Master of Environmental Management student Ruoxue Chen explored current health and environmental disparities related to historical discriminatory, race-based housing practices, known as “redlining,” in Durham, N.C. for their Master's Project (MP). Redlining policy resulted in refused home loans, insurance and other essential investments such as green infrastructure beginning in the 1930s. Although redlining was abandoned in the 1960s, research suggests it continues to have implications for many communities. Chen's project evaluated environmental factors (i.e., vegetative cover and urban heat) to determine if the effects of redlining persist in Durham.

Duke Environment recently corresponded with Chen to discuss the key findings and practical experience of the MP. 

What are the key findings of your MP?

After the race-based housing practices (the redlining policy) were abandoned in the 1960s, Durham formerly redlined areas still have less vegetation and more heat exposure. We also found the same communities have higher incidence rates of heat-related illnesses, especially among non-Hispanic Black residents. Cumulatively, our study demonstrates current health and environmental disparities related to the historical redlining policy.

How will having practical work experience in this project help you in your career?

I will continue doing research in the environmental health field after graduation. With the guidance of my advisor, my MP is a precious, important and complete research experience. It showed me the charm of science and helped me find my way. Meanwhile, the whole process, from the research to the final presentation, made me more confident about myself than before, which I think is an unexpected surprise.

What drew you to this project/client?

At first, I had a vague idea of doing something about greenness and human health. Then my advisor, Kate Hoffman, introduced me to one of her projects which was the ongoing redlining project and was glad to combine my ideas. Soon we got started spontaneously and we were both curious about how things have been going (environmental patterns and health) since the redlining policy was abandoned in the 1960s.

The Master’s Project combines the academic rigor of a thesis with the practical experience of an internship, allowing students to apply the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired in the classroom to projects that tackle real-world environmental challenges.