Op-Ed: We need more intersectional environmentalism at UConn

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Sena Wazer is a junior environmental studies student, the co-director of Sunrise CT, and a climate justice advocate who has been fighting for the environment since she was 5.

Dear environmental professors,

Last semester I took four courses on the environment. However, only one focused on intersectional environmentalism — how environmental issues affect you differently based on your identities, such as race, class, gender and sexual orientation. And at this point, I’m incredibly frustrated.

One professor, an older white man, would not criticize any political systems or laws, even though they contribute to environmental issues and social inequities (ex. racial health disparities). When students brought up these topics, like racist decisions about where waste facilities are located, he tried to deny that it has anything to do with race, and then, when students gave him the data that race, not economic class, is the biggest predictor of proximity to a waste facility, he replied, “if we had solutions, they already would have been implemented.” 

When another professor was asked when we will discuss environmental justice, he said we would do that later. As if we can discuss the land that has been stolen from Indigenous peoples and destroyed; the unequal effects of natural disasters or asthma on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; the disparate economic burden that women face when recovering from disasters; or other disproportionate impacts of environmental issues, in just a couple classes.

So to all environmental professors, I’m here to say we must do better; you as professors, must do better. Environmental issues cannot be separated from social justice. They’re not issues that you can discuss without also considering race, class, gender, etc. They’re intersectional issues, and we cannot ignore that. Environmental justice is not something that can be pushed to one day or week of class. Instead, it must be the lens through which we look at environmental issues.

This transition might seem hard, but there is lots of material out there. Some of it by people of older generations, such as Kimberlé Crenshaw and Dr. Robert Bullard, and some by young people, like Leah Thomas and Wawa Gatheru. Academia is supposed to prepare students for the future, so I’m asking that you step up and center environmental justice, diversify your speakers, make space for students to discuss eco-anxiety and lived experiences with environmental issues, etc. To fellow students, I invite you to share your experiences in environmental courses by filling out this form. Stories will be shared on the UConn Friday’s for Future Instagram, and we are working on also sharing them with faculty.

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