Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis Named Inaugural Environmental Justice and Racial Equity Fellow

Duke alumnus and noted activist will support classes and research on environmental justice and racial equity

Ben Chavis speaking about environmental justice in Duke Chapel in 2022.
Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis

Throughout his illustrious career, Chavis organized extensively for social, environmental and political justice causes, coined the term “environmental racism,” led numerous organizations, including the NAACP, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, and National Council of Churches, and engaged in a life of public discourse. Drawing from his wealth of expertise, Chavis’ fellowship promises to be a valuable opportunity for the Duke community to explore critical issues at the intersection of environmental justice and racial equity.

“Dr. Chavis’ fellowship helps deepen Duke’s education and scholarship on two of today’s most pressing challenges—racial equity and climate change,” said Lori Bennear, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment. “Dr. Chavis’ appointment elevates the perspectives of climate justice and the intersection of race and environmental quality in the implementation of Duke’s Climate Commitment.”

This upcoming spring semester, Chavis will co-convene an undergraduate course titled “The Lived Experience of Race and Racism” (UNIV101) with Duke Public Policy Professor Jay Pearson. Supported by the Office of Undergraduate Education and the Office of the Provost, this university course explores the complexities of race and racism. By emphasizing the absence of a biological basis for racial categorization and the socially constructed nature of race, this course delves into the legislative, political, legal, economic and material implications that perpetuate racial hierarchies.

“UNIV101 features those most directly impacted by race-making as well as those with long histories confronting structural and institutional manifestations of racism. Rev. Dr. Ben Chavis is a giant in this regard,” Pearson said. “We are fortunate to have someone with his experiential expertise and well-deserved reputation earned from working on the front lines for racial justice over many decades. I am honored to share an educational space with him and look forward to the synergies we create during the semester and beyond.”

UNIV101 will use experts from multiple disciplines to provide students with knowledge, effective communication strategies, relationship building and collaborative racial equity planning. Lived experiences of race and racism will integrate with scholarly research and formal educational practices addressing the topic.

Registration for UNIV101 is now open, and Duke encourages students from Duke and Triangle-area colleges and universities to enroll.

The Office of the Provost will host a free, public Fireside Conversation at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 22,,at the Karsh Alumni and Visitor Center. Provost Alec Gallimore will welcome  Chavis with a conversation about Chavis’ work.

More details can be found at