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UH receives $1.25M grant for Asian American Pacific Islander environmental justice

students on Samoan voyaging canoe
Univ. of Hawaii media release

Honolulu, HAWAII — The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Arts, Languages and Letters (CALL) is set to pioneer a venture into environmental justice within Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, thanks to a game-changing $1.25-million grant from the Mellon Foundation. This funding will propel the establishment of a cutting-edge interdisciplinary initiative, complete with two new faculty positions, a humanities lab to develop new teaching materials, and a dynamic forum for professional development and the exchange of ideas.

“We have every expectation that this project will have a transformational and lasting impact on UH Mānoa’s growing capacity to serve as an international leader in advancing the goal of environmental justice across the vast and interconnected regions of Asia, Oceania and America,” said CALL Dean Peter Arnade.


Examples of environmental justice issues can range from unequal access to clean water, air pollution and climate change impacts. Asia and the Pacific Islands are home to more than 60% of the world’s surface area and human population, and are disproportionately affected by the ecological catastrophes of sea-level rise, marine pollution, coastal erosion and biodiversity loss. At the same time, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are notably underrepresented in the environmental movement at the national level.

Throughout the next three years, the new initiative, housed in CALL’s School of Pacific and Asian Studies (SPAS), aims to chart a new course forward by developing an approach to environmental justice that leans into the long-standing connections— of culture, kinship and shared histories—that link the diverse regions and populations of America, Oceania and Asia. The initiative will lay an educational foundation for a new generation of leaders who will be equipped with grounded and culturally-relevant knowledge, networks, and skills to empower themselves and their communities.

“UH Mānoa will be one of the first universities in the country with this kind of AAPI-based environmental humanities initiative,” said Cathryn Clayton, professor and chair of the Department of Asian Studies. “We hope to spark new conversations, at the local, national and international level, about the intersections of environmental and social justice from AAPI perspectives. We also hope to provide an institutional platform that can help amplify the voices that are already out there in the community doing this vital work.”

Clayton and Alexander Mawyer, an associate professor and director of the UH Mānoa Center for Pacific Islands, authored the proposal.