Majora Carter comes to Smith for Environmental Equality Teach-In

Stefanie Cervantes ’13
Contributing Writer 

Last Saturday the Sustainability Representatives, with the help of several offices and organizations on campus, hosted the Environmental Equality Teach-In, featuring speakers from Smith, Amherst College and Keynote Speaker Majora Carter. The talks’ topics ranged from sustainable conservation projects in Bolivia to urban revitalization in South Bronx.

“I was impressed that so many came out. That shows that people are already thinking about these issues, so this conversation can be had at Smith,” said Florence Elizabeth MacGregor ’AC.

Carter is an eco entrepreneur, Peabody Award winning radio broadcaster and urban revitalization strategist. Her talk, “Hometown Security,” discussed her childhood experiences of growing up in South Bronx, an area of New York that was red-lined, which prevented new investment and led to the deterioration of the neighborhood. Much of the neighborhood was filled with vacant lots, which allowed illegal dumping and businesses such as landfills and power plants to come into the area. Growing up, Carter felt disconnected with the area and left for college. She returned when she started at NYU as a graduate student, and by chance was dragged into an abandoned lot by her dog. It turned out that this lot was hiding the Bronx River, which Carter had never seen in her life, despite living six blocks away.

Carter became involved in urban revitalization projects; she wanted to improve the accessibility of people in her neighborhood and was able to secure a small grant to allow the start-up of Hunt Point Riverside Park. This small success led to attention from the New York mayor, who provided funds to further improve the park. The park is the first waterfront park in South Bronx in over 60 years, a great achievement for Carter and a positive addition for the city of South Bronx.

After this project, Carter became more involved in the urban revitalization of South Bronx. She is currently involved in growing the economy by training and placing young adults in green jobs and encouraging green businesses to come into the area. Carter is also working to create a Greenway to connect the park with other parks in the area and to provide an easy and cheap way for residents to get around.

“I liked how Majora emphasized the importance of investing in beauty,” said Green Team representative Emma Wade ’13. “She talked about how when we build beautiful places, they make people happy and that happiness leads to a safer and more sustainable community. This beauty often just takes a green revision and ownership of our living spaces.”

Aside from Carter, various professors and students also spoke about important conservation topics during the teach-in, starting with Professor Jan Dizard, the chair of environmental studies and a sociology and American studies professor at Amherst College. Dizard opened the teach-in with a talk on global environmental concerns. His talk focused on local environmental problems, concerns that affect everyone and how many of the solutions are global. According to Dizard, our food system is heavily dependent on antibiotics given to livestock in developing areas of the world. As a consequence of this, these animals have developed a resistance to the antibiotics, a problem that has become expensive and dangerous to human health.

At the end of his speech, Dizard spoke on the subject of climate change and America’s “addiction to carbon.” Fossil fuels have become the foundation to our economy and life, but Dizard is hopeful that this can change. He used women’s rights as an example of deeply embedded cultural norms that have been changed in a fairly quick time span. According to Dizard, if women can change cultural expectations, then an economy based on fossil fuels an be changed, too.

Paul Wetzel, the environmental research and monitoring coordinator at the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability, spoke about sustainable conservation projects that allow indigenous people to connect and profit in ways that have not been allowable before. His best example of this was the harvesting of the aςaί berry from palm trees in remote forest areas of Bolivia. These berries are being harvested without damage to the environment and provide a higher profit for harvesters than other forest harvesting.

Next to take the podium was Professor Ninian Stein, a visiting assistant professor at Smith College in the environmental science and policy department. Stein showed two video clips of environmental injustice occurring abroad and at home. A short clip from Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action portrayed the struggles that Native American tribes suffer through because of a lack of political power and discrimination.

Wade and fellow Green Team representative Siiri Bigalke ’15 followed with a short presentation about the current Divest Campaign occurring on campus. Divestment is the act of removing funds in certain assets for political reasons. Smith is not new to divestment, having divested in American companies doing business in South Africa in the 1980s. At that time, students filled College Hall in an attempt to bring attention to the administration, especially to then-college president Mary Maples Dunn. The Green Team is currently trying to follow a similar movement, this time divesting from fossil fuels. They currently have a petition, which can be found at gofossilfree.org or at any Green Team event.

The teach-in attracted an impressive turn out.

“I think that it turned out extremely well,” said attendee Dalyn Houser ’13. “It was a great success, and it’s great that so many camped out to listen to those issues.”

The afternoon sparked many questions about environmental and sustainability problems. What exactly is “sustainable?” What is the difference between “environmental justice” and “environment equality?” How do we acknowledge that there are individuals and groups that are negatively affected by our dependence on fossil fuels, our pollution of rivers and our trash? And once we have faced this and realize that we have to change, how do we go about fixing it?

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