New conference highlights ecoinequalities
The Santa Clara
May 9, 2019
Panelists, posters and vegetarian food filled the Locatelli Student Activities Center last Thursday, as part of the first annual Environmental Justice (EJ) and the Common Good Seminar.
The seminar spanned two days, from May 2 to May 3.
The conference kicked off Thursday morning with a discussion featuring a U.C. Berkeley professor, environmental activists and environmental justice lawyers as speakers.
One of the conference’s organizers was Chad Raphael, a communication department professor at Santa Clara.
“I felt like everything we most wanted to happen, happened,” Raphael said. “We really met our goals of strengthening some of these regional partnerships for research with community-based groups.”
One of Thursday’s speakers was Patrice Simms, a representative from Earthjustice—the country’s largest non-profit environmental law firm.
Simms is an environmental attorney who has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama Administration as a deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
He currently represents hundreds of clients from tribes to labor unions to civil rights organizations. Simms’ work is pro-bono through Earthjustice—just one of the ways the organization seeks to challenge social inequalities throughout the country.
The panelists discussed the opportunities and challenges of EJ that face American communities today. Some of the specific challenges facing communities involve how impoverished communities are often the ones dealing with the direct effects of environmental issues.
Each discussion had different specific views on the topic like asking questions of what has been learned about collaborating on environmental, food and climate justice and how can we share control, funding, credit and implementation when collaborating with the community on EJ issues.
Thursday’s event wrapped up with a poster session featuring 18 displays by Santa Clara students— and even some from other universities.
Santa Clara seniors Abby Suster, Jessi Franco, Sarah Mason and Griffin Garner displayed a poster that covered their senior thesis project involving urban backyard gardening.
During their senior thesis class in winter quarter, the group worked with La Mesa Verde—a non-profit organization that focuses on food justice—to see how the organization created a sense of community within Bay Area neighborhoods while simultaneously seeking to help provide residents with a source for fresh foods.
“La Mesa Verde works with a network of about 120 backyard gardeners and they provide them with garden beds, seeds, knowledge and tools to be able to grow their own gardens and increase their access to fresh produce,” Suster said.
They got the inspiration from their project after learning that one in four people in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are at risk of hunger.
Through their project, the seniors learned that La Mesa Verde is creating a tight-knit community through their food justice efforts. The students led focus groups of around 60 community members and asked them how they felt about the organization.
“A lot of people felt that La Mesa Verde was more of a family and a place that they can go and learn more from other people but also have their kids looked after,” Suster said.
One of the biggest results to come out of the conference came on the second day when participants discussed the possibility of a California-specific version of the proposed Green New Deal.
According to Raphael, the discussion touched on the most effective policies for the proposed deal and where support for the deal would come from.
Raphael said university community members will continue to spread the word and work on environmental justice efforts through other Jesuit universities.
Contact Kimi Andrew at kandrew@ scu.edu or call (408) 554-4852.