Shirley Laska

Lowlander Center

Contact Info

Shirley Laska is professor emerita of sociology, University of New Orleans, where in 2002 she created the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology (UNO-CHART) following a near-decade stint as Vice President of Research.  Before this appointment, she established the Environmental Social Science Research Institute (UNO-ESSRI).  In its 18-year existence CHART has refined collaborative responses to extreme weather risks first with coastal non-hurricane events, then hurricane Katrina, later the massive Macondo BP oil spill, and now COVID-19.  It has served as a training center for more than 150 graduate research assistansts now leading a wide variety of risk reduction organizations and positions. Numerous peer-reviewed publications, research grants, service on several NAS and NRAC committees and awards from the American Sociological Society and Rural Sociology filled her academic career. 

During this current “retirement” decade (2009-) she co-founded with Kristina Peterson, a post-disaster, long-term sustainable recovery specialist, the Lowlander Center, which is honing an even more applied Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach to community collaboration honoring the knowledge and capacity of coastal, inland Louisiana and Alaskan indigenous communities as they cope with extreme risk from the changing climate and the carbon-based enterprises that harm them directly and contribute to climate change.  With the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians Tribal Community, Lowlander Center visioned and prepared their resettlement proposal for the Rockefeller National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC) for which the state received $52 million to implement the project (2016). Concurrent with the rural work, prior to COVID-19, Lowlander initiated an urban resilience project in conjunction with African American congregations: the storm proofing of rental properties, to improve renters’ opportunities to return to their homes after a hurricane, as homeowners with mitigation improvements are more likely to be able to do. An edited volume by Laska, Louisiana’s Response to Extreme Weather – A Coastal State’s Adaptation Challenges and Successes, Springer/open access has recently (2020) been published.