Rollins College is decorated with a plethora of distinguished professors dedicated to research and scholarly work of many disciplines. With degrees from highly accredited universities around the world, Rollins professors continue to provide their students and the Winter Park community with insightful knowledge and personal experiences the campus would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
Dr. Leslie Poole, a professor within the Environmental Studies department, is relatively new to Rollins, but her experience and impact in environmental journalism, history, and women’s advocacy is not. Originally entering her undergraduate years at the University of Florida as a pre-law student, Poole was inspired by movements of the 1970s to “change the world.” As she fell in love with professional writing, she completed her Bachelor’s degree in journalism. From there, she immediately began working for local newspapers, eventually ending up in Central Florida to work for the Orlando Sentinel.
Dr. Leslie Poole has always been interested in the environment, especially in the natural habitats of Florida. Her personal concern for the swampy state was molded by her family history: she is a fourth-generation Floridian. As her journalism career excelled, Dr. Poole focused more and more on covering local environmental issues, using Rollins professors as sources for quotes within her articles. However, when she gave birth to her child, she decided to go back to school and naturally chose Rollins to complete her Master’s degree in liberal education.
Because of her familial connection to the state, Dr. Poole focused her thesis project on a short environmental history report of Florida. This thesis pushed her to return to the University of Florida to earn her PhD in history, which is when she began specifically studying the role women play within environmental movements.
Within her journalism career and graduate study, Dr. Leslie Poole always noticed an underlying factor within environmental movements was the presence of female activists. However, they rarely received credit for their dedication to the cause.
“There were always women engaged in environmental justice movements. They were always the ‘worker bees’ but never the presidents of the organizations, so their names were never glorified in the end,” said Poole.
The historical presence of women in environmental protection inspired Dr. Poole to eventually publish a book: Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the Twentieth Century. Former governor of Florida Buddy Mackay called the work “exciting and important,” while other highly accredited individuals deemed the piece a “brilliant exposition” that serves as a “long overdue recognition to women.”
When asked if one woman in particular inspired her work, Dr. Poole responded with the name of Marjorie Harris Carr. In 1971, Carr led a successful campaign to save Florida’s Ocklawaha River by challenging the construction of a canal that would have bisected Florida. “I admired Marjorie Carr’s brilliance and poise greatly. Not only was she able to make her work relatable to the public, but she organized her efforts around facts. Whenever someone doubted her, she had factual evidence to support each claim.”
Dr. Poole also made it very clear that women’s involvement in making environmental change is not simply history. The League of Women Voters continues to grow in numbers, influencing the promotion of solar panels and redistricting in Florida. Carol Browner, a Miami native, worked local government positions and eventually became head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency under Bill Clinton. Rollins has even been lucky enough to host female advocates on campus, including oceanographer and National Geographic explorer-in-residence Sylvia Earle. Thanks to the environmental studies department, Lois Gibbs will be visiting soon; Gibbs’ efforts in Love Canal, NY saved over 800 families from being poisoned by chemical waste material buried in their backyards. Students should be sure to attend her lecture on March 22!
Recent events are threatening our environment, but women are not backing down any time soon when it comes to environmental or social justice. Just this month, the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches made history as the largest protest the United States has ever had. Even so, one action is simply not enough. The women Dr. Leslie Poole has come to admire so greatly are successful because of their persistence.
“To make a significant change of any sort, not one demonstration can occur. Continual energy must be exerted for the cause. Everyone must work together, get women in the office. It may be uncomfortable, but we cannot sit back any longer,” said Dr. Poole. Marches generate hope, which must be used to fuel progress.
Dr. Poole ended our interview with some words to those hoping to “change the world” like she did not too long ago. “To today’s generation: be heard—in whatever the best way to be heard is. Online petition, letters to the editor, calling Senators, going to a rally, joining an organization. Find your talent and run with it to serve justice in the things you care about.”