Over the past five years, stories of failing and inadequate water infrastructure in urban areas of United States have caught the attention of the media and the public. While attention has increasingly focused on the problem of dilapidated water and sanitation infrastructure in urban America, less attention has been paid to the ways in which the absence or poor quality of existing infrastructure can undermine health and economic opportunities in rural America. By partnering with Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE), this Bass Connections project analyzed social and environmental inequalities facing rural communities of color in the American South including endemic poverty, lack of economic opportunity, hazardous health conditions, and inadequate infrastructure. ACRE works to educate and increase public awareness of environmental justice issues locally in Lowndes County and nationally.
What is Environmental Justice?
Students asked environmental justice scholars and activists three major questions: What is environmental justice? Who and what does it affect? Why is it important to study? The diverse group offers insight into the movement and advice for future activists. More videos will be uploaded soon, but see below for full interviews with individual participants.
A Timeline of the Environmental Justice Movement:
As part of the Bass Connections project, students built an online, interactive environmental justice timeline that describes the history and the development of environmental justice in the U.S. The project aims to create a detailed history of important events in the environmental justice movement, and includes interviews with critical advocates and expert academics.
Advice for Future Generations of Activists
Leading experts in the field of Environmental Justice share advice for young people who are interested in getting involved with the Environmental Justice movement. Robert Bullard, Mustafa Ali, Cherri Foytlin and Sharmila Murthy usher in the next generation with encouragement and ask that young people realize that is never too soon to step up and become a leader. For biographies of these experts and the interviews in their entirety, see below.
Leading Experts in the Field of Environmental Justice
The Bass Connections team also conducted extended interviews with leading activists and scholars in the field of environmental justice. With help from Catherine Coleman Flowers and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, the students were able to connect with these leaders. These specific interviewees were chosen because of their involvement with major events in the Environmental Justice movement and their commitment to keeping the fight alive. The interviewees covered a range of topics, from how they specifically became involved in the Environmental Justice movement, to advice for future generations of activists.
Sharmila L. Murthy is an Associate Professor at Suffolk University Law School, where she teaches and writes on issues of property law, environmental law, international environmental law, poverty, and human rights. Professor Murthy is active with the American Association of Law Schools. She currently serves as Chair of the International Human Rights Section, as Chair-Elect of the Environmental Law Section, and on the Executive Board of the Law and South Asia Studies Section. In 2017, she received the Woman of the Year: Faculty Division from the Suffolk Law Women of Color Law Student Association. Previously, Professor Murthy was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she served as the lead investigator for water for the Project on Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development through the Sustainability Science Program. She also co-founded the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation Program as a Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. In addition, Professor Murthy has taught as part of the Water Diplomacy Workshop since 2013. In 2014, Professor Murthy was selected as a finalist for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.
To see our full interview with Professor Murthy, click here.
Dr. Robert Bullard is a Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy and the former Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. Dr. Bullard received his Ph.D. degree from Iowa State University in 1976 after completing an M.A. and a B.S. from Atlanta University and Alabama A&M, respectively. Dr. Bullard was founding Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University and a co-founder of the HBCU Climate Change Consortium. His first book, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality is the first text book written on environmental injustice in the United States. Since Dumping in Dixie, he has written 17 books that address environmental injustice, the black urban experience, and health disparities. He is often cited as the Father of Environmental Justice for his foundational role in detailing environmental injustices in the deep south. Dr. Bullard has also received numerous grants awards throughout his career on climate change policy and awareness. In 2019, he was named by Apolitical as one of Climate 100: The World’s Most Influential People in Climate Policy.
To see our full interview with Dr. Bullard, click here.
Cherri Foytlin is a journalist, activist, author, and speaker who lives in South Louisiana, an area that is deeply feeling the effects of environmental injustice. She is the author of “Spill It! The Truth About the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig Explosion,” where she brings to light the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill and the way corporate and government agencies mislead the public about the reality of the effects. As a journalist, she has written for BridgetheGulfProjecet.org, the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and other local newspapers. She is co-founder of The Mother’s Project- Gulf Coast and Idle No More Gulf Coast and has participated in many demonstrations, including a 1,243 mile walk from Washington D.C. to New Orleans in 2011 to bring attention to the BP Deep Water Drilling Disaster.
To see our full interview with Cherri Foytlin, click here.
Dr. Ryan Emanuel is an Associate Professor and University Faculty Scholar at the Center for Geospatial Analytics and the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University. As the head of the Ecohydrology and Watershed Science Laboratory at NC State, Dr. Emmanuel has used his expertise to work on environmental issues that have disproportionate impacts on American Indian Communities. He has partnered with tribal governments and indigenous organizations to address issues related to environmental quality, climate change, and public policies. Dr. Emanuel has published many journal articles that focus on salinization of coastal environments in the state of North Carolina and the climate change impacts on waters of cultural significance to the Lumbee Tribe. For all his work around environmental justice in indigenous communities, Dr. Emanuel has received a national award from the American Indian Science and Engineering Society for the work he’s done.
To see our full interview with Dr. Emanuel click here.