Dorceta E. Taylor: The First Black Woman to Earn a Ph.D. from Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies



Dorceta E. Taylor is a sociologist of the environment who focuses on environmental justice and racism in the environmental movement. She was the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. from Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in 1991.

Taylor is now a senior associate dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Yale School of the Environment and a professor of environmental justice. She was previously the James E. Crowfoot Collegiate Professor of Environmental Justice at the University of Michigan’s School of Environment and Sustainability (SEAS).

Taylor was born in Jamaica in 1957 and attended primary and secondary school in the capital city of Kingston. Taylor became interested in the environment after a teacher introduced it to her class in 1965. Her enthusiasm grew after she was introduced to biology in high school.

In high school, she studied zoology and botany and passed both the ordinary and advanced levels of the University of Cambridge exams. She was also attending a teacher-training college at the same time. She received her certification as a high school science teacher in 1977 and shared her passion for the environment with her students.

Taylor moved to the United States in 1978 to attend Northeastern Illinois University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and biology with honors in 1983. Yale University awarded her a master’s degree in forest science in 1985. Taylor returned to Yale in 1988, where she earned master’s degrees in both art and philosophy. In 1991, she received her Ph.D. in sociology, forestry, and environmental studies from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Department of Sociology.

Taylor’s work on racism in the environmental movement began in 1989, with the publication of her paper “Blacks and the Environment: Toward an Explanation of the Concern and Action Gap between Blacks and Whites.” In the early 1990s, she published a number of additional articles on the subject. In 2012, she was named the primary investigator for a USDA grant that investigated the relationship between race, class, and food disparities in Michigan.

Taylor was commissioned to write a report on diversity in environmental organizations by the Green 2.0 diversity program, which tracks diversity data for 40 major environmental organizations. The report found that environmental organizations’ leadership does not adequately represent the diverse American population, sparking considerable debate.

Since 2009 Taylor has published four books: The Environment and the People in American Cities, 1600s-1900s: Disorder, Inequality, and Social Change (2009); Environment and Social Justice: An International Perspective (2010), Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility (2014), and The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection (2016).

Taylor’s commitment to diversity in the environmental movement has earned her numerous awards and honors. Since 2018, she has received the Women in Conservation Rachel Carson Award from the National Audubon Society, the Freudenberg Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Environmental Studies and Science, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) from the National Science Foundation, and the University of Michigan Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award. Taylor will also be the first senior associate dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Yale School of the Environment in 2021.


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