Faculty: John Williams
John E. Williams is an urban historian, geographer, and professor based in Harlem with foundations in the Deep South. In addition to his work as an assistant professor in the Sustainability Management Program (SUMA), he is currently serving as Associate Director of Student Affairs in the School of Climate.
Williams’ upcoming book project—tentatively titled “Transcending Barriers: Race, Mobility, and Transportation Planning in Atlanta”—has been awarded a Dan Sweet Fellowship in Urban Planning, Public Policy, and Economic Development.
His expertise and commitment to environmental justice are critical to the mission of the SUMA Program – because the pursuit of justice is linked to the pursuit of sustainability.
What prompted you to first pursue the field of sustainability?
I’ve always loved social studies – history and geography in particular. I’m a kid from the Captain Planet era, and my friends and I still refer to ourselves as Planet Pioneers. My interests in maps, travel, highways, navigation, historical preservation, etc. – and the effects on people and society – naturally led me to sustainability. The field is very wide and there is room for me to explore all my interests and more.
What drew you to the Sustainability Management Program at Columbia School of Climate and Professional Studies?
As a geographer, I was naturally drawn to the Earth Institute. During my postgraduate studies at Teachers College, I worked at Undergraduate Life at Lerner Hall, and I noticed the Earth Institute signs as I often walked by Hogan Hall on my way to Broadway. Long story short, I did my research and was able to find and connect with great opportunities at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Additionally, as an alumnus of Florida A&M University, the nation’s historic black college and university (HBCU), I was drawn to the Columbia University HBCU Fellowship at SPS. The MSc in Sustainability Management and Sustainability Science programs have provided me with all of these connections and a sense of purpose.
What course will you be taking this fall and what excites you most about it?
I will be teaching Geography of Environmental Justice and Sustainability (SUMA PS5888), and everything about this course excites me. First, I had a great opportunity to design it exactly the way I wanted it. It connects many of my interests and areas of study. We will explore topics and research that are near and dear to me. I look forward to providing students with the origins of the American environmental justice movement, and then connecting that to the many current topics in the field of sustainability. I also look forward to exploring the environmental sanitation work that is being done across the country. I’m excited to bring diverse perspectives and really delve into the breadth of sustainability.
What changes do you hope to see in the field of sustainability in the future?
I hope to see the field expand and reach more and more disadvantaged communities. In doing so, more people will better understand the implications of preserving and saving our planet. Sustainability will help create healthier and safer communities for generations to live and thrive.
What is your advice for students pursuing a career in sustainability?
Be open. explore. Sustainability is the future. Sustainability is inclusive, and through this work, you can accomplish, achieve, change the world, and save our planet!