Inaugural HBCU Climate Change Student Conference Challenges Students to Become Climate Justice Advocates for Vulnerable Communities
April 22, 2013 — Dillard University’s Deep South Center for Environmental Justice hosted the First Annual HBCU Climate Change Student Conference, Bridging the Gap Between Climate Change Theory and Experience, April 4 – 6, 2013. Over 100 students, faculty, staff, and environmental leaders from across the country came together to discuss the devastating effects climate change is having on vulnerable communities. The purpose of the inaugural Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Climate Change Student Conference was to educate minority students on climate change theory and experience as it relates to racial, social, public health, and economic disparities in the wake of weather related disasters. Nine HBCUs were represented at the conference including Dillard University, Morgan State University, Howard University, Spelman College, Southern University Baton Rouge, Texas Southern University, Tennessee State University, Florida A & M, and Meharry College.
The three day conference included a book signing, an undergraduate and graduate student poster session, a coastal community tour, and climate change sessions for middle school students from the Dillard University Emerging Scholars - STEM Program.
A book signing was held the first night of the conference featuring the latest book written by co-authors Dr. Robert Bullard and Dr. Beverly Wright, The Wrong Complexion for Protection. The authors compare and contrast how the government responded to emergencies, including environmental and public health emergencies, toxic contamination, industrial accidents, bioterrorism threats and show that African Americans are disproportionately affected. Bullard and Wright argue that uncovering and eliminating disparate disaster response can mean the difference between life and death for those most vulnerable in disastrous times.
Community Tour of East Plaquemines Parish
On day two, conference participants toured East Plaquemines Parish, a coastal Louisiana community that has been devastated by four hurricanes and the BP oil disaster since August of 2005. Rev. Tyronne Edwards, President of Zion Travelers Cooperative Center in Braithwaite, LA, discussed grassroots recovery efforts that his organization has been involved in since Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Ronnie Duplessis from the Louisiana Oystermen’s Association gave a tour of Beshel’s Boat Launch in Point A La Hache, LA and discussed the devastating economic impact the numerous hurricanes and the BP oil disaster has had on the seafood industry in their community. A conference participant indicated “The community tour was a good way to implant students into an environmental justice environment to actually experience the residents’ struggles and injustices.”
Student Poster Session
Both graduate and undergraduate students representing eight HBCUs participated in the conference poster session. The diverse poster projects included research on Vulnerable & Resilient Coastal Communities, the Hidden Dangers of Carbon Monoxide and Nitrogen Dioxide in the Home, Asthma Education and Environmental Awareness, Environmental Justice Along Houston’s Ship Channel, Environmental Sustainability, Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Commercial Corn Field, Developing Sustainability Plans on HBCU Campuses and Surrounding Populations, Local Responses to Sustainable Technologies in Agriculture, and the Economics of Climate Change. Middle school students from the Dillard University Emerging Scholars Program had an opportunity to interact with the college students who authored the poster sessions and ask questions about their research project. A conference attendee commented, “The poster session information was at my disposal, great session, good work.”
Emerging Scholars – STEM Program Climate Change Sessions
Interactive, age-appropriate climate change sessions were held for students from the Dillard University Emerging Scholars-STEM Program in partnership with the Crescent City Chapter of Links, Inc. These eighth through tenth grade students were given an introduction to climate change, coastal erosion, and discussed the numerous opportunities in the green jobs industry. The students also participated in a hands-on activity to learn how they can reduce their carbon footprint. A Climate Change Certificate of Completion was presented to each student.
The conference brought together a diverse panel of presenters including nationally recognized environmental justice researchers, a hip-hop activist, community organizers, and emerging HBCU climate justice student leaders to address campus sustainability, the socio-economic impacts of climate change, community resilience and adaptation, public health, flood risk management, and mental health implications of disasters. Featured speakers included Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., HipHop Caucus, Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, President of the American Meteorological Society and Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean, Barbara Jordan- Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, Texas Southern University. The topics sparked engaging dialogue from conference participants brainstorming ideas on next steps moving forward.
2013 Damu Smith Power of One – Environmental Justice Leadership Award
Environmental Justice Advocate, Mr. Cecil Corbin-Mark was awarded the 2013 Damu Smith Power of One Leadership Award. Cecil is a life-long resident of Hamilton Heights in Harlem, New York. Cecil is deputy director and director of policy initiatives at WEACT for Environmental Justice. Cecil has a degree in political science from Hunter College, CUNY and a masters’ degree in political science from Oxford University. He has an avid interest in local, national, and international politics. He serves on numerous environmental boards and committees including: New York Jobs with Justice, Center for Environmental Health, NY State Cumulative Risk Assessment Work Group, NY City DEP Water Quality Citizen Advisory Committee, Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board, NYC Environmental Education Advisory Council and others. Cecil has lectured on the environment and environmental justice at Hunter College, Teacher’s College, The College of Mount St. Vin-cent, Buffalo State, Cornell University, Yale School of Forestry, and Columbia University School of Public Health.
The conference ended with a Climate Change Roundtable addressing critical issues on the green economy, the evolution of the environmental justice and climate change movement, and community sustainability.
Conference participants gave special kudos to the student panelists. Attendees commented, “The student presentations were well put together and very informative. The topics shed light on issues not widely recognized.” The HBCU students, many of whom are from vulnerable communities, were challenged to become the next generation of leaders in environmental and climate justice advocacy.
The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice would like to thank our partners for their support: Allen Wright Enterprises, Inc., Energy Action Coalition, Ford Foundation, Global Parking Systems, Integrated Logistical support, Inc., Integrated Solutions Group, Inc., Liberty Bank & Trust Company, Royal Engineers & Consultants, LLC, The Links Incorporated, Crescent City Chapter, US Climate Action Network, and the US Environmental Protection Agency.
FUNDED BY THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY AND THE FORD FOUNDATION