AAG Welcomes Summer 2024 Interns

Two new interns have joined the AAG staff this spring. The AAG would like to welcome Nora and Shayla to the organization.

Nora ButterNora Butter (she/her) is a junior at George Washington University pursuing a dual B.A. in Environmental Studies and Geography, with minors in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Sustainability. Her areas of interest include environmental justice, geomorphology, biogeography, sustainable city planning as well as mapping for representation and aid. In her free time, she enjoys attending concerts, baking, and musical theater. As an Ohio native that grew up in a car-heavy town, Nora enjoys exploring Washington, D.C. via public transportation and loves riding the metro. She’s excited for this summer and the research that follows!

Shayla Flaherty is a senior at Bridgewater State University, pursuing a B.S. in Geography with a concentration in Environmental Planning and Conservation. Her areas of interest include GIS, natural resource conservation, coastal zone management, and ecosystem ecology. Outside of academics, she enjoys painting, dancing, and golfing. She is excited to be working as the AAG’s Media and Communication intern.

If you or someone you know is interested in applying for an internship at the AAG, the AAG seeks interns on a year-round basis for the spring, summer, and fall semesters. More information on internships at the AAG is also available on the Jobs & Careers section of the AAG website at https://www.aag.org/about-us/#internships.

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Revolutionary Geographical Lessons from Mississippi Freedom Schools

Two young African-American girls look down from window in front of the Freedom School Photo by Ken Thompson, ©The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, Inc. Used with permission of Global Ministries.
Freedom School Photo by Ken Thompson, ©The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, Inc. Used with permission of Global Ministries.

By Derek H. Alderman, University of Tennessee and Joshua Inwood, Pennsylvania State University

Derek AldermanJosh InwoodThe 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer is upon us. In the summer of 1964, several civil rights organizations, with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) often leading the way, carried out a bold campaign uniting volunteers from across the country with oppressed, often forgotten, communities in Mississippi. This effort not only combated racial discrimination but also led to widespread changes, including expanding American democracy. The campaign’s grassroots, participatory approach empowered Black people through voter registration, community organizing, and education.

Freedom Schools were a transformative innovation of the Mississippi Freedom Project. SNCC workers and their local allies transformed churches, backyards, community centers, and other meeting places in Black communities into 41 Freedom Schools that served over 2,500 students of color. These schools provided a powerful alternative to a segregated and poorly funded state-run school system that sought to reproduce passive and demoralized Black communities—what SNCC organizer Bob Moses called the “sharecropper education.” Freedom Schools have their origin in the history of Black citizenship schools and a tradition of educational self-determination and “fugitive pedagogy” in the face of severe oppression dating back to the days of enslavement.

Freedom Schools met the basic educational needs of Black youth long denied an adequate education under racial apartheid. These schools also fostered African American creative expression, critical thinking, and appreciation for Black history and literature. These insurgent classrooms were spaces of open dialogue, encouraging students to question and challenge the ideologies and effects of racism, white supremacy, and inequalities in U.S. society. They built the self-esteem and activist skills necessary for students to participate in their own liberation. Historian Jon Hale notes that many Freedom School students worked to integrate public spaces and businesses, organize demonstrations and boycotts, and canvass communities to encourage voter registration. Although these schools operated for just six weeks in the summer of 1964, they proved influential in creating a revolutionary cadre of young Black Mississippians ready to take on the role of citizen leaders in their communities. Freedom Schools have continued to inspire educational models of social justice that are still found today.

Although scholars have often overlooked this fact, Geography was a pivotal part of the Freedom School curriculum.  Freedom Schools offered revolutionary spatial learning and inquiry, focusing on Black students and their families’ often-ignored struggles and needs. Though not explicitly stated, the curriculum developers sought to spur students to develop an ‘anti-racist regional knowledge.’ This regional knowledge was not just a collection of facts and figures but a tool for understanding and challenging the power relations undergirding the building of the Deep South as a racially unjust region. It was an embodied and visceral form of geographic learning in which SNCC empowered students to reflect on their personal experiences with Jim Crow discrimination and identify the social and geographic forces behind their oppression. Running through the Freedom School curriculum was an idea made popular many years later by Clyde Woods, who argued that racialized underdevelopment in the South did not simply happen. It resulted from a monopoly of white power, what Woods called the “plantation bloc,” arresting the development opportunities of Black people – even as these oppressed communities found ways to survive and create.

Clyde Woods…argued that racialized underdevelopment in the South did not simply happen.

In our National Science Foundation-funded research, we have examined the Freedom School curriculum closely regarding geographic education, finding that these pedagogical ideas went beyond how Geography was taught in many schools and universities at the time. While top academic geographers in 1964 debated how to make the field more scientifically precise and the merits of systematic versus regional approaches, SNCC was in Mississippi creating course content that directly connected U.S. racism and segregation to broader regional and national analysis and putting its organic geographic intellectualism in the service of racial equality. The disconnect between Geography in Freedom Schools and what was practiced by ‘professional geographers’ speaks not just to the path-breaking nature of Freedom Summer but also to the complicity of our disciplinary spaces and practices in historically ignoring and excluding Black communities.

Along with colleagues Bethany Craig and Shaundra Cunningham, our paper in the Journal of Geography in Higher Education delves into Freedom Schools as a neglected chapter in geographic education. We highlight the curricular innovations they deployed in producing geographic knowledge accountable to Black experiences, communities, and places. Freedom School curriculum called on students to critically use geographic case studies to conduct regional comparisons — both within the U.S. and internationally — to situate Mississippi and the South within broader racial struggles and human rights geographies to raise the political consciousness and expand students’ relational sense of place.

At Freedom Schools, students developed skills using data from the U.S. Census and other sources to understand racial disparities in income and housing across communities in Mississippi and concerning their own families. Freedom Schools engaged students in interrogating the material landscapes of inequality to ask probing questions about the unjust distribution of resources from place to place. The curriculum frequently used maps, not just as passive locational references. Black students were given opportunities to produce “power maps,” which charted the social and spatial connections and networks between institutions and influential people undergirding the oppressive conditions in their community. Plotted on these unconventional but important cartographies were the larger geographic scales of power driving white supremacy—from the local to the national.

The disconnect between Geography in Freedom Schools and what was practiced by ‘professional geographers’ speaks not just to the path-breaking nature of Freedom Summer but also to the complicity of our disciplinary spaces and practices in historically ignoring and excluding Black communities.

As the nation remembers Freedom Summer, we encourage colleagues to delve into the revolutionary Geography lessons at work in Freedom Schools. This curriculum offers a window into the Black Geography knowledge production that always undergirded the Civil Rights Movement. It is an essential counterpoint to popular treatments that give too little attention to the intellectual labor and sophisticated planning behind the Movement. Black geographies of education, such as those found in Freedom Schools, provide an important avenue for recovering too easily forgotten activists and activism and how educational reform remains unfinished civil rights work.

Yet, examining the Freedom School curriculum is of more than historical importance. It directly inspires a question of importance to contemporary geography educators: How can we design a curriculum that serves not just the intellectual debates and interests of the field but responds directly to the everyday experiences, needs, and well-being of students and others from historically marginalized groups? When we publish critical research on equity and social justice, do we actively consider how that scholarship could translate to and impact educational praxis? As our field struggles with addressing issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and broadening participation as well as the relevance of Geography in an environment of education retrenchment, it is essential to note that students of color yearn for an educational experience that responds to their humanity and daily struggles.

Toward a Geography of Freedom

Freedom Schools provoke us to ask: Are we doing enough to articulate a vision of geographic education that addresses and intervenes in the struggle for freedom? Do we project within our classrooms a geographic perspective that helps historically excluded student groups make sense of and challenge their oppression and recognize their historical and contemporary contributions to building the nation and the wider world? As a discipline, are we doing what Freedom Schools did in helping our students develop the skills to identify and resist structural inequalities?

More and more geographers are committed individually and departmentally to these questions. Still, Freedom Schools provokes us to consider whether a more systemic approach is needed to rebuild Geography education and curriculum. Freedom Schools provide a moment for our field to re-evaluate and broaden what counts as geographic learning, whose lives matter in our curriculum, and what social and political work geographic pedagogy should accomplish. Several years ago, a group of educational specialists developed a set of widely distributed National Geography Standards called Geography for Life, which stops short of prominently promoting peace, social and environmental justice, and anti-discrimination. Don’t we need a new set of curricular standards borrowed from 1964 Mississippi, called Geography for Freedom?

Black geographies of education, such as those found in Freedom Schools, provide an important avenue for recovering too easily forgotten activists and activism and how educational reform remains unfinished civil rights work.

Crafting a Geography for Freedom curriculum should be a shared responsibility and involves collaborating with K-12 educators. Our K-12 colleagues have been hit especially hard by growing pressure from states, school districts, and parents to limit the very kind of discussions about racial injustice once held sixty years ago in Freedom Schools. Many university professors wrongly assume that their jobs and programs in higher education are somehow separate from and not impacted by Geography at the primary and secondary levels. The chilling, if not the absolute loss, of the right to tell and teach truths in classrooms can spread to higher education, and there are signs that it already has done so.

Reforming and rewriting the geographic curriculum taught at educational institutions is crucial. Yet, the Freedom Schools’ legacy of operating independently of and in opposition to the state should provoke us to expand the spatial politics of where teaching and learning happen. It is necessary to move beyond the traditional classroom to develop a Geography for Freedom curriculum within what Jacob Nicholson calls “alternative, non-formal educational spaces” — whether that be teach-ins, reading and writing groups, afterschool and summer programs,  teacher advocacy workshops, people’s schools or assemblies, mobile geospatial/citizen science labs, community radio shows, film screenings, or producing zines, infographics, and pamphlets.

Looking back upon Mississippi’s Freedom Schools and ‘discovering’ the role that Geography played in its educational activism should not be a feel-good moment for us in academic or professional geographic circles. Instead, it should push us to engage in a sober reckoning about what more our field can and should do to embrace the ideals and spatial imagination of Freedom Summer. We are 60 years behind, and it is time to catch up.


Perspectives is a column intended to give AAG members an opportunity to share ideas relevant to the practice of geography. If you have an idea for a Perspective, see our guidelines for more information.

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AAG Welcomes Jennifer Jones as New Membership Services Coordinator

Jenni JonesAAG is pleased to welcome Jennifer (Jenni) Jones as the newest addition to our staff as Membership Services Coordinator.

“I am looking forward to being a trusted go-to person for members once they do get to know me in the role,” Jones says. “The goal is to create an experience for the members that makes them want to stay members and also to tell other people about the benefits of being part of AAG.”

Jones brings 10 years of service experience working with numerous membership-based and public-serving non profits. Previously, she worked with the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) as a credentialist and for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) as a program and editorial assistant in program development and publications.

Gaining an understanding of AAG’s history, committees, members, and offerings over the past few weeks is helping Jenni get a historical perspective on the organization, as she learns to resolve technical issues for members. As the membership services coordinator, Jones works to meet AAG’s programming and strategic planning goals, interacting with members to ensure needs are met and to participate in the initiatives and goals of the communities of practice, affinity, and specialty groups. “For now, it’s just digging in and learning all the ways in which everybody belongs to the AAG and the way in which people decide to interact with the organization because there’s many different ways,” Jones stated.

In her free time, Jones enjoys gardening and beautifying spaces, in addition to spending time with her cats, Vincent & Salvador. She also spends time in movement and organizing spaces for economic justice in and around Philadelphia, Pa.

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A Toolkit for What Resists Fixing: Creating a Culture of Care

Person holding their hands in the shape of a heart with sunlight in background

By Risha RaQuelle, Chief Strategy Officer

Photo of Risha Berry

I most recently had the privilege of presenting a beta version of our TLC GRAM toolkit at the 2024 GFDA Department Leaders workshop with Dydia DeLyser of California State Fullerton and Daniel Trudeau of Macalester College. The TLC GRAM Toolkit is a compressed, operationalized approach to the AAG’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee’s strategic plan. I was excited to share this newest version of the strategy, which we piloted with our JEDI Committee working groups, as a potential tool for geography departments and program leaders at a time when such tools are very much needed.

Briefly, I invited the participants to walk through the toolkit and consider their own justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion strategies in one of the seven domains: Training, (Focused) Listening, Communications, Governance, Reports, Advocacy, and Membership. Although created for use by geography education leaders, we hope that anyone could adapt these tools to a wide variety of settings. We have also taken care to prepare this for many contexts, knowing that some campuses and states are pushing back against JEDI programs in explicit ways. For program leaders in states where JEDI work is being challenged, the TLC GRAM framework provides a universal outline to consider how to do the work within these limitations, by emphasizing management and training approaches that have broad relevance for good governance and student support. For example, in the workshop, participants were invited to match existing and planned strategies with the TLC GRAM categories the activity aligned with.

This “inventory” approach is helpful for identifying a range of strategies and approaches that are already in place, viewing them through the lens of TLC GRAM “best practices,” and then identifying new methods they’d like to try.

The TLC GRAM inventory is a process designed to encourage leaders to identify and build on the JEDI practices they have planned or underway.

The TLC GRAM inventory is a process designed to encourage leaders to identify and build on the JEDI practices they have planned or underway. This approach also leads the participant to round out their JEDI practices by developing strategies within each of the seven domains of the toolkit. Through this process, a participant will begin to see opportunities for alignment, areas that overlap, and gaps in planning. When a team co-creates this list, it can be even more powerful, as they refine their brainstorming into clear and actionable steps, celebrating the opportunity to collaborate in accomplishing their identified aims.

In other words, the toolkit is designed to take the guesswork out of identifying the “perfect” strategy.

Why Seeking the “Perfect” Strategy is Not the Best Way

The request for a toolkit often comes with an expectation of highly specific steps to take, and this is understandable. Who wouldn’t want a quick and straightforward way to identify actions to take, find clear categories we can get right the first time, and co-create strategies that are seamless and efficient? However, a toolkit is just that: tools. Try as we might, we can’t make the tools themselves into the end. They are only the beginning of an intention toward change. Uncertainty, learning, trial and error are not only unavoidable, but necessary to facilitating change.

The work we do to intentionally create opportunities for systems change is not a short game. This work is deeply systemic, unpredictable, and requires long-term commitment. The temptation is to identify ALL the strategies that anyone has ever taken, listen to how they utilized them, and consider if those strategies may work in your own context. While there is value in considering many options, you as leader and your team are the best candidates for identifying what you want to accomplish and what might motivate you.

Knowing that this work requires patience, we can still motivate and energize ourselves by engaging in quick exercises to jumpstart our thinking.

Knowing that this work requires patience, we can still motivate and energize ourselves by engaging in quick exercises to jumpstart our thinking. Doing so allows us to become time delimited, listing activities that might be possible in each domain. Of course, fear and anxiety might emerge as the pressure builds to find the “perfect” strategy. The purpose of this exercise is to identify “a” strategy. Carving out 10-15 minutes together with your team will jump start a process to co-create and refine each strategy, as time permits. The goal is to see what might be possible. For example,

  • In the Training domain — I might want to identify what training courses are available to support faculty and staff or students in undertaking justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion work. An inventory of what exists in the department is a first step toward finding out who is already doing the work on our team. In states where constraints are being placed on many kinds of DEI programming, I might think creatively about ways to strengthen existing mentoring and leadership training programs and faculty development.
  • In the Focused Listening domain, a participant might say they will create opportunities to have discussions about a justice, equity, diversity, or inclusion strategy that the department might want to undertake. This could be during a staff meeting as a quick exercise. Again, this can take other forms, like a special listening activity for students to talk about their needs and experiences on campus. You could also regularly assess the departmental climate to ensure that it is ideally free of tensions and hostility and that it fosters a healthy, constructive and inclusive environment for all groups — students, faculty, and support staff.
  • In the Communications domain, one might identify who is represented on our website and why. Who is missing? Developing a strategy around gaining stories from scholars that you do not see on your website, personal testimonials, and narratives about their lived experiences in their research journey, could be a first start.
  • In the Governance domain, one might start with adding a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion item (or a similar item focused on creating a culture of care, addressing full student needs, etc.) on every agenda to discuss opportunities for alignment and support. This way you will be certain to address this topic each time you meet.
  • In the Reports domain, you may want to identify what demographic reports exist for your department, who may have access to this and what might the trends be that you see as you disaggregate the data by demographic categories. You could also pair the demographic trends that you see with lived experiences of those that may not be represented in the data. What do we want to accomplish together and why, could be a first start.
  • In the Advocacy domain, you could identify what your advocacy aims are for your department, how you might support them and who might want to get involved.
  • In the Membership domain you might want to identify who makes up your department, team, or classroom, taking an assessment of who is missing and how you might find new opportunities to engage or recruit those that are not present.

While we can quibble over aspects of what is represented in the toolkit — and this matters — the first attempt is to take the first step, write something down and commit to doing the work. Pull the list together, with your team, co-create and consider the possibilities and limitations, with others, and start somewhere. You will be surprised at what you will accomplish when you take this first step. Please contact me so that we may celebrate your success. I am rooting for you!

The AAG Culture of Care column is an outreach initiative by the AAG JEDI Committee. Don’t forget to sign up for JEDI Office Hours. The current theme of Office Hours is An Ethos of Care in the Research Enterprise.

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Academic Freedom, Advocacy, and the Importance of Our Professional Association

Image showing silhouettes of graduates wearing caps and gowns with a sunset in the background

Photo of Patricia Ehrkamp

Many of us look forward to summer, as it tends to bring some time to rest and reflect. Alas, this summer I find it more difficult to put my mind at ease as hardly a day goes by without news of another challenge facing higher education. At the end of June, Governor Katie Hobbs vetoed House Bill 2735, which landed on her desk after passing the Arizona State Senate following much debate in and outside the legislature. The bill, purportedly drafted in response to a financial crisis at the University of Arizona, intends to concentrate decision-making power over educational matters in university regents and presidents. While House Bill 2735 has not been signed into law, challenges to faculty participation in shared governance and to academic freedom more broadly abound. Some of these challenges originate from within universities. Take, for example, the University of Kentucky, my home institution. Following a longer campaign by the university’s president, our university senate, which had curricular oversight and decision-making power with regard to educational policy, is being replaced with a faculty senate that only has advisory capacity. Similar to the intent of Arizona’s House Bill 2735, this shift consolidates educational policy decision-making power with the university president and the Board of Trustees.

Other challenges to academic freedom and even the right to free speech have followed on the heels of on-campus, often pro-Palestinian, protests and encampments in the late spring and early summer. Across the United States, colleges and universities have responded to such protests with increasing amounts of policing—arresting, suspending, and expelling students and faculty. These crackdowns infringe on the First Amendment right to protest, and they are indicative of growing restrictions to campuses as sites of open dialogue. Together with wider ranging, often sudden shifts in university policies and newly implemented rules that go into effect without notice, police force and the threat of violence toward protesters seem intent on discouraging public debate by intimidating students and faculty.

More broadly, legislatures in numerous states of the U.S. have targeted educational freedom through a number of bills that variably seek to ban particular theoretical frameworks that explain social injustice (such as critical race theory), AP Black Studies courses, or mention of inequalities, as well as DEI initiatives that seek to redress existing inequities in colleges and universities. In 2023 alone, some 45 anti-DEI bills were introduced across the country; more are underway. These legislative initiatives, as many of you know, have gone far in their attempts to undermine efforts at remedying some of the historical injustices and exclusions in higher education.

Safeguarding and Strengthening Geography for the Future

Against the backdrop of these challenges, which often appear alongside broader budgetary and demographic shifts, I felt fortunate to spend some time with department and program leaders in geography and cognate disciplines to discuss external pressures on our discipline, our departments, and workplaces at this year’s AAG Department Leadership workshop. Two days of virtual meetings that I co-organized and co-hosted with past AAG presidents Ken Foote and Rebecca Lave, and the AAG’s chief strategy officer Risha RaQuelle, made space for thinking carefully through the question of what makes a department healthy and why department health matters, a conversation that originated 20 years ago. The workshop provided ample opportunities to discuss the challenges and pressures that face higher education and geography, and to explore with expert session leaders, as well, the opportunities that such shifts in higher education and on college campuses may bring. Some of our sessions explicitly addressed the need to make the case for geography to university administrators and to our students and their parents. These latter sessions generated thoughtful discussions on what geographic inquiry and knowledge offer students in terms of career readiness skills and career paths. We discussed how to communicate (including to university administrators) geography’s integrative nature and our discipline’s ability to tackle big questions such as climate change.

And while state legislatures or some university administrators may think differently, we also talked about the importance of improving shared governance within departments in order to create better workplaces for one another and to better serve our students. Our conversations about building, expanding, and maintaining a Culture of Care in geographers’ everyday workspaces also addressed the legislative challenges to equity, inclusivity, and diversity that may require a new vocabulary and different strategies for us to continue our work toward more just geographies.

Sharing the leadership workshop space with such talented and dedicated department and program leaders not only leaves me impressed and confident in the future of geography, but also reminds me why our professional organization has such a critical and necessary role to play! For many geographers, our first introduction to the AAG comes via participating in the annual meeting or in the regional division conferences, and these remain important cornerstones of the AAG’s work to facilitate geographic knowledge production. But the AAG does much more than that on behalf of geographers. Apart from professional development and mentoring initiatives such as the annual AAG leadership workshop and the GFDA early career development workshop, the AAG supports and enriches the lives of geographers in academic and non-academic careers through its Specialty and Affinity Groups, and AAG’s new initiative to encourage Research Partnerships (the first RFP focuses on Targeted Mentoring Networks). I also encourage you to check out the educational materials on the AAG’s wetbsite and YouTube channel, such as these readings in Black Geographies and racial justice and in Queer and Trans Geographies.

As our professional organization, the AAG also plays an important role in providing guidance, leadership, and advocacy for scholar-educators and non-academic geography practitioners alike. I have been impressed with the growing efforts to integrate our collective commitments to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) across the AAG’s activities to create a more equitable and more inclusive discipline of geography. The Healthy Departments Committee’s activities in support of programs facing external pressures are invaluable, and so is committee chair and AAG Past President David Kaplan’s advice for departments to be proactive. Similarly, the Elevate the Discipline initiative provides guidance and media training for geographers to engage in public scholarship that communicates geographic insights to the wider public, a worthwhile endeavor that dovetails well with immediate past president Rebecca Lave’s focus on public and engaged scholarship.

In the current moment, I especially appreciate the AAG’s leadership in climate action, support for scientific inquiry, public scholarship, inclusion, and more broadly its advocacy in support of academic and educational freedom. My own scholarly work grapples with questions of rights, care, and justice, and the attacks on shared governance, academic freedom, and civic rights feel like significant challenges to democracy itself. So, I am grateful that the AAG is one of 40 professional organizations to sign on to the American Historical Association’s Statement on 2024 Campus Protests that affirms the right to a diversity of opinions and calls on university administrators to refrain from using force to suppress protests.

As our scientific and professional organization, the AAG’s advocacy on behalf of geography is critical and I am grateful for it. But the work to keep improving our discipline and our work as geographers falls on all of us. So, I want to close with the gentle reminder that in order to create more equitable worlds of geography and for geographers, all of us are called upon “to uphold equity, human rights, and educational freedom.”


Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at P.Ehrkamp [at] uky [at] edu to enable a constructive discussion.

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Responding to the Critical Moment

Person holding their hands in the shape of a heart with sunlight in background

By Risha RaQuelle, Chief Strategy Officer

Photo of Risha Berry

This month, we are sharing more information about AAG’s Research Partnerships Initiative, and specifically the current Request for Partners (RFP) for Targeted Mentoring Networks. During AAG’s months of development around these initiatives, as well as the discussions and insights offered by participants at AAG 2024, I was reminded of a term that is often used and sometimes comes under fire, yet is seldom fully understood. That word is “critical.”

In her recent column on the importance of language and terminology in education, outgoing chair Dr. Caroline Nagle of the AAG’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) committee discussed the temptations and pitfalls to “rebranding” a word or concept that is attracting pressure and attention. She was speaking primarily of the terms associated with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), but could easily have been speaking of a word  like “critical,” which has been a flashpoint for ideological attacks on everything from educational goals for critical thinking to the development of critical race theory, a legal concept widely misidentified with all race-conscious educational efforts.

It turns out that “critical,” like the discipline of geography itself, is a complex, multi-faceted concept, oversimplified in the public eye. Its surprising origins and shades of meaning are worth exploring as we become more proactive and responsive to ways to strengthen and support the talented people who should be—and stay—in our field.

In last month’s column, I spoke of the fact that cultures of care do not, typically, simply come together because someone just thought it was a good idea. All too often a critical incident reveals the harmful inadequacy of a system or community to meet the needs of all people, whether in a department or program or at an institution itself. A culture of care is initiated because something happened, someone was excluded or harmed, and care must be prioritized to prevent the event repeating. Here, the root meaning of critical matters greatly: from the Greek medical word krisis, meaning a point at which a patient can either improve or worsen. These incidents are decisive points in which we can choose to address harm and strengthen our support systems, or permit the harm to metastasize instead. Notably, crisis and critical are also related to krinein, meaning “to separate, decide, judge…distinguish.”

These meanings suggest a specific perspective for our work of care and transformation in geography. We are challenged as never before to reflect, respond, speak, and intervene where we can by using observation and discernment; to collectively and individually identify the critical moments that point to an urgent need for action.

Collective Care in a Time of Constraint

The reality now is that many of us are working in environments where it can be hard or impossible to meet these needs directly because the very act of speaking up, naming issues and specific incidents, or confronting systemic issues has been hampered by formal or informal silencing, policies against DEI training and activity, and the like. That is why it will be ever more important for the AAG to support and lead proactively, to put the elements of care in place and monitor progress through our JEDI Committee and research partnerships.

We know that critical incidents do not magically go away in the memory or in the present reality of our lives. They remain part of the work—hopefully a catalyst, but often an obstacle. We must support one another with caring strategies to help us share knowledge, co-create, organize, and make the discipline better.

Explore the AAG Targeted Mentoring Network Effort

Mentoring is one of many important areas of educational and professional support, with powerful potential to detect, correct, and hopefully prevent critical incidents, along with its value for the important decisions about research and careers. Yet mentoring is often thought of as one-dimensional, as a classic one-to-one and one-way relationship of an experienced sage to new acolyte. AAG is seeking new ways to energize the practice of mentorship, and specifically to seek partnerships to co-identify grant funding to seed and support ways to mentor geographers with more sensitivity to their identities, needs and aspirations, life experiences, and backgrounds through creating partnerships to develop Targeted Mentoring Networks.

With the leadership of the Targeted Mentoring Network (TMN) Working Group, and the support of the incoming AAG president Patricia Ehrkamp, chair of the AAG Mentoring Task Force, we have issued the first formal Request for Partnership (RFP) of our Research Partnership Initiative, focused on targeted mentoring networks (TMNs). We are open to your ideas for a variety of TMNs, and we believe in a plurality of answers that allow participants to acknowledge certain aspects of their career identity, inclusive of their positionality, and intersectionality.  Finding guidance through the unbeaten pathway of our interdisciplinary field often requires more than one mentor. Through the options explored in the TMN initiative, we hope that geographers will be able to connect to any number of TMN they identify with, helping them build their “Mentor Map.”

Join us in exploring what the Targeted Mentoring Networks effort can become. The RFP is active through August 5. We encourage you to learn more and apply.

This award is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. 2324401 and Award No. 2324402. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

The AAG Culture of Care column is an outreach initiative by the AAG JEDI Committee. Don’t forget to sign up for JEDI Office Hours. The current theme of Office Hours is An Ethos of Care in the Research Enterprise.

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AAG Journal Articles on Black Geographies and Racial Justice

Image showing signs placed on fencing outside Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, on June 7, 2020; photo by Becky Pendergast
Credit: Becky Pendergast

The following titles reflect vital scholarship on Black Geographies in AAG’s journals in recent years. Through September 30, 2024, AAG and Taylor & Francis are providing free access to these articles, available for download at the links listed below.

For additional reading recommendations, see Black Geographies Reading List, sponsored by the AAG Black Geographies Specialty Group.

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Welcoming a New President to AAG – Interview with Patricia Ehrkamp

Image of digital dots and lines forming a gavel on a desk. Credit: Conny Schneider, Unsplash
Credit: Conny Schneider, Unsplash

 

Photo of Rebecca LavePhoto of Patricia EhrkampFor the last president’s column of her term, President Rebecca Lave talked with incoming President Patricia Ehrkamp about her experiences within the discipline and her aspirations for her upcoming leadership at AAG. The following conversation offers insight into the new directions for the 2024-25 presidency.

RL: What brought you to geography?

PE: I’ve been a geographer since fifth grade. I grew up in Germany, and geography is taught in school and for a long time it was my favorite topic. Probably what drew me to geography then, and keeps me here, is that it’s a way of thinking about the world and understanding the world around us. And that’s fascinating.

RL: Yes, I love the way that geography so deeply connects theory with fieldwork: if you want to understand a place, you need to go there and engage in a deeply empirical way.

PE: I love the integrative nature of geography; we can study physical geography, study drought and desertification (which I did quite a bit of in Germany) alongside immigration and geopolitics, which is what I specialize in at this point. All of it in so many ways are about the relationships, and connections between environments and people, and people and environments, and different places. The fact that we, as a discipline, can even think of tackling such complex questions as climate justice, human displacement, and food security, that’s what continues to excite me about geography

RL: What do you tell students about what makes geography so relevant to the questions of the day?

PE: It’s such an amazing discipline, you know. There are so many ways that geographers can make a difference: think about making cities more livable and more just for more people. We study climate change, from both the physical science perspective and considering its impacts on people’s lives, and hopefully find solutions to alleviate these impacts. That’s what makes geography so unique and so relevant. We can analyze and map data, and then put that data to work in the interest of social justice.

RL: What prompted you to run for office in the AAG?

PE: I’ve been involved in the AAG for quite some time. I’ve served on the boards of a number of different Specialty Groups, and I’ve always enjoyed them, it’s always been a great experience. I had no idea that I was going to be nominated as vice president—as it so often happens, I think. But in thinking about it, it’s an important time to be involved, right? We’re looking at changes in higher education, challenges to academic freedom, and it’s especially important, if we have expertise and energy that we can lend, that we do so. And there are things that I want to do, also. Like thinking about how to make a more inclusive discipline: there are important efforts on the way with the JEDI Committee and Risha RaQuelle’s leadership. There is important work to support, like your work on the Public and Engaged Scholarship Task Force. So, I thought I could maybe help the broader project of working toward positive change and making a more equitable discipline of geography. That’s really what made me run.

RL: What would you say to a member considering volunteering or serving in some way with AAG?

PE: Do it! Get involved. I’ve learned so much from serving on boards of Specialty Groups, and it’s been such a joy also. You make all these connections with people from across the country, from across the world, even. One of the things I did on one of the boards was read submissions for student paper awards. You get to see this fascinating work people do, the next generation of geographers with all their brilliant ideas. So, what’s not to love? I would encourage anybody who is interested in participating to get involved. It really gives you a whole different perspective on the discipline, the organization, and it allows you to work with others and collaborate on the things that matter.

RL: I would totally agree with you on all of that. I had a somewhat different path because while I did a bit of Specially Group work, my main involvement with AAG was through the Honors Committee. Celebrating people for their work is my happy place, and it was super interesting to see the process and get to learn more about the work of the people that were nominated. Also, the committees all have people that I never would have run into otherwise because they’re in different geographic specialties. That was really cool, too.

PE: I agree, working with geographers across the breadth of the discipline is fabulous! All the committees do really important and interesting work on behalf of geographers, and it is so rewarding.

RL:  What initiatives and projects are you most excited about for your time as president?

PE: One of the big reasons why I wanted to run is my interest in strengthening approaches to mentoring. In my home department at the University of Kentucky, we’ve done a reasonably good job of creating support structures. When I was chair, I worked on creating policies, best practices. One of our most important jobs as geographers is to train the next generations and make sure that they have the best possible situation when they’re starting out in their careers. It’s not the same for everybody because some of us will end up in very small departments, in different types of institutions, or even being the only geographer at their institution. One of the things I wanted to do is think about how the AAG can best support earlier career geographers. What structures we could put in place. The Mentoring Task Force has been looking at what best practices exist, and how we can put them together. We are having conversations about topics like, how do you know when you want to be a mentor, how do you become a mentor and, if you’re becoming a mentor, are there ways that you can be trained? Are there models that work better for smaller or larger group settings so we don’t just rely on individual one-on-one mentoring?

RL: Those feel like such important questions to me. I also love the focus on moving beyond individual mentoring because I think having a broad range of mentors for a lot of different things is super helpful.

PE: Yes, you need an ecosystem, right? I’ve thoroughly enjoyed mentoring, too, and I think about getting more people involved as mentors. There’s so much learning to be done on both ends.

RL: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

PE: I so enjoyed the Honolulu meeting and the way the AAG– thanks to you and everybody at AAG and local collaborators who worked so hard–had a meeting that was so well prepared, where you felt grounded, where you had an idea of where you were going and why it matters how you show up as a geographer in a place. I think that was brilliant, and the meeting was just such a wonderful experience. I loved learning from all the plenaries on Indigenous work or scholarship, and questions of extraction and coloniality and again related to questions of justice. I am excited to carry that forward into the next meeting in Detroit, and I hope everybody else is going to be inspired to work with us on that. I think being grounded in the place, being able to bring the city and the place into the conference, bringing the conference of geographers into the city and surroundings–in meaningful ways, not just drive-by visits–I think that is so important, and we generally do that well as geographers.

And lastly, I’d like to say that I’ve been really enjoying this first year of AAG service. I’ve learned so much as vice president and I’ve very much enjoyed working with the Council and everybody on it and AAG staff, who are so committed and competent. And I know they’re working really, really hard all the time. Not just to create Annual Meeting experiences but to support us year-round, to make sure that there is a voice from the AAG to the outside world as well, which I think is increasingly important. I’ve learned a lot and I look forward to the next couple of years.


Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at rlave [at] indiana [at] edu to enable a constructive discussion.

 

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Program Profile: University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa

University of Hawai‘i Manoa GEO department students and faculty pose for a photo in the field on Kaho'olawe (Courtesy David Beilman)
University of Hawai‘i Manoa GEO department students and faculty pose for a photo in the field on Kaho'olawe. (Courtesy David Beilman)

During the 2024 Annual Meeting, AAG staff sat down for an interview with Reece Jones, professor and chair of the Department of Geography and Environment in University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences. The Department of Geography and Environment (GEO) is a vibrant academic community that focuses on global change and its local impacts on humans and the environment. Faculty and students pursue work that is inherently interdisciplinary, making various connections through other departments and units on campus. Many of GEO’s student and faculty research centers around Asia and the Pacific.

From political geographers to GIS specialists and environmental scientists, the breadth of faculty and course work offers undergraduates the chance to gain a holistic understanding of the discipline and do the necessary fieldwork or research to pursue career opportunities. GEO also offers world-class coursework and applied geographic research under two advanced degrees, a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Philosophy. Students of all levels engage in research on topics ranging from agriculture and food, climate change, and environmental conservation to geopolitics, geospatial sciences and data analytics, and tourism.  The department also offers a popular new certificate in GIS for undergraduate students in any program.

GEO partners with departments across the university to offer an accelerated, interdisciplinary online degree in Social Sciences of Oceans, with applications for resource management, city planning, community organizing, environmental consulting, and policy analysis. Similarly, a flexible Graduate Ocean Policy Certificate is available for students or working professionals through the department to broaden their understanding of the legal, political, economic, and social forces that affect ocean development activities.

Collaboration and Community

UH-Mānoa strives to create a community-minded environment: “We try to do our best to have kind of a collaborative relationship between graduate students and faculty so that they feel like they’re colleagues in a way [and] part of this kind of endeavor to do their research and carry out their projects.”

Jones offers the example of GEO professor Camilo Mora, whose graduate seminar is far from a typical semester seminar experience. Students collaboratively brainstorm a major question they want to answer at the beginning of the semester, then do the research and analysis together that results in a joint publication with Dr. Mora. “Major publications have come out of that class,” Jones states. “Camilo has done a really good job of bringing students into this research project and work together with them to produce very significant articles.”

University of Hawai‘i Manoa GEO department students and faculty participate in community work day in a lo'i. (Courtesy David Beilman)
University of Hawai‘i Manoa GEO department students and faculty participate in community work day in a lo’i. (Courtesy David Beilman)

Program faculty incorporate professional development skills directly into coursework. Incoming graduate students participate in a mentoring program to prepare for developing and maintaining crucial professional development skills in hopes of answering questions such as “How do you go to a conference? How do you present a paper at a conference? How do you publish a journal article? How does the academic job market work? How do you get a non-academic job?”

 

Care for the Land

The University of Hawai‘i has a focus on being a Native Hawaiian (Kānaka Maoli) place of learning, “bringing in Native Hawaiian thought, indigenous thought and experiences into the way that we do things,” says Jones. GEO faculty work to integrate Native Hawaiian thought and knowledge into teaching, even if that’s not central to their research focus.

In Hawai‘i, Native Hawaiian concepts are important to the way that people see the world. One often integrated into education programs is “Mālama ʻĀina,” or to care for and honor the land. “For Native Hawaiians, the land is an ancestor. That way of seeing the world is to recognize the relationship between people and the environment, and not to think of them as separate, but rather as integrated and dependent upon each other,” Jones states. “And geography as a discipline, that’s exactly what it aspires to do.”

Taken together, the educational experiences made possible by GEO at UH-Mānoa have prepared graduates for careers in academia, government service, NGOs, and the private sector in Hawaiʻi and worldwide. GEO has provided alumni with the skills to shape new (and traditional) ways of caring for the earth and human societies. For example, several graduates are now faculty in the Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, the only college of Indigenous knowledge in a Research I institution in the United States.

University of Hawai‘i Manoa GEO department students and faculty stop to pose for a photo at at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, near Hilo, Hawai'i. (Courtesy David Beilman)
University of Hawai‘i Manoa GEO department students and faculty stop to pose for a photo at at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, near Hilo, Hawai’i. (Courtesy David Beilman)

 

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Annual Meeting 2024: Expectations and Anticipation

Person holding their hands in the shape of a heart with sunlight in background

By Risha RaQuelle

Photo of Risha Berry

As I reflect on AAG’s work from last year’s annual meeting to this year’s, one word of many come to mind: Transition.

We, members, leaders, and staff of AAG, are living and enduring many transitions, both globally and locally. Yet these transitions require us to continue momentum: Momentum in our reflection and commitment to our core value systems and in our collective call to action through our research, teaching, and service.

It is hard enough to effect transition in the institutions, systems, and ethical frameworks in which we operate. Added to this are the personal and professional transitions always churning in our own lives, sometimes all at once. It can be hard to see a clear dividing line for some, as for example the campuses and organizations where we work experience challenges and shocks to their traditional ways of doing business, challenges in which we too can be caught up.

None of our efforts are possible without you. We are grateful for your partnership.

 

Opportunities to Get Involved

The annual meeting offered us numerous opportunities to elevate our  voices, particularly within the framework of research and scholarship. A throughline is the set of opportunities to partner with AAG in research and to elevate a care ethic in research, particularly at institutions that sometimes have challenges to their ability to compete with larger R1 institutions. Here are just a few possibilities for you to get more involved in effecting this kind of change in our discipline:

  • Request for Partnerships (RFP). We hosted a session and a set of workshops to acquaint participants in the new AAG Request for Partnerships initiative, as a direct result of our commitment to care in the academy and our collective community at the AAG. The first formal RFP is active through August 5, and focused on targeted mentoring networks. Learn more and apply.
  • Convening of Care. Culminating in a forum of 30 participants in September, the Convening aims to shift the presumptive practices of the research enterprise toward policies and systems informed by an ethos of care. Although the first open round for participation closed May 1, we continue to seek applicants representing specific cohorts of experience among researchers. Find out more.

One of the most valuable discussions that grew from our sessions were the observations of participants who pointed out gaps in our proposed approach, which does not explicitly acknowledge how often a precipitating event creates the need to consider and enact a care ethic. Care is an act of benevolence, but more than that, it is an act of concern that stems from a root cause that has revealed an uncaring environment. As participants observed, a precipitating event is often the catalyst toward creating a caring environment. These are what I call critical incidents. These critical incidents are lived experiences that scholars and professionals experience as they navigate access to organizational or institutional resources.  In our discussions at AAG 2024, this was illuminated by participants who shared their lived experiences during the session, including experiences they have had at the AAG.

Our Core Value of and Ethos of Care

This discussion of care, what it means and how best to bring it to the foreground,  brings us back to our association, our membership, our community of values in geography, the value of membership, convening, and collective action. Beyond the career advancement, networking, and ability to stay apprised of development in the field, being part of AAG offers the possibility–the beauty—of making an impact in the work we each do.

In the wake of an amazing meeting, meeting new people and current colleagues both virtually and in person, I ask that you continue to reach out.  Continue to show up. Continue to respond to the calls to actions.

Specifically, we will seek new members for the JEDI Committee and its seven TLC-GRAM subcommittees. Find out more about what we are doing, what we aim to do, and how your vision can be integrated into that work.

Our commitment is to be intentional about identifying timelines for engagement and involvement.  By this meaning, when we ask for your service, we will set deadlines for completion of that service and apply our own principles of care to the whole person you bring to the work.  We understand that all of us are being pulled in many fruitful and challenging directions.  We strive to respect your time with respect to these efforts.

With many thanks and inspiration, as I close out this column and continue to issue the call to action and collaboration.

The AAG Culture of Care column is an outreach initiative by the AAG JEDI Committee. Don’t forget to sign up for JEDI Office Hours. The current theme of Office Hours is An Ethos of Care in the Research Enterprise.

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