The Hun School Welcomes Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

On Thursday, February 25, The Hun School welcomed Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, marine biologist, policy expert, and writer for a moderated discussion with Mr. Loffredo, Ms. Bottega, Mason Shipp '21, Bella Gomez '22 and Devon Pasieka '21 as part of the School’s Centennial Speaker series. 

Dr. Johnson is founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities, and is co-creator and co-host of the Spotify/Gimlet podcast How to Save a Planet. With Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, she co-edited the anthology All We Can Save, and co-founded The All We Can Save Project. Recently, she co-authored the Blue New Deal, a roadmap for including the ocean in climate policy. Previously, she was executive director of the Waitt Institute, developed policy at the EPA and NOAA, served as a leader of the March for Science, and taught as an adjunct professor at New York University. Dr. Johnson earned a BA from Harvard University in environmental science and public policy, and a Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in marine biology. She publishes widely, including in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time, and she blogs on Scientific American. Her mission is to build community around solutions to our climate crisis.

Dr. Johnson began the discussion by sharing the story of how she first became interested in the ocean, she recalled being on a family vacation where she held a coral reef for the first time and was instantly blown away by the fact that there is a “whole different world happening in the ocean”. As Dr. Johnson described herself as a generalist, she notes that growing up she often found herself aspiring to have a variety of different careers from a park ranger to an environmental lawyer. It wasn’t until after college that Dr. Johnson realized all of her passions could be combined into the field of ocean conservation. 

Dr. Johnson also explained to participants the correlation between science and policy and how ocean health is not a scientific issue, but a human issue. 

“Ocean conservation is a matter of cultural preservation,” she said. “Forty percent of Americans live in coastal counties or cities and there are so many societies that are intertwined with the ocean. We [humans] often forget that we are one of many species on the planet and we too are part of nature.” 

Mason Shipp ’21 asked Dr. Johnson to expand on how her environmental work intersects with the work she does in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion space. 

“Creating policies is like laying out a vision for what we want our future to be,” she said. “It’s a vote for what we want the world we live in to look like. Policy can be protective of Black people and it can include a justice element. We need diversity to succeed and if we want to succeed we need to build the biggest and best team of people who want to see change.” 

To wrap up the Q&A, Bella Gomez ’21 asked Dr. Johnson for a few tips on how students can bring more sustainability to campus. 

Dr. Johnson charged students to think bigger than themselves and to never underestimate the power that they hold. 

“You all have a lot of influence and power,” she said. “It is right to want to protect your future and you all should lean into not only the power that you have but also the understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong.”

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