Climate and Environmental Justice Conference
Faith-based, community-based, and academic collaboration for action
Over 420 faculty and students, community organizers, advocates, policymakers, social ministry leaders, and funders joined us at SCU and online for our Climate and Environmental Justice Conference on April 27-29. Together, we advanced the work of organizing community-university alliances and partnerships to promote climate and environmental justice in Northern California, across Latin America, and throughout Jesuit higher education. We had over 50 presenters, 30 posters, 12 workshops and networking sessions, a Youth Summit, an interfaith dinner, and Ballet Folklórico. We are grateful for the new ideas, people met, and collaborations imagined.
Highlights across the three-day event included powerful opening panels featuring Monica V. Arellano, who shared the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe’s land acknowledgment, their work creating the Muwekma Ohlone Preservation Foundation, and the Tribe's story of persistence and continued struggle for Federal recognition. Chairman Val Lopez spoke about the history of violence against his tribe and other native people residing in California, the recovery and use of indigenous ecological knowledge, and the creation of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust. He called upon us to “teach the truth”, reconcile with the past, learn from each other, and heal together. The invitation to a deep reflection continued with a panel focused on race and class dynamics in the struggle for environmental justice, and third one listening to youth voices.
Keynotes from Fr. Michael Garanzini, President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) and Veronica Eady, Senior Deputy Executive Officer of Policy & Equity for the Bay Area’s Air Quality Management District. Eady offered inspiration and advice for advancing the environmental justice movement, and Fr. Garanzini recognized Santa Clara University’s leadership in community-engaged research for environmental justice, and explored collaborative work across a global network of 200 Jesuit Universities interested in these themes.
A series of panels examined the findings and lessons learned from more than 15 long-term university-community partnerships conducting participatory research with local residents, cooperatives, social ministry organizations, government agencies and others to advance climate and environmental justice. These panels explored evidence-based and place-based strategies to deepen understanding and network models to scale-up the research, learning, and institutional change. The thematically organized panels drew on the Environmental Justice and Common Good’s faculty expertise to address water rights, food systems change, decolonization, indigenous stewardship, law, and proposals for transforming education. Keynote presenters in topical sessions included Laurel Firestone, CA State Water Board Member and Community-Water Center Co-founder, speaking on pathways to water justice, racial equity, and the human right to water through Tribal and community advocacy and UC Santa Cruz Assistant Professor Maywa Montenegro and co-founder of The Agroecology Research-Action Collective (ARC) speaking on how abolitionist agroecology could offer a transformative response to the pandemic, racial injustice and hunger.
A series of workshops focused on training to produce actionable knowledge including sessions about intergenerational community organizing, using geographic information systems for justice, making changes in higher education, and better understanding the California Environmental Quality Act. Participants also listened to Indigenous water stewards, and engaged faith-based strategies to change ourselves and care for “our common home.” Networking sessions included the inaugural meeting of the AJCU Laudato Si’ Commission, and follow-up meetings of the Northern California EJ Network, and South Bay Food Justice Collaborative. The participants also represented the diversity of environmental justice issues and communities through the presentation of 30 posters involving seven universities, four international global networks and multiple non-profit organizations and communities.
On Saturday, a group of higher education leaders, non-profit directors, K-12 educators, and foundation officers explored strategies to make universities better partners with marginal communities, strengthen faith-based and community-based collaborations, and sustain the meaning and move the money to make this happen. Simultaneously, students organized a youth-led environmental justice summit to present their research and explore opportunities for action.
While it’s impossible to sum up these three intense days and the many ideas and engagements that brought it alive, several key insights from this conference included:
- The compelling testimonies and proposals for personal and collective change from the conference’s opening panels and dialogue throughout the three days reaffirmed our strategy of centering Indigeneity, race, class, and youth voices in efforts to partner with the frontline of environmental justice communities. This includes deepening solidarities and becoming more effective allies for this long-term work.
- The panels and breakout sessions highlighted examples of long-term university-community partnerships that have advanced science and social change, as presenters shared strategies for co-producing actionable knowledge. These partnerships are rooted in trust and relationships that recognize individual and institutional differences. They can be scaled with additional support for networking and reciprocal capacity building.
- Presenters shared best practices and practical strategies to advance the much-needed transformation in higher education, and explained how cross institutional networks can simultaneously deepen and accelerate these vital change processes.
- There are powerful possibilities that arise from integrating faith-based and secular approaches grounded in mutual respect and commitments to justice and care for “our common home” at the local, regional, national, and global scales.
The Environmental Justice and Common Good Initiative and conference participants generated multiple avenues to follow-up: joining our mailing list, exploring and expanding collaborations with our food, water, climate, youth, and legal justice programs; keeping an eye out for future training workshops; joining the Northern California Environmental Justice Network; and exploring connections with academic partners at your local College or University to engage them in partnerships for climate and environmental justice.
We are grateful to the Association of Jesuit Universities and Colleges for co-sponsoring the conference, our Premier Partner, SCU’s Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education; Plenary Session Sponsors, Stanford University’s Haas Center for Public Service and the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship; Workshop Sponsors, SCU’s Inclusive Excellence Division and Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Bay Area Quality Management District, California Rural Legal Assistance, Valley Water; Roundtable Sponsor, Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and our many additional sponsors and partners.