Students gathered in the Trotter Multicultural Center Wednesday evening for the center’s first “Kaleidoscope conversation”, an event for students to engage in discussion about their thoughts and feelings related to environmental racism. The conversation addressed the ways in which environmental policies and regulations negatively impact minority racial and ethnic groups at disproportionate rates.
The event, titled “Unpacking Environmental Racism,” was facilitated by Brennan McBeth, program manager for Trotter, and Taubman graduate student Fareeha Khan, a program assistant at Trotter.
McBeth said the Kaleidoscope program series replaces the Meals of Meaning program from previous years and serves as a series of difficult conversations centering around race, ethnicity and how people’s identities influence their lives and experiences.
“(I hope Kaleidoscope helps attendees to) interrogate how a person’s social identities impact their experience of the world … and how we have to look at these issues and what we see in the media with a more critical lens,” McBeth said.
McBeth started the evening by sharing three videos with the group. First, attendees viewed a clip from The Atlantic titled “Environmental Racism is the New Jim Crow,” which defined environmental racism and briefed the ways in which minority groups are disproportionately affected by environmental issues and natural disasters.
Next, attendees watched the trailer for HBO’s “Katrina Babies” — a documentary focused on following up with people who were children during Hurricane Katrina by asking them what their experiences were and how they are still affected by it. Students were prompted to ask themselves: how may environmental racism affect you as you progress through your careers and education? How will it impact your success? What about people who have been impacted by disasters such as Hurricane Katrina?
Students responded by sharing their own memories of Hurricane Katrina and discussing short-term efforts that were made to send aid to displaced people from New Orleans.
McBeth then shared a news clip from Al Jazeera about the Jackson, Miss., water crisis earlier this year, in which the city of Jackson ran out of clean water after flooding damaged a key water sanitation facility.
After viewing these videos, attendees were invited to participate in an open discussion on environmental racism. McBeth and Khan asked students to share their thoughts and feelings on how environmental racism manifests on the local and global scales and the impacts of media coverage, disaster aid and power dynamics. Attendees discussed the large amount of media dedicated to the death of Queen Elizabeth II as opposed to that dedicated to devastating flooding in Pakistan.
Finally, McBeth asked attendees how they defined environmental justice before inviting attendees to discuss some steps they could take to move away from environmental racism and toward environmental justice. Attendees shared the importance of raising awareness about environmental racism, as well as having difficult and uncomfortable conversations with one another.
Social Work graduate student Renee Price said the event taught her how to think more critically about how environmental issues are portrayed in the media.
“It’s about listening more than talking, giving students space to participate in the discussion, making space for other students to feel present in the conversation,” Khan said. “Heavy discussions are an opportunity to talk, but an even bigger opportunity to listen.”
Daily News Contributor Fatimah Alhawary at firstname.lastname@example.org