Environmental justice group emerges at CSU
A growing number of CSU faculty, staff and students have been joining a campus initiative focused on environmental justice.
A group called Environmental Justice CSU received funding for the third year in a row from the School of Global Environmental Sustainability as one of the school’s Global Challenges Research Teams. The goal of these teams is to deepen understanding of sustainability initiatives and outcomes across various pressing ecological developments.
A key goal of EJCSU this academic year is the organization of an international symposium on Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene. The symposium will take place April 24-25, 2017, in Fort Collins and will showcase environmental justice research and practice across multiple disciplines and issue areas — by scholars and practitioners from around Colorado, the nation and the world.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”
Environmental Justice at CSU first received funding in 2014, which allowed a multidisciplinary team of faculty and graduate students to begin focusing on the relations between equity and sustainability.
“We wanted to form a center for environmental justice that appealed to academics, practitioners and community members and allowed each academic discipline to conduct different types of research,” said Stephanie Malin, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and one of the principal investigators for EJCSU. “Our mission is to explore how and why equity and environmental justice are important elements to the study of the environment, public health and sustainability at CSU.”
To promote awareness of the centrality of environmental justice in sustainability politics, the group has hosted roundtables, “Java and Justice” meetings, guest lectures and workshop days that revolve around a broad range of environmental issues (more information is available on the group’s Facebook page).
The roundtable events are aimed at bringing together researchers from various disciplines to talk about how they have included environmental justice research, engagement, opportunities and challenges into their research. Community members and practitioners are also participants. The sessions have been recorded and are currently being transcribed so that anyone can have access to the information, including individuals beyond the university.
“Interaction across disciplines and issue areas is necessary to paint a fuller picture of environmental justice,” said Dimitris Stevis, a CSU political science professor and a co-founder and principal investigator of EJCSU. “By participating in roundtables, everyone gets the opportunity to understand how people from different fields think about environmental justice. The end result is that we all learn each other’s language and concerns.”
“Java and Justice” meetings are more informal discussions that relate to social and ecological equity presented by scholars in the field who are visiting campus. EJCSU also hosts lectures in which guest speakers discuss their experiences, research and specific areas of study. Past guests have included Lois Gibbs, an iconic environmental activist, and Kristin Shrader-Frechette, a biological scientist and philosopher.
Lastly, EJCSU has developed a daylong workshop on doing research on environmental justice. The workshop covers a range of topics and can be of use to academics and practitioners who are embarking on research and practice related to environmental equity in the areas of interest to them.
“In the future, we hope to turn these workshops into a certificate program,” said Stevis. “We have also discussed the potential of creating a class that any student can take as well as a fuller program of study on environmental justice.”
While the group started with three principal investigators and 27 members, it has grown to six principal investigators and 77 members, 36 of whom are graduate students. In addition to Malin and Stevis, the principal investigators include co-founder and Professor Melinda Laituri of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Instructor Stacia Ryder of the Department of Sociology, Professor Neil Grigg of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Assistant Professor Sheryl Magzamen of the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.
“We have been so impressed by the number of people interested in environmental justice,” said Malin. “Not only are faculty and staff wanting to engage in these events, but students and community members as well.”
“We hope through our efforts that we will make CSU an important player in the interdisciplinary study of environmental justice,” said Stevis. “We want CSU to be a major link in the national and international network for environmental justice scholars and advocates.”