Environmental Justice Through the Eyes of The Next Generation of Hudson River Educators

by |August 31, 2020

 

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Despite living around the Hudson River, many residents of Rockland County and the Bronx have limited involvement with the waterway. Lamont’s Next Generation of Hudson River Educators program, carried out in the summer of 2020, aimed to address that lack of connection by equipping local high school students to engage their communities with culturally informed education. Student interns participated in a variety of activities, discussions, and lectures to learn about the Hudson River and local environmental justice issues. They then used their knowledge to conduct outreach via social media, events, and individual interviews.

A goal of the Next Generation of Hudson River Educators was to better connect groups that are underrepresented in the environmental sciences. To accomplish this, the program investigated the disparities in resources, environmental health, and representation that bar many members of marginalized communities from fully engaging with fields like environmental science. The high school interns communicated about the challenges their communities face and collaborated to develop potential solutions.

Below, two of our students summarize their experiences in learning about environmental justice and diversity in STEM.

Environmental Justice 

— Written by Kashi Nanavati, student, Nyack High School

The 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.” In other words, environmental justice serves as an unbiased prioritization of nature, people, and their communities, over economic profit. The movement began in the early 1980s as a response to environmental injustice that persisted for many decades. One example was redlining, a systematic denial of financial loans and distribution of resources based primarily on racial bias, which clearly contributed to inequity in neighborhoods in regards to race and wealth. Minority areas lacking in financial support became targets for factory sites, pipelines, sewage waste, landfills, etc. as they were often the cheaper and easier option. The consequent health effects from pollution are responsible for thousands of deaths, the majority being BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), largely due to their proximity to toxic emissions.

Throughout the week, the Hudson River Field Station internship educated all of us on this pertinent topic using a variety of methods, including articles, lectures, videos, discussions, and different projects. During one of our first activities, we were presented with two articles with alternative views on a proposed plan: Should a power plant be built in close proximity to an elementary school with a majority of people of color? We debated with each other in order to understand other opinions in regards to environmental justice, and worked in groups to develop rebuttals. Another activity compared a map of redlining to a map of real estate pricing, which showed a clear correlation, allowing us to witness first-hand the ongoing effects of this practice.

After spending the majority of the week understanding environmental justice and discussing it in depth, we were tasked with creating informative infographics. The products of our combined efforts highlighted not only our improved understanding of environmental justice, but our ability to actively educate others.

 

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Infographic by Kashi Nanavati, Jeanne Joof & Yesenia Flores

Breaking Barriers: The Importance of Diversity

— Written by Jeanne Joof, student, Nyack High School            

This summer, while working as an intern for Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, I had the opportunity to work with a diverse group to create materials to increase our community’s knowledge of and interest in the Hudson River. During the program, we attended a panel, Diversity and Inclusion in STEM: Leveraging your Network and Skills, hosted by Hudson River Park and The New York Academy  of Sciences, where young professionals in STEM careers discussed their experiences as minorities in their field. This discussion panel was enlightening as well as encouraging.

With all that’s gone on this year, diversity has been put at the forefront of our discussions. Diversity, equity, and inclusion shouldn’t just be a trending topic but should be something that we constantly strive for. This discussion was important to me because, growing up in a school that wasn’t diverse, I struggled to fit in and to find my place, but discussions like this have helped me to see that I am not alone and that I can achieve even my highest goals. The panelists helped me to see that what makes me different from others is where my strength lies.

Conclusion

The Next Generation program provided an environment for students to learn and discuss not only the science of the Hudson River watershed, but also the social issues present in their daily lives. This combined focus was essential when crafting truly meaningful solutions to pressing environmental issues. We look forward to using the insight our high school interns gained to ensure more inclusive and representative education around the Hudson River.

—Introduction and conclusion written by Madeline Salino, near peer mentor

The Next Generation of Hudson River Educators Program  is a program funded through a grant from the NYS DEC, with support from Old York Foundation, and additional student support from The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx and the NSF INCLUDES program. For six weeks this summer, the program ran virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic with nine high school students, two Rockland Conservation & Service Corps members and Lamont’s Laurel Zaima and Margie Turrin. We will explore some of their work over two more posts.

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