News, On Campus

Environmental Racism Panel Discusses Accountability, Awareness, and Solutions

The key to environmental justice is keeping conversation about environmental racism alive, according to Rev. Vernon K. Walker, program director of Communities Responding to Extreme Weather

“Keep bringing it up,” Walker said. “That’s what I do. Faculty members have a big role, being in front of their classes and being willing to call things out and talk about issues on campus, and try.”

The Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society and UGBC’s Division of Environmental Sustainability hosted a panel on Nov. 29, which addressed accountability, awareness, and solutions to environmental racism. Four Boston College professors spoke as panelists, including Lacee Satcher, Michael Glass, Laura Hake, and Walker.

“So environmental justice communities are communities that have been historically disinvested and historically have been redlined,” Walker said. 

Hake, an associate biology professor, said that she was always interested in studying environmental racism. 

“I came into working on environmental racism not through my scholarship in the biology department but, in fact, through personal interest and personal passion,” Hake said. 

Hake said while teaching Sustaining the Biosphere, a course revolving around the role humans play in environmental issues, she began to realize how she too contributes to environmental racism.

“The students in my class would come up and say, ‘Well you talk about these sustainability things, but I can’t afford to do anything like that,’” Hake said. “And I would be like, ‘Oh, that’s okay, don’t worry about it,’ … so I realized I had to wake up.”

According to Satcher, an assistant professor of sociology and environmental studies, her most recent work focuses on the connection between urban environments and health.

“My most recent published research has to do with the way that environmental racism shapes the built environment in cities in the South in ways that change access to really important environmental goods,” Satcher said.

According to Glass, an assistant history professor, there needs to be more dialogue and education surrounding environmental racism.

“I still feel there’s a need for greater literacy around structural racism,” Glass said. “Everyone says this now but I feel like very few people actually wrestle with what it means. Like why is there lead paint in Boston schools, why is that incinerator where it is, why can’t some people get a decent mortgage?”

Walker said there also needs to be collaboration between academics and the residents living in communities affected by environmental racism.

“Oftentimes, there’s a lack of connection with the community, particularly with communities disproportionately impacted,” Walker said. 

Walker said that listening to these community members is essential to building connections and creating solutions to environmental racism.

“We have a whole lot of folks who do a whole lot of talking and a whole lot of diagnosing of the problem,” Walker said. “I think the situation where we find ourselves with disenfranchised communities requires partnership.

December 1, 2022