Fostering community-driven research for social and environmental justice
Climate and Environmental Justice Conference April 27-29
The Initiative’s Climate and Environmental Justice Conference will be held at Santa Clara University on April 27-29, 2023. The conference will advance 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. Faculty and students, community organizers and advocates, policymakers, social ministry leaders, and funders are invited to participate in dialogues, keynotes, panels, professional development workshops, and a poster session. Conference registration is free.
Implementing Integral Ecology in Catholic Higher Education
The Initiative’s Chad Raphael published two articles on how Catholic higher education can respond to the Vatican’s call to develop seven-year University Pathways toward practicing environmental and social justice in all we do. One article, published on the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities website, described the wealth of resources universities can draw on to develop their plans to enact integral ecology. A second article, in Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education, co-authored with Lindsey Kalkbrenner (Director, SCU Center for Sustainability) and Alison Benders (Vice President, SCU Division of Mission and Ministry), explained how universities can engage all campus constituencies in implementing the pathways. Both articles emphasized the importance of collaborative learning among campus leaders, and professional development for faculty and academic staff, to take full advantage of this transformative moment for Catholic education. To these ends, the Initiative will offer new learning opportunities in 2023, including workshops for faculty and a new community of practice for campus leaders. If you are interested in joining either, please let us know here.
Protecting Juristac, an Amah Mutsun Sacred Site, from a Proposed Mine
Juristac, located in southern Santa Clara County, has been the site of Amah Mutsun prayer ceremonies and healing rituals for thousands of years. The tribe is currently fighting to protect their spiritual homeland against a proposed sand and gravel pit mine. The Initiative’s Iris Stewart-Frey, in collaboration with colleagues from the Northern California Network for Community-Based Teaching and Research from multiple institutions, have supported the campaign by drafting support letters with hundreds of signatures, and public comment letters focused on justice, and watershed and ecological protection. A contingent of SCU faculty and students joined the Protect Juristac rally in San Jose on September 10.
Photo: Amah Mutson Tribal Band
Initiative Contributes to SCU’s Top Rankings in Research and Community Engagement
The Initiative contributed to SCU's #1 ranking in sustainability research and #8 ranking in public engagement in the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's 2022 STARS ratings. The STARS ratings are the most comprehensive measures of universities’ achievements in practicing sustainability. The Initiative was one of three formal community partnerships to advance sustainability highlighted in SCU’s reporting, a contribution that will grow more important as the STARS criteria change to put greater weight on community engaged research with underserved communities.
In Our Research
The Stench of Sustainability in Bayview Hunters Point
The Initiative issued a new report, The Stench of Sustainability, on noxious emissions from the Darling animal rendering plant in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point, produced by our Law and Advocacy Lab for community partner Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. Operated by Darling for over 50 years, the plant processes animal carcasses and grease from local restaurant traps and turns them into usable materials. But the Darling plant has also blanketed the surrounding neighborhood with “nauseating fumes” for years, adding to the stresses faced by a low-income and racially diverse community that is already overburdened by many other environmental hazards. The Stench of Sustainability summarizes data in public documents obtained from three agencies that regulate Darling’s operations, and provides recommendations for reducing the plant’s impact on the community. The report was co-authored by the Initiative’s Zsea Bowmani and Elias Rodriguez (SCU Law ‘21), with editorial assistance from SCU undergraduates Emily Pachoud, Hannah Trillo, and Grace Yonkers-Talz. Read more about the project on the Law and Advocacy Lab’s blog.
New Data on Diversifying Food and Farming with Latin American Cooperatives
The Initiative’s Chris Bacon (Environmental Studies and Sciences), along with Alejandra Guzmán Luna (Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico), V. Ernesto Mendéz (University of Vermont) and co-authors from cooperatives and universities in Nicaragua and Chiapas Mexico published a peer-reviewed article in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems assessing the extent to which diversification among coffee smallholders in Mesoamerica can contribute to a transformative agroecology and improved livelihoods. The study also analyzed the potential role of participatory action research (PAR) in fostering diversification and food sovereignty. The research teams replicated methods in both locations, embedding a mixed methods study within a PAR approach to conduct 338 surveys, 96 interviews, 44 focus groups, and participant observation during two international farmer-to-farmer exchanges. Findings showed that although coffee-producing households in both locations reported several diversification activities, more than 50% still experience annual periods of food scarcity. Discussions of findings with study participants suggested that farmers and co-ops can develop transformative agroecology initiatives for food sovereignty by increasing land access, farm diversification for subsistence, native seed conservation, and diversifying diets. Significant challenges to these efforts include decades of political economic exclusion and dependence on coffee sales.
Image: Cooperative Mural of Community Work on Diversified Organic Farms in Nicaragua
Access to Safe Drinking Water in the Central Valley
The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) awarded the Initiative’s Iris Stewart-Frey and California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) a $49,999 grant to identify and remove barriers to safe drinking water for disadvantaged rural communities impacted by nitrate and drought in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The project will inform CV-SALTS, a water quality regulatory program aimed at reducing nitrate levels in groundwater and providing emergency replacement drinking water for impacted residents, who currently face extreme drought conditions that are likely to become more frequent under climate change. The project will involve undergraduate student interns and community members in spatial analysis, surveys, and focus groups to understand communities’ experiences with water access, water quality, drought impacts, and the CV-Salts program's outreach effectiveness. As drought is currently not included in the early action plan of the CV-SALTS process, the research will illuminate the impact of the 2021 drought and climate change on disadvantaged unincorporated communities to inform future climate-resilient policy strategies.
Photo: J. Carl Ganter - Circle of Blue
Migratory Birds Found to Decline
The Initiative’s Iris Stewart-Frey, Liam Healey '19, and collaborators from the South Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO) published a study that was featured on the title page in the journal Ecological Restoration, "Long Term Progress in Riparian Restoration with Concurrent Avian Declines in the Southern San Francisco Bay Area (CA)." Riparian areas are a critical landscape habitat for breeding and migrant birds in arid urban regions like the San Francisco Bay Area. The paper assesses the long-term restoration at Coyote Creek Field station, a riparian site near campus, and analyzes decades of bird and vegetation data that has been collected by SFBBO scientists and volunteers, using long-term avian mist-netting data and vegetation surveys. The research team found that although the restored vegetation and bird communities became more similar to a remnant riparian strip, indicating restoration success, migratory birds declined in all habitat areas, highlighting the need for multi-site restoration efforts and multifaceted approaches to evaluating restoration outcomes. The staff at SFBBO have generously co-mentored several cohorts of ESS senior capstone groups, and this study originated with such a project.
Photo: Katie LaBarbera (SFBBO)
Community-Engaged Research for Environmental Justice at the UCSC All-In Conference
Members of the Initiative and their community partners made several presentations at the All-In Conference at University of California - Santa Cruz in October, which focused on co-creating knowledge for justice. Chad Raphael and collaborator Martha Matsuoka (Occidental College) co-presented on how to align the choice of research methods with community partners’ organizing strategies. Chad also organized a panel on “New Tools for Building Community-Academic Collaborations,” in which he presented on SCU’s Laudato Si’ across the Curriculum professional development program and co-presented a framework that academic partners can use to prepare for community-engaged research by considering their positionality (with collaborators Matsuoka and Floridalma Boj Lopez of UCLA). On the same panel, the Initiative’s Iris Stewart-Frey co-presented with Nicholas Jensen of California Rural Legal Assistance on their project, “Collaboration for Safe Water: Joint Advocacy for Water Justice in the Central Valley.” And Chris Bacon (Environmental Studies and Science), Fernando Fernandez Leiva (Sacred Heart Community Services - La Mesa Verde), and Andy Ollove (Fresh Approach) co-presented “Collaborative Program Evaluation During Crisis: Toward an Agroecological and Social Justice Approach to Emergency Food Distribution During Covid-19.”
Action Research Addresses Bronco Student Food Insecurity and Basic Needs
While recent studies at the University of California found that 39% of undergraduate students and 50% of Latinx and Black students experienced food insecurity, this issue remains less understood in private universities. Chris Bacon coordinated a team of student researchers, including Chloe Gentile-Montgomery, Kylie Griggs, and Paola Felix, to produce a report about students’ food security and basic needs at SCU. The study found that 20% of students were food insecure in 2020, with close to 40% facing food or housing insecurity. The data also reveal racial and ethnic disparities, and concerns about access to culturally relevant and vegetarian food. Despite increasing outreach, less than one third of respondents were aware of expanding support services. After documenting creative mutual aid approaches and developing recommendations, the research team has continued annual studies, receiving over 750 surveys in 2022. Inspired by the concept of Cura Personalis, the researchers are working in partnership with SCU’s Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Student Life, Mission and Ministry, Center for Sustainability and others to form a task force on building a university-wide response that aims to create the conditions for all students to fulfill their basic needs in a more just and sustainable way.
Photo: SCU Center for Sustainability
In Our Courses
Communication, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice
Students in the spring section of senior thesis taught by Chad Raphael conducted original research on communication strategies used by a variety of organizations to engage their followers in environmental justice issues. Student teams studied how SCU campus activists for fossil fuel divestment can persuade and mobilize students most effectively, and how fashion brands can avoid greenwashing when communicating about their environmental justice initiatives. Additional teams researched how Bay Area community organizations integrate environmental justice with other issues to engage Latinx migrants, and how journalists could improve news coverage of environmental justice controversies in the Port of Oakland and Kettleman City, CA, by treating community organizations as authoritative sources.
Image: Fossil Free SCU / ENACT
Using Advanced Spatial Analysis for the Environment and Justice
Students in the Fall section of Intermediate Spatial Analysis taught by Iris Stewart-Frey conducted original research projects that investigated environmental and justice questions. Students analyzed data, coded their project in the statistical software package R, and created interactive maps posted on the university’s webpages. Check out their projects:
Image: Interactive map of areas vulnerable to storm surges in Region VI, Philippines, by Briana L. Guingona
Research Grant Spotlight
Unhoused Residents and Extreme Heat
C.J. Gabbe (Environmental Studies and Sciences) presented research completed in collaboration with Jamie Chang (Public Health), Morayo Kamson (Environmental Studies, Political Science ‘22), and David Seo (Environmental Science ‘23) at the 2022 Urban Affairs Association conference in Washington, DC. The research examines how Santa Clara County’s unhoused population is exposed to extreme heat and the heat-adaptive strategies unhoused residents employ. The team used a combination of descriptive statistics, spatial analysis, and interviews, working with community partner Downtown Streets Team. The two key findings are: (1) unhoused people experience thermal inequity, meaning that they disproportionately live in areas with relatively higher temperatures and less tree shade; and (2) while unhoused people do prefer access to shade, the locations of unhoused people are shaped primarily by a combination of proximity to basic services and perceived stability.
Teaching and Learning Guide for Disability Climate Justice
Molly M. King (Sociology), Maria A. Gregg (Political Science, Sociology, '21), Ana V. Martinez (Sociology '23), and Emily Y. Pachoud (Sociology, Environmental Studies '23) published "Teaching & learning guide for disability and climate justice" in Sociology Compass. The guide explores ways to teach the intersection of disability and climate justice for a better understanding of each, including an example of a module that might be deployed in a number of different courses, such as Environmental Sociology, Climate Justice, Sociology of Health & Illness, Medical Sociology, and Disability Studies courses. Work on this publication also served as a valuable learning experience for SCU Sociology students. The Initiative is also supporting the next phase of King’s research on how climate change impacts disability access and inclusion.
Laudato Si’ University Pathways
Members of the Initiative are enthusiastically participating in working groups to develop SCU’s seven-year plan to strengthen our contributions to integral ecology and environmental justice, in response to the Vatican’s challenge to develop these University Pathways. Chris Bacon, who helped to design the Pathways, is on the Community Engagement working group. Iris Stewart-Frey is on the Operations - Resources group, while Chad Raphael is a member of the Academics group. SCU’s planning process is 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.
From Emergency Food Assistance toward Food Justice: A Conversation with Andy Fisher
In November, Andy Fisher, author of Big Hunger, Executive Director of EcoFarm, and a leading force for social and ecological justice in the anti-hunger and food movements in the U.S. shared his insights. Andy and colleagues discussed the charity-based emergency food system’s response to hunger exacerbated by COVID-19. The panel assessed the benefits and risks of the system’s rapid expansion, and persistent challenges from the system’s lack of long-term investment in community-organizing and policy change to address the root causes of hunger. This discussion also identified several positive examples of programmatic change, such as the universal school meals in California, student basic needs programs at some universities, and food bank partnerships with food justice groups, as well as longer term work to advance the human right to food and alleviate poverty. The conversation was hosted by the South Bay Food Justice Collaborative; moderated by the Initiative’s Christopher Bacon; convened by Wei-ting Chen, Executive Director, Stanford Food for Health Equity Lab; and facilitated by Lucy Diekmann, Urban Agriculture/Food Systems Advisor, Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Watch the video here.
Communication, Community-Engaged Research, and Environmental Justice
In November, Chad Raphael gave an invited presentation to 50 researchers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research & Development. Chad described the unique value of community-engaged approaches to doing research on environmental justice and the broad spectrum of ways in which the EPA could involve the public in this research. He also proposed a brief research agenda for community-engaged research on environmental communication, especially to foster trust and overcome polarized responses to environmental science. The talk came as the EPA is preparing to open its new Community-Engaged Research Collaborative for Learning and Excellence (CERCLE), which “will help bring EPA’s science into alignment with the needs of local, underrepresented or underserved communities [to] co-produce actionable knowledge and sustainable solutions.”
Tapped Out: Is Water a Commodity to be Owned or a Living Being with Rights to Exist, Flourish and Thrive?
In October, Iris Stewart-Frey moderated a panel discussion with organizers from Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) about how communities in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Ohio have asserted Rights of Nature to protect local water from oil and gas drilling, corporate water bottling, and industrial agriculture. CELDF addressed how these communities used this paradigm-shifting legal model, which recognizes and legalizes the waters as living entities with rights, to challenge the current system of environmental law. The panel was part of SCU’s fall tUrn week.
Securing the Human Right to Water in Tribal Communities
In June, Iris Stewart-Frey and Clare Pace (UC Berkeley’s Water Equity Science Shop) moderated a panel discussion about tribal voices and community perspectives on securing the human right to water in Indigenous communities. Presenters included James Muller - Principal Environmental Planner for Integrated Regional Water Management Program and Grant Manager for the Bay Area Disadvantaged Community and Tribal Partners Project, and Alexander Tavizion - Bay Area Tribal Project Manager, California Indian Environmental Alliance. Panel discussants include Gregg Castro (t'rowt'raahl Salinan/rumsien-ramaytush Ohlone) - Cultural Director of the Association of Ramaytush People (ARO); Kanyon Sayers-Roods (Costanoan Ohlone and Chumash) - Founder of Indian Canyon Two-Spirit Society & Cultural Director and COO of Costanoan Indian Research; and Charlie Toledo (Towa) - Director of Suscol Intertribal Council, Napa CA. The Initiative co-sponsored this event with 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.
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