Students joined in an open circle at the Puerto Rican/Latin American Community Center (PRLACC) in the Student Union to talk about an underlooked issue on campus and in our state: Environmental racism. Although sometimes swept under the rug, Marissa Naclerio, a third-semester natural resources and environment major, created a panel to shine a light on the importance of the issue, along with a handful of experts with passion for this problem.
To start the panel, Naclerio shared the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s definition of environmental racism as, “the deliberate enactment of enforcement policies, practices or regulations that result in the negative effects of racial or minority communities.” This equates to people of low-income or minority communities often forced to live in close proximity to environmentally hazardous or degraded environments.
“We have a large waste reduction problem in Connecticut and 70 towns send their waste to Hartford. That waste is burnt and that town is exposed to mercury poisoning and a variety of other toxins,” Alex Rodriquez, a fifth-semester history and political science major at CCSU, said.
Along with environmental problems, Louise Reagan, assistant professor at the School of Nursing, has dealt with patients first-hand dealing with ailments that come along with this issue.
“From a provider standpoint, working with legislators and the patients themselves, I consider the environment very broad,” said Reagan. “When these patients are afraid of having a bullet flying past their head, stress and that allostatic load over the lifespan is horrible for people.”
As the conversation shifted, panelists focused on how certain conservation efforts leave these communities out of the picture and why this may be. One of the most obvious reasons is because there simply aren’t any leaders from these communities.
“When the people in charge aren’t ones that are affected by these issues directly, they’re not going to be bringing them up,” said Xinyu Lin, a seventh-semester civil engineering major. “One of the things that needs to be changed is the diversification of leadership.”
Although this may be the case, panelist Prakash Kashwan, associate professor of political science, shared his experience and encouraged others not to sacrifice social justice for environmental pushes.
“I’ve continued on that path of figuring out just the right amount of engaging the environmental movement so that it doesn’t come at the cost of social justice considerations,” Kashwan said. “Environmentalism is not one thing that applies equally in the same ways across different social categories and different geographic regions.”
Panelist Rodriquez left the group with some advice on how to change these issues and get involved.
“Know your worth. Use your privilege to lift up others and make your passion your reality,” Rodriquez said. “This world is so much bigger than us and if we don’t get involved it’s going to swallow us. Now is the time to organize and give our children better lives.”
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Pixabay from Pexels.com
Caroline LeCour is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.