Jacqueline Patterson, the director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, spoke Monday night at the Lory Student Theater as a keynote speaker for the Colorado State University Diversity Symposium. Her presentation, entitled “Resistance, Resilience, Reclamation, Revolution–Racial Justice, Human Rights and Climate Change,” discussed the environmental injustice experienced by communities of color in low-income and politically disenfranchised neighborhoods.
Patterson examined the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the four “R’s” of racial justice. She argued that the crisis affected the Flint community because it is a low-income and politically disenfranchised area and a predominantly black/African American faction.
Patterson stated that children impacted by the Flint water crisis experience significant health risks, such as irreversible brain damage and are more likely to suffer in school because of the health issues they face. She said since the children are sick and cannot attend class, they are less likely to meet grade-level expectations in reading and are more likely to end up incarcerated.
Patterson stated that it is in the hands of the people of Flint to demand racial and climate change, and much of the community is already working towards demanding environmental justice.
As she concluded her presentation, she discussed the four “R’s”- resistance, resilience, reclamation, and revolution.
Examples of resistance, as mentioned by Patterson, include the protests happening at the Dakota Access Pipeline. Patterson said the idea behind resistance is to oppose major corporations that negatively impact a community’s environment and health for profit.
Patterson said resilience is “people-centered as apposed to profit-centered” and involves building systems within the community in order to combat environmental injustice.
Reclamation involves restoring common goods and necessities, such as electricity and water, back into the community at a more affordable price in order for everyone to have access to it.
Patterson mentioned the solidarity movement where the residents in the Highland Park, Michigan had over a thousand streetlights repossessed; the residents worked together to have solar powered streetlights put in place, creating a more sustainable and equitable system.
The final “R” Patterson discussed was revolution, in which she described how people should engage in educational sessions, cleaning up the community, volunteer with a local environmental justice group, and vote for policy makers who are concerned about improving the environmental injustice numerous communities face.
Students in attendance overall left Patterson’s presentation with a new mentality about why environmental injustice is important.
“I thought it was a very necessary presentation in a topic that needed to be discussed at this university,” Emily Taylor, a junior environmental justice major said. “… [Sustainability and diversity are] two main issues on this campus that we strive to improve, yet we are a predominantly white university. I think a lot of people are unaware of environmental justice issues since we don’t directly see them every day here.”
Sophomore sociology major Amanda west said she liked the honesty of the keynote.
“She was absolutely blunt, which needs to happen a lot more because people feel like they need to tiptoe around feelings when nobody’s feelings are tiptoed around when it’s racial issues,” West said.
The Diversity Symposium aims to engage the campus community in an assortment of critical issue varying between cross cultural communication, accessibility and building an inclusive community. The symposium will hold events until Thursday, Sept. 22.
Other Keynote speakers include Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa and Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, on Wednesday and Thursday night respectively at six in the LSC Theater. CSU Inspire, a TED Talk-like assembly, will occur on Wednesday Sept. 21 from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. and will concentrate on inspiring initiatives in relation to the CSU campus. Additionally, general sessions for the Diversity Symposium will be held in the Lory Student Center from 9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Collegian reporter Haley Candelario can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @H_Candelario98.