Associate Director of the PNW Just Futures Institute for Climate and Racial Justice
Alaí Reyes-Santos, PhD, is the Associate Director of the PNW Just Futures Institute for Climate and Racial Justice, founder of the ceremonial space Ilé Estrella de los Mares, and an equity and inclusion consultant. She is the author of Our Caribbean Kin: Race and Nation in the Neoliberal Antilles (Rutgers University Press, 2015).
Her manuscript-in-progress, Oceanic Whispers, Secrets She Never Told, intervenes in conversations about restorative justice and community healing through a Black Caribbean epistemological lens.
An award-winning teacher, Dr. Reyes-Santos recently received the 2015 Ersted Distinguished Teaching Award. She is a high priestess and tradition keeper of Caribbean Regla de Osha and regla conga, an Afro-descendant ceremonial practice that survived through cross-cultural exchanges in the islands; and supports efforts to revitalize Afro-Indigenous Caribbean traditional ecological and medicinal knowledges. Her pedagogical practice draws from her ceremonial training in order to foster open conversations about social violence, power, and solidarity.
2021 CEF/Mellon Faculty Summer Research Award
“Oregon Water Futures”
A few of the projects on which Alaí is a collaborator:
In the Oregon Water Futures Project, our research approach presented rich opportunities for student-led work. Student interns and a student project manager were essential components of the research and design of community engagement. One way we were able to add and amplify voices in the discussion was by researching what culturally or regionally specific knowledge may be important to engage in the conversations we wanted to have in the community. This research enabled us to be better prepared to co-design questions and lines of inquiry that made sense for project participants willing to share their stories.
The outcomes of this work are inherently at the service of policy, law and budget making. Our findings have positively informed statewide conversations and legislative bills pertinent to water in the state and how BIPOC communities must be engaged in decision making processes.
This research centers low-income, BIPOC communities and voices; as well as capacity-building among women, the queer community, and BIPOC students in water justice. Three of our alums work in that sector now. It has enabled a student to complete her thesis developing an evaluation tool for the project and thematic surveys pre-conversations. Additionally, it opened professional pathways in environmental justice for four students out of six.
that addresses the intersections of environmental research and teaching with social and environmental justice.
How does your research embody that goal?
My research is invested in creatively co-producing knowledge that will bring forth the sustenance of life in all its forms by centering the wisdom, experiences, and voices of those who have historically been ignored, dismissed, and marginalized in conversations about how to best relate and care for non-human beings and the natural resources that sustain us all.
Economic, racial, gender, ability justice is essential for such work; these are deeply interrelated and it is essential we make that visible if we are to succeed in the formulation of ways of life that allow us all to live with the planet as it screams at us to take action. The actions we take cannot be driven by profit or by ideas that are meant to protect some and exploit others; but rather by a socially just vision that taps into our ancestral knowledges to treat water, air, land, flora, and fauna as our fellow living companions on this planet who also have knowledge to share with us about how to live in it. These actions must also engage the stories of communities of color and other historically marginalized groups to truly account for both all realities of environmental degradation, catastrophe, as they impact the most vulnerable; and ways of knowing the world that can serve us all and must be valued as such.
For me, the epistemic and methodological possibilities that come out of communities and their stories are the center of my research and teaching. I have seen how a short story completely moves students to change how they see the world. I have seen how legislators are moved by hearing people speaking to them directly about losing access to their sacred fish, about low quality of water, about not been able to afford a water bill. Stories then allow what numbers document to come to life and move our hearts, minds, and spirit. That is why stories are central to all I do.