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Scholarship Spotlight: Marshall Scholar Aissa Lynn Dearing on Eco-colonialism and Environmental Justice

As well as her achievement as the youngest ever Marshall Scholar at 19, Aissa has a whole host of notable academic and vocational achievements. She is currently the MCR Welfare Officer at Oriel College and the 2022 Volt Energy Utility Environmental Justice Ambassador Fellow.

Previously, Aissa has held positions as; Durham City-County Environmental Affairs Board Member, Co-founder of the Durham Youth Climate Justice Initiative, Programme Co-ordinator at Sharing the Power Foundation, Federal Sustainability Intern at the USA White House Council on Environmental Quality, President for the Howard University Climate Change Club, Director of Sustainability for the Howard University Student Association, Teaching Assistant for the Howard University Environmental Studies Department, and 2020 fellow of the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship in Public Affairs. Outside of her many roles and being a self-confessed “huge environmental nerd”, Aissa loves dancing as part of the Oxford University pole society, cooking, baking, fashion, and hip-hop music.

Aissa has found herself getting involved with many initiatives and roles because “My lived experience and research experience has shown me that for the communities that face material impacts from environmental change, it is essential to centre their voices in the advancement of science and solution-building. Unfortunately, overburdened and underserved communities like mine are often de-centred from the forefront of the environmental justice conversation.”

Aissa studies Environmental Change and Management but within that large spectrum of study, her focus is “on how the legacy of colonialism and imperialism has impacted ecosystem health and environmental justice outcomes throughout the world. What initially got me interested in this topic is my lived experience with environmental injustices in Durham, North Carolina – my family lives closer to a landfill than to a decent grocery store. It wasn’t until I started doing community work in racial justice that I realized that negative environmental outcomes are also disproportionately among racial lines. I want to study these tensions like these on an international scale to better understand how the system works and how to best dismantle it for oppressed people around the world.”

After her time at Oriel, Aissa aspires “to continue my education through a DPhil program, expanding on my current studies in food systems research, international trade, and anti-colonial thought. After finishing my time in academia, I aspire to start an employee-owned farm and political education organization that helps support the advancement of a local food system in Durham.”

When asked for advice to give to prospective students hoping to study at the University of Oxford, Aissa advised:

“you should really know why you want to study a particular program at Oxford, beyond Oxford’s international reputation. How will a particular program fit in with the advancement of your story? How will a certain program challenge your convictions and values, and lead to your growth as a scholar? These are a couple of the questions I asked myself when I was thinking of graduate programs to continue my education.”

See Aissa’s featured postgraduate student profile here.