Wednesday, January 17th 2024 Learning Differences

Rishee Jain and Subini Annamma Focus on Sustainability and Justice as Stanford’s 2024 Scholars in Service

Annamma, a Stanford Accelerator for Learning Faculty Affiliate, will study Accessible Ethnic Studies in the San Francisco Unified School District.

by Alex Carr

The 2024 Scholars in Service. Photo: Stanford Impact Labs


In conversation with Alex CarrRishee Jain, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Subini Annamma, associate professor of education and faculty affiliate of the Stanford Accelerator for Learning, share what motivates their research and pending leave-in-service placements made possible by support from Stanford Impact Labs and the Haas Center for Public Service.

What social problem will you be addressing during your leave as a Scholar in Service?

Rishee Jain: My leave aims to tackle the growing need for climate-resilient affordable housing in the world. With the world getting hotter and hotter, we need to re-think how we design and build our housing to keep people comfortable. The bottom line is that we need a new way to keep the billions of people who live in hot, humid climates safe and comfortable from the ever-increasing climate change induced heat waves.

Solutions that are currently emerging have been focused on the developed world - think AI enabled controls and more efficient cooling (heat pumps). My leave aims to go back to the basics and think about how we can use vernacular architecture to naturally cool buildings. Residents in the tropics (like Bali) have been keeping cool for centuries. We have a lot to learn from them!  Utilizing materials that also promote economic and environmental resilience is also a key factor. Bamboo fits this bill and delivers strong economic returns to local communities, is easy to grow and is native to many of the tropical regions. 

Subini Annamma: Across the country, schools have produced a disproportionate representation of Students of Color in suspensions and special education. Ethnic Studies–a field fought for and designed by marginalized communities–may be one way to disrupt these inequities for multiply-marginalized Youth of Color. However, Ethnic Studies research often does not explicitly address the needs or experiences of multiply-marginalized Students of Color. Given that Ethnic Studies is now a high school graduation requirement in California as mandated by Assembly Bill 101, multiply-marginalized Students of Color must be centered so Ethnic Studies does not further dispossess the young people it was created to support.  Based on the voices of multiply-marginalized Black youth, I conceptualized Accessible Ethnic Studies (AES)–instead of inclusion as simply a spatial relationship or differentiation as an afterthought to learning outcomes–one in which liberatory access is a foundation. 

AES infuses accessibility with Disability Justice, positioning accessibility as reducing exclusion, supporting individual needs and transforming systems. In this project, I am co-designing, implementing, and evaluating AES with multiply-marginalized Students of Color and their teachers. This work allows me to disrupt disproportionate representation of Students of Color in suspensions and special education, reconnect those young people with education, and (re)conceptualize and align the practices with the philosophy of Ethnic Studies by centering multiply-marginalized Students of Color.

According to SFUSD, Black youth are only six percent of the student population, yet comprise 36% of all suspensions. Latinx and Pacific Islander youth are also overrepresented in suspensions, whereas white youth are 15% of the student population but only five percent of suspensions. Black and Latinx students are also overrepresented in special education, and disabled Students of Color are suspended at higher rates than are white disabled peers. Thus in SFUSD, as across the country, Students of Color are labeled, surveilled, and punished at higher rates than their white peers, contributing to negative outcomes in attendance, graduation, and post high school pathways, including future arrests and incarceration. 

What motivates your placement? Do you have any specific goals in mind?

Subini Annamma: Mission High School is one of the foundational spaces of Ethnic Studies in SFUSD and across the country, and the current administration has supported this work in a myriad of ways. Within Mission, Aimee Riechelan experienced Ethnic Studies teacher who has written Ethnic Studies curriculum for SFUSD, provided professional development for Ethnic Studies teachers, and has published Ethnic Studies work and commentary, is my co-teacher and co-designer for AES. Moreover, educators in the history and special education departments at Mission have supported this work. Finally, the multiply-marginalized Students of Color at Mission have been powerful partners in this work. Our goal is to position young people as experts in conceptions of Disability Justice and Liberatory Access as integral parts of Ethnic Studies, in both theory and practice.

Rishee Jain: I believe that in order to make a real impact in my field, I need to leave Stanford's campus and engage with the broader world. I came to this realization while trying to answer the core research question that drives my work: how can we efficiently keep people comfortable in buildings? My research has led me to engineer a variety of new energy-efficient building technologies. However, it soon became clear that these new technologies are only applicable in places like the Bay Area, where resources are abundant and the climate, mild.

My experiences thus far made it abundantly clear to me that my journey as a scholar would be incomplete without "getting off the farm" (as one of my colleagues aptly describes it). This leave will enable me to continue on this path as a scholar and I am excited by the potential of being immersed in a community for more than just a few weeks.

Specifically, I was motivated to work with the Environmental Bamboo Foundation (a non-profit organization based in Bali, Indonesia that promotes the use of bamboo in construction) as their work is synergistic to my own goals of designing and building low-cost energy efficient housing. EBF's mission is to utilize bamboo as a mechanism to preserve tropical forests, improve local economies, and develop affordable, climate-resilient housing. I will work specifically with the Housing & Construction group, which is focused on understanding how bamboo materials can improve the energy efficiency and thermal properties of homes.

At EBF, I plan to spend my time on two parallel projects: (1) help EBF develop a comprehensive strategy to increase demand for bamboo as a building material; and (2) drive the net-zero house housing challenge project to collect empirical data on how bamboo can improve housing sustainability (e.g. energy, emissions, well-being).

I hope my leave will help EBF accelerate its vision of growing the demand side of bamboo-based materials by increasing awareness of bamboo's potential as a climate-resilient building material; building the organization's capacity to conduct studies, modeling, and analysis to quantify the value proposition of bamboo; and sparking a long-term collaboration between Stanford and the Indonesian/Balinese vernacular design community to address sustainable housing issues.

This story was originally published by Stanford Impact Labs. SIL and the Haas Center for Public Service are now accepting expressions of interest and applications for 2024-25 Scholars in Service