Fostering community-driven research for social and environmental justice
Laudato Si’ across the Curriculum Program Begins
The inaugural class of 15 SCU faculty members and student teaching assistants completed our new professional development program, which supports curricular design of community-engaged research projects on environmental justice topics in courses across the disciplines. Faculty participants have begun implementing these projects in courses in Management and Entrepreneurship, Electrical Engineering, Education, Sociology, Theology, Theatre and Dance, Child Studies, English, Women and Gender Studies, and Ethnic Studies. These courses will teach hundreds of students how to collaborate with community-based organizations to produce actionable knowledge that advances environmental justice. Next year, we will open the program to participants at other Jesuit universities to build a wider community of teaching scholars who can prepare students to contribute to this work in every discipline. Special thanks to alumnus John Burns (‘66) for providing the seed funding to develop this program, which was designed and taught by Chad Raphael.
Law and Advocacy Lab Launches
Our innovative Environmental Justice Law and Advocacy Lab has begun training law students and undergraduates to find effective and creative solutions to clients' environmental legal needs. The Lab is also cultivating future environmental law students through undergraduate engagement, educating local governments and leaders in the value of incorporating environmental justice in their decision making, and augmenting the University's expertise in environmental law and justice. Led by Tseming Yang and Zsea Bowmani, the Lab has engaged students and community partner All Positives Possible in developing a resource guide for community advocates to use California’s civil rights laws to fight environmental discrimination. Students have also collaborated with organizations such as Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice to provide research and public comments on local impacts of an animal rendering plant and several concrete plants in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. In Imperial County, CA, the lab’s research supported the Quechan Tribe’s investigation of a proposed gold mine at Indian Pass, which would have threatened this environmentally-sensitive site that is sacred to the tribe. Bowmani recently presented some of these projects at UC Berkeley and the Yale New Horizons in Conservation Conference. See the Lab’s blog for more information.
Supporting Water and Climate Justice in Central California
A new research project by our Water and Climate Justice program will help Central California communities cope with threats to water access and quality. Iris Stewart-Frey and community partners from California Rural Legal Assistance received a $49,999 award from the California Environmental Protection Agency to support a project on removing barriers to accessing safe drinking water in San Joaquin Valley disadvantaged rural communities impacted by nitrate and drought. The project will engage undergraduate research interns and community members to use spatial analysis, surveys, and focus groups to understand communities’ experiences with water access and quality, drought impacts, and the effectiveness of state regulators’ outreach.
New Project to Strengthen Justice in Emergency Food Assistance
California’s Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) awarded $50,000 to Sacred Heart Community Services’ La Mesa Verde community gardening program to collaborate with the Initiative to improve emergency food assistance programs. The joint project will advance food justice in the South Bay by employing research-based agroecology techniques to reduce food waste, produce compost, and improve the sustainability of emergency food assistance programs. Project partners will create materials for community-oriented educational workshops, facilitate leadership development by backyard gardeners and pantry volunteers, and create a replicable resource guide for food pantries and urban gardeners to use and adapt a food justice approach. The Initiative’s Chris Bacon will guide the research component, collaborating with SCU’s Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship and undergraduate researchers in Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Sociology. This project is part of a growing body of faculty-student research on food justice in the South Bay and on SCU’s campus, including papers presented at the 2022 American Association of Geographers conference.
Research Grant Spotlight
Environmental Justice Research Grant Recipients Panel
Several recipients of our first round of research grants to SCU faculty shared their interdisciplinary work at a recent panel, organized by Chad Raphael. Lee Panich (Anthropology), Monica V. Arellano (Vice-Chairwoman, Muwekma Ohlone Tribe), and Teresa Contino (English, Psychology, ‘23) presented their study (conducted with Charlene Nijmeh and Gloria Gomez of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe), entitled “Collaborative Research with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe: Reclaiming Traditional Ecological Knowledge from Anthropological Fieldnotes.” CJ Gabbe (Environmental Studies and Sciences), Jamie Chang (Public Health Sciences), Morayo Kamson (Environmental Studies, Political Science, ‘22) and David Seo (Environmental Science ‘23) presented their study (conducted with Erika Laguna, Downtown Streets Team) on “Heat Risk and Silicon Valley’s Unhoused Residents.” Molly King (Sociology) and Ana Martinez (Sociology, Economics, ‘23) presented “How do People with Disabilities Learn about Climate Change?”
Faculty-Student Team Publishes on Disability and Climate Change
Supported by a grant from the Initiative, Molly M. King (Sociology) and Maria A. Gregg (Political Science, Sociology, '21) published "Disability and climate change: A critical realist model of climate justice," a peer-reviewed article in Sociology Compass. The authors’ model addresses contextual and environmental features that cause climate vulnerability for people with disabilities; adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change; perceptions of and information gathering about climate change risk; and social action and policy. King and Gregg argue that disability communities’ ability to adapt to climate change depends on institutional transformation to reduce bodily, environmental, social, and economic vulnerabilities; better information for more accurate risk assessment; and policy actions that support adaptive capacity and resilience. The Initiative is also supporting the next phase of King’s research on how climate change impacts disability access and inclusion. This project, with community partner United Spinal, will study the impact on disaster preparedness of providing disaster kits and education outreach to people with mobility disabilities.
Santa Clara University joined the founding group of academic institutions pledging to embark on a seven-year journey to strengthen our contributions to integral ecology and environmental justice. These University Pathways are part of the larger Laudato Si’ Action Platform, developed by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to promote steps to integral ecology by Catholic organizations and all people of good will. The Initiative’s Chris Bacon helped to design the University Pathways’ Community Resilience and Empowerment goal, which includes “identifying and mobilizing constituents, welcoming the local community members into the university space, building trust, and finding solutions to local environmental problems.” The Initiative will support SCU’s efforts, led by the university’s Division of Mission and Ministry and our Center for Sustainability, to involve the university community in defining and implementing our path to deepen integral ecology in our academics and research, operations, and outreach.
Recent Programming and Publications
Supporting Central American Farmers’ Climate Resilience
The Initiative’s Iris Stewart-Frey and Ed Maurer, along with Kerstin Stahl (University of Freiburg), and SCU undergraduate Kenny Joseph (Bioengineering ‘22), shared their new evidence of warmer and drier growing seasons in climate sensitive regions of Central America with farming communities at a workshop in northern Nicaragua, which was co-organized by our partner organization CII-ASDENIC, and published this research. In addition, Stewart-Frey, Maurer, Joseph, and Hugo Hidalgo (Universidad de Costa Rica), published an article in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences exploring varying definitions of midsummer drought in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, and how shifts in its timing should be incorporated into improved seasonal forecasts.
Integrating Farmers’ Voices in Research for Food Justice
Chris Bacon published a commentary in the Jesuit journal Promotio Iustitiae about integrating farmers’ perspectives into research and action to secure their rights to food and water amidst the climate crisis.
Decolonizing Food Justice
Raj Patel, a noted expert in the world food system, delivered the keynote talk in an event on decolonizing the food system to address intertwined problems of hunger, climate change, racism, and food sovereignty. Emily Schweng (Veggielution), Fernando Fernandez Leiva (La Mesa Verde), Paola Felix (Environmental Studies ‘22), and moderator Chris Bacon offered responses from their perspectives as activists and researchers for local food justice. The Initiative co-sponsored this event with SCU’s Center for Arts and Humanities, and the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education’s Bannan Forum.
The Human Right to Water in Tribal Communities
Bidtah Becker, Deputy Secretary for Environmental Justice, Tribal Affairs and Border Relations, CalEPA, and Heather Tanana, College Of Law, University of Utah discussed tribal water issues, including access, infrastructure, quality, operations and maintenance. The presenters discussed the history and status of tribal water access, as well as opportunities created by new funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the state of California’s efforts to use its first-in-the-nation law establishing a human right to water to make this right a reality in Indigenous communities. Organized and moderated by the Initiative’s Iris Stewart-Frey and Clare Pace (UC Berkeley), the event was co-sponsored by the Initiative, the Northern California Environmental Justice Network for Community-Academic Partnerships, SCU’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion, the UC Berkeley Water Equity Science Shop, Stanford’s Environmental Justice Working Group, and SJSU’s Department of Environmental Studies. A follow-up event on community perspectives and tribal voices will take place on June 9th.
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