Author and environmentalist Carolyn Finney spoke with 38 seniors in Loomis Chaffee’s Global and Environmental Studies Certificate (GESC) program during two seminar sessions focused on environmental injustice on November 5 and 8.
In her book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, published in 2014, Ms. Finney draws attention to the long tradition of African American environmentalism, extending from the time of slavery to the present. In her presentation to the students, she described how her heritage and her experience as a Black person in America have affected her relationship to the environment.
Ms. Finney spoke via video conference with the students and Marley Matlack, the Christopher H. Lutz Director of Loomis’ Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies, which administers the GESC programming.
In her presentation, Ms. Finney defined environmental injustice and discussed ways that it connects to racial and socio-economic injustices and relates to equity, inclusion, and diversity concerns in American society.
“Environmental injustice is not only about the placement of toxic waste sites in poor and/or communities of color, but also considers the lack of access that certain communities have to green spaces and healthy food,” she said.
Citing the country’s long history of social injustices, including slavery, the removal of native people from their land, and limitations on immigration for certain groups of people, Ms. Finney referenced the many ways since the nation’s inception that the American people have “decided that certain groups of people are not going to be valued as much as other groups of people.” She said underserved racial, ethnic, and socio-economic populations have limited access to economic and political power, resources, and opportunities as well as limited agency in issues of land, land use, and the environment.
After her presentation, the students asked Ms. Finney about a variety of environmental justice issues, including the oversight of businesses’ adherence to environmental policy, ensuring populations’ access to healthy living environments, addressing the negative effects of gentrification, and individuals’ responsibilities as consumers and activists.