Potential through Place

Authored by: Karen Magid, Huston-Tillotson University
Date: January 7, 2020 
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Huston-Tillotson University (HT) held its 6th annual Building Green Justice Forum on October 15, 2019 in Austin. This year’s conference was our largest ever, with over 215 attendees, including students, HT faculty and staff, community members, local government, organizers, activists, and researchers, engaging with our presenters and each other about environmental justice. Attendees were enlightened through talks, workshops, and discussions. We found ourselves provoked to action by compelling speakers and mutually felt goals, including by our keynote speaker Dr. Chris Schell from the University of Washington-Tacoma, who connected urban ecology to social inequalities during a rousing talk, highlighting the ways that the natural world reflects the built elements of America’s racist history and challenging us to all decolonize our science and our assumptions about transdisciplinary solutions.

The panel held a spirited discussion of the ways to embed environmental justice principles into our approaches to art, health, community building, design, and civic action. Workshops included an examination of interfaith principles applied to environmental work; a dive into HT’s urban coyote research collaboration with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; a discussion of intergenerational gardening as a social justice practice; an interactive discussion of the personal, economic, and environmental impacts of planet-friendly eating; an exploration of Austin’s affordable housing crisis using the research project lenses of East Austin resident experience and home health connection; and a discussion on the availability and wide-ranging use of digital tools to preserve the legacies of people and places, enabling the sharing of personal, and often neglected, histories.

HT has recently introduced an Environmental Justice major, making us one of the few universities in the country to offer this degree at an undergraduate level. Over the years, the intellectual products and community network we have developed around the Building Green Justice Forum have guided the development of this critical interdisciplinary academic program at HT. Our curriculum reflects our campus and community’s shared vision of environmental equity.

The Forum was co-founded and is run by the HT faculty and staff team of Dr. Amanda Masino, Associate Professor of Biology and Chair of Natural Sciences and Dr. Karen Magid, Director of Sustainability. They look forward to more growth in the area of environmental justice. In addition to on-going academic, gardening, and sustainability work on campus, HT will again be hosting the 2020 Earth Day Austin festival on April 18, 2020, for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. We hope you can join us then and for the 2020 Building Green Justice Forum in the fall.

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