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  • Reimagining Communities as Sustainable Means to a More Environmentally and Socially Just World
  • Carlrey Arroyo (bio)

My addition to the round table comes from my involvement in activism both inside and outside the classroom on social and environmental issues. I have learned to maneuver spaces such as the hard sciences and humanities but also those of the academic ivory tower and the larger communities that I am a part of. I also want to acknowledge my undergrad experience as a queer person of color in an "ecogroovy" institution that is mainly white and middle-class. My analysis stems from my environmental studies lens and also from similar experiences I have shared with many other students of color and activists whom I have organized with and worked alongside on the Humboldt State University campus and in the greater Humboldt community and California statewide student coalitions.

My first exposure to the study of climate change was in sixth grade. I felt hopeless and instantaneously blamed humanity for the destruction of the planet. At the end of the year, my teacher gifted me a book called Guide to Fight Global Warming, which included solutions to climate change such as taking shorter showers, changing light bulbs, and going vegetarian. I held on to that book closely, and soon after, I engaged in animal-rights activism. I held on to the ideology that everything that was both nonhuman and "natural" was to be protected from humans. This separation of people and nature has become the mainstream environmental [End Page 21] movement's rhetoric, promoting solutions that individualize action rather than pushing toward systemic structural shifts that have larger impacts. I now understand and believe that climate change activism should be just as human centered and intersectional as nature centered, as there is a cosmic relationship between humans and the rest of nature.

A justice-oriented pedagogy within the environmental fields looks at who and what communities are being the most impacted by the same systems that are causing environmental collapse. We can begin by expanding the definition of the environment to force the dominant "environmental" discourses to look at human conditions and engage with political systems at play. As a historically underrepresented student, I can speak to the frustrations of sitting in an environmental course where the professor and surrounding students have more empathy for a tree than they do for Black and brown children being poisoned, imprisoned, and murdered on the street by the same state that upholds environmental degradation.

It is no longer enough for environmentalists just to know the science or how to analyze literature. There needs to be an understanding of existing policy, but in my opinion, there is also a need to learn community engagement as a means to fighting climate change. Within academia, this means having more interdisciplinary curricula, with an intersectional analysis not only in the humanities but in the sciences. This includes looking critically at who has historically been championed as environmentalist and at what we currently value as environmental commentary.

The erasure of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) within the environmental movement is a problem. Ways to implement these narratives within curricula can include poetry and music such as Indigenous hip hop. It also means restructuring power dynamics within the classroom as more students with diverse backgrounds enter higher institutions and challenge traditional white, middle-class, male environmentalism. BIPOC continue to get pushed out of environmental sciences by tenured white faculty unwilling to diversify their teachings. The voices of BIPOC have always been there; it is now time to listen.

Over the course of my studies, the facade that individual consumer choices were going to reverse climate change shattered in front of me. I became empowered to engage in community-based work, understanding [End Page 22] that we need to dismantle the structures causing climate change, for the next generation. Learning about what is causing an injustice that has a direct impact on you and your community feels as though there is little time and need to theorize on the issue itself. I understand that the study of theory is essential in action, but professors teaching these issues need to understand students' need to...


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pp. 21-25
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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