of renegotiating their relationship with the environment, eschewing reliance on external political structures to solve community problems and re-creating the city from the bottom up. This work, she argues, is motivated by the recognition that community gardens perform the dual function of providing nutritious, sustainable, locally grown produce for people who live in “food deserts” on one hand, while at the same time providing green spaces for communities of color that have been left visibly blighted by deindustrialization. Additionally, this research provides an alternative perspective on the persistent representation of Detroit as a site of urban decay that is in ruins.

White’s current projects also examine how women of color engage agriculture as a strategy to address multiple forms of oppression. Theoretically rooted in womanist/eco-feminist, liberation ecology, and Black feminist frameworks, it expands the scholarship on Diasporan African women activists who participate in agriculture as a way to realign their relationship with the environment, actively reassess their cultural roots, demonstrate their agency, and reclaim their power on the supply of food in urban spaces. By focusing on Black women’s urban gardening, this work broadens the definition of resistance to include less formal, but no less important, forms of resistance.

Taking an international approach to examine the alternative strategies that communities pursue to develop sustainable food systems, Dr. White has started a comparative analysis of the activities of Black farmers in Detroit; Pembroke, Illinois; St. Thomas and St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands; and Accompong-a Maroon, sovereign and agricultural community of Jamaica.

Her work has appeared in Humanity & Society, Environmental Practice, Teaching Sociology, and the Michigan Family Review and has been supported from sources such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of State, Wayne State University’s Presidential Research Enhancement Program for Urban Research, Wayne State University Humanities Center and the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

As an extension of her research and teaching, she is equally engaged in public policy work that brings greater insight and awareness to issues of environmental/food justice, food sovereignty, and security. She was appointed to the Food Justice Task Force sponsored by the Institute for Agricultural Trade Policy (IATP), she testified before the Michigan House of Representatives Urban Policy Committee and also appears in the critically acclaimed documentary Urban Roots: When Everything Collapses Plant Your Field of Dreams.

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