Introducing Brittany Meché: Bolin Fellow in Environmental Studies

The Gaius Charles Bolin Fellowship at Williams College is named after Gaius Charles Bolin who was the first black graduate of Williams. Bolin “was an active and influential member of his class who went on to a career as a lawyer. He valued education and worked against racial prejudice.” The fellowship, founded in 1985, hopes to continue Bolin’s work through promoting “diversity on college faculties by encouraging students from underrepresented groups to complete a terminal graduate degree and to pursue careers in college teaching.” 

Brittany Meché is a Bolin fellow in Environmental Studies, which means she is one of two scholars or artists appointed for the 2019-2020 school year. For two years, she will work on completing her dissertation while also teaching an academic course. Her dissertation is titled “Securing the Sahel: Nature, Catastrophe, and the Empire of Expertise.” 

Brittany moved around a lot with her family growing up, but went to highschool in Virginia, a little outside of D.C. She has participated in the Creating Connections Consortium (C3) since her first year of her PhD in Geography at UCBerkeley. She came to Williams for a C3 conference in the Spring of 2017 and met a Bolin fellow– their conversation inspired her to apply to the Bolin fellowship when it came time for her to write her dissertation.

She is passionate about making the world a little bit more just through education because her life has been transformed by books and by teachers. She enjoys getting people to explore their own interests and is looking forward to introducing students to ideas that they can take off in directions she wouldn’t have thought of. Furthermore, calling out injustice when you see it and using education to interrogate systems of power is important to her. Her work is about race, empire, nature/environment, and militarism.

She has mostly gone to larger institutions and never got that homey feel, so she is welcoming the opportunity to be in a smaller community and get to know people here. She believes Williams students have a stellar reputation and are committed to holding the institution accountable.

The course she is teaching during the Fall semester is The African Anthropocene (cross listed as STS 231 / AFR 231 / ENVI 231). It is a mixture of topics specific to her dissertation as well as her larger interests; particularly, her work in West Africa and how environmental strain is forcing people out of their homes and increasing levels of migration. When it comes to climate change, the places most affected by environmental degradation are places where people of color live. Thus, she hopes to navigate the usefulness of the Anthropocene as a concept and to center the voices of African diasporic scholars, while using key academic sources alongside creative mediums like novels, film, and poetry. Teaching the class will be a lot of responsibility and dissertation writing can be a really vulnerable experience. Although she is nervous about teaching and working on her own research at the same time, she is eager to see how students will engage with the material. 

During her travels and research, she has battled with how one can do ethical research in a community that isn’t theirs. Movements and communities make change, but we must also actively work to limit and check western-centric internalizationed assumptions that we know better than others. She structures her research in a way to prioritize interviewing experts and thinks it’s important to reconcile with one’s own complicity and ties to the American empire, especially as US citizens. 

Brittany enjoys dancing and taking ballet and modern dance classes. She loves cooking and is a vegetarian. Also, she enjoys thrifting, binge watching netflix, and travelling. 

How can students reach her? Her Williams unix is bm18 and her twitter is @brittanymeche. You can also find her in her office on the 2nd floor of the ‘66 Environmental Center! Official office hours coming soon.