At right, Lori Gruen, associate professor and chair of feminist, gender and
sexuality studies, associate professor of philosophy at Wesleyan, spoke on
“Environmental Justice as a Feminist Issue” during the Environmental Justice
Curricular Workshop at Malcom X House May 9.
Environmental Justice Explored at Workshop
In 1982, the State of North Carolina chose to dump 60,000 tons of
PCB-contaminated soil into a landfill in Warren County. Residents felt the state had chosen their county because it was predominately
black and one of the poorest in the state. As a result, the landfill became
the focus of accusations of “environmental racism,” or racial discrimination
towards enforcement of environmental regulations.
This topic and others were explored at the Wesleyan–sponsored Environmental Justice Curricular Workshop May 9. Fourteen scholars from the
northeast gathered for the event to discuss environmental justice issues.
In many ways, the workshop was a preview of a new course that will be taught
jointly by faculty in African American Studies and Earth and Environmental
“The workshop was aimed at bringing together a small number of professors
from around New England to explore how environmental justice is currently
being taught and to brainstorm about innovative and interdisciplinary
approaches to bringing issues of environmental racism to students,” says
co-host Suzanne O'Connell, associate professor of earth and environmental
sciences, director of the Service Learning Center. “As far as we know, it’s
the first time this has been done.”
to co-host Renee Romano, associate professor of history, associate professor
of African American studies, associate professor of American studies, the
concept of environmental justice grew out of the Environmental and Civil
Rights movements. (O'Connell and Romano are pictured at left)
“One of its tenets is that disenfranchised people, especially ethnic
minorities, but also included are women and the poor, are more likely to be
the recipients of environmental injustice,” Romano says.
workshop was broken into three sessions. The first explored how scholars in
the humanities and social science fields are teaching environmental
Participants then examined teaching methods of featured scholars
working in fields related to environmental science. The final session
focused on the best practices for teaching environmental justice in ways
that promote interaction across the disciplines and with the broader
Workshop topics included “Teaching Environmental Justice as a Law/Public
Policy Issue,” “Teaching Environmental Justice as an Ethical Issue,”
“Teaching Environmental Justice as a Social Movement,” “Environmental
Justice and Issues of Race and Sovereignty,” “Going Beyond the United
States,” “Environmental Justice as a Feminist Issue,” “Service Learning,”
“Teaching Environmental Justice through Local Case Studies,” and “Teaching
Environmental Justice through Science.”
“For most environmental justice classes, science is not the focus, so I was
able to ask the participants how they felt the best ways to involve students
with a primarily social focus to become engaged in the underlying science,”
In addition to delivering short presentations on teaching methods, the
guests suggested reading and handout materials, and discussed assignments
that worked best in their environmental justice-focused classes.
Two years ago, O’Connell and Romano began exploring the possibility of
teaching an environmental justice course at Wesleyan. Their objective was to
find a way that might raise minority student awareness of the importance of
environmental science in their lives.
“The workshop helped us understand some of the complications of teaching a
potentially volatile subject and to learn how experts handle the multiple
topics,” Romano says.
The workshop was funded by Wesleyan through a grant for pedagogical and
By Olivia Bartlett, Wesleyan Connection editor