The impact of climate change has been a hot topic in recent news. With its notability in current events, Building Bridges Co-Chairs Junior Mark Zorrilla and Senior Kelly Dumais decided environmental justice was an appropriate choice for the 19th annual Building Bridges Conference.
“Environmental justice stood out as an obvious choice for this year’s topic because of its prominence in current events and its location at the intersection of many different social justice issues,” Zorrilla and Dumais said.
Zorrilla and Dumais had the responsibility of picking the topic at the beginning of this school year, following extensive research by both. There had been rumors of concern regarding the chosen topic, as some students believed it was not a social justice issue. However, no one vocalized these concerns during the conference.
Zorrilla and Dumais want to highlight that environmental justice and environmentalism are not the same thing.
“While environmentalism focuses on concern about the environment, environmental justice is concerned about how environmental degradation hurts people. Social justice is the very heart and soul of this issue. This is not a conference about recycling. We will be engaging with issues of racism and classism, privilege, health, politics, economics, and activism,” Zorrilla and Dumais said.
While some students may have been upset over the choice, many believe the topic is a pressing and relevant issue. Sophomore Megan Gillen found keynote speaker Van Jones and opening act, The Earth Guardians to be very inspiring.
“As an environmental studies major, it reminded me exactly why I am going into this field. Van Jones was very funny and easily connected with the audience. The Earth Guardians were amazing; it truly does show that you can make a difference at any age,” Gillen said.
Building Bridges Co-Advisor and Director of Multicultural Programs and the Diversity Center Pearl Leonard-Rock believes that the issue of environmental justice is a relevant social justice topic.
“Listening to those who are most affected is critical in all aspects of social justice, as they are the experts on their lives and communities. We must respect the earth. We must move away from believing that some people and communities are disposable. Disposability is a myth,” Leonard-Rock said.
First-year Tanner Eischen and Sophomore Audi Dickey participated in the action piece during this year’s conference. With the pressing issue of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, Eischen believes the topic is relatable to Gusties.
“The environment is such a current issue that we are dealing with and that the youth of today will be dealing with for quite a while. This topic lines up perfectly XL Dissent Keystone Pipeline Protest that I and many Gusties attended,” Eischen said.
Dickey believes that education is key, because the decisions involved in environmental justice are more complicated than many think.
“I hope others took away that decisions regarding environmental justice are very complicated and that everyone will value a certain opinion more than others. It is very important to be educated on all sides of the conversation,” Dickey said.
The conference sparked conversation, but Zorrilla and Dumais hope it does more.
“We hope that our Conference inspires action, agitates demands from the people, and activates our community to speak out and stand against injustice,” Zorrilla and Dumais said.