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Dr. Rosalind Donald Sees Social and Climate Justice as Intertwined

SOC assistant professor Dr. Rosalind Donald hopes to bring her own sense of wonder to education and climate change research this semester.

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Dr. Rosalind Donald

As a child, Dr. Rosalind Donald says, you could often find her reading fantasy books in her hometown, Bexhill-on-Sea in the southeast UK. As she grew, she realized that being the protagonist in a Phillip Pullman novel isn’t going to create the change she wanted to see in the real world. Instead, she’s working to center climate communication on communities who have often been marginalized. "Research can ask a lot of communities who don't see the benefits. The thing I can do is try and be of service by putting my resources at their disposal without being extractive," said Donald.  

Donald came to American University School of Communication (AU SOC) from myriad experiences in climate change research, writing and journalism. From publications on the importance of connecting climate change to day-to-day life to the use of stock photos in depicting climate change, Donald aims to reach those beyond academia and as a result, her voice resonates with audiences far and wide. This is a result of her own reconnaissance into climate change literature in the early 2010s being marked by a paradoxical fascination and exhaustion with the then-current literature present in the field. 

Dissatisfied with the narrative around climate change being pushed in the UK at the time, Donald forayed into research, hoping to bring truths about climate change to the public. Donald published her dissertation, Greenlining: Segregation and Environmental Policies in Miami from the New Deal to the Climate Crisis, in late 2020, with a pinpoint analysis of discriminatory de facto and de jure policies in the city that create disparities within the climate crisis. With this lens on equity in the broader field of climate change research, Donald spotlights the inherent connections between regimes of power and the consequences of climate change policy and behavior. 

Although teaching was not always the plan for Donald, she hopes to bring her own sense of wonder to education and climate change research. Inspired by friends and mentors Donald has found that teaching can be a formative force for change. Invigorated by the wealth of knowledge within the AU community and the get-it-done attitude of its students, Donald is excited to be teaching one undergraduate and one graduate course this semester, Communication and Society (COMM-209) and Writing for Strategic Communication (COMM-644). She urges others to look in “unusual” places to find the interests that make us tick with curiosity, and hopes that she can be the person to “connect the dots” on how those interests may intersect with identity and climate change.

There’s a two-way arrow between social and climate justice, Donald suggests. For students and the broader AU community, getting involved in climate justice action begins with the understanding of climate change as an insidious, pervasive force that affects every aspect of daily life. “As much as it is a systemic question, one of the most important things to do when thinking about climate change is to understand how climate change is personal to you. It’s intimate,” Donald says.