Campus Conversation tackles environmental injustice, racial issues
by Ashlyn Adams, Staff Writer
The most recent Campus Conversation, which is held on the second Wednesday of every month, covered environmental injustice—both locally and globally.
The conversation was led by Dr. Kwame N. Owusu-Daaku, assistant professor in the UWF Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, who specializes in qualitative research with interest in human geography, urban planning and international development.
Owusu-Daaku wanted students’ main takeaway to be the importance of being an ally for those experiencing environmental or social injustice.
“If you are not directly experiencing this oppression, and you are not overburdened with the weight of the trauma, it’s your time to partner with that person and step in,” Owusu-Daaku said.
The conversation began with the BP oil spill of 2010, which directly and indirectly affected many people in the audience. Owusu-Daaku asked the audience some basic questions about the crisis, with questions including:
“How much of the waste was cleaned up?” “Where did the waste go?” “Is the waste dangerous?”
Most of the audience, despite living near the Gulf Coast, didn’t have the answers.
Owusu-Daaku explained that 40,000 tons of oil waste had been bagged up and thrown into landfills spread across Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The landfills are not specifically equipped for hazardous waste, which can affect the water table even for those outside the communities where the landfills are located.
The majority of these landfills are in areas where the population is made up primarily of people of color, which raised questions about inequality and whether discrimination is the cause or the effect of environmental injustice.
Owusu-Daaku explained that many people have a tendency to separate issues without considering the overlap.
“We like to compartmentalize,” Owusu-Daaku said. “There’s ‘things that people do’ and there’s ‘things that nature does.’ We are the intersection of both, so nature can become discriminatory.”
Though most of the conversation was centered around local environmental events, Owusu-Daaku also made reference to the Flint water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and opened the floor to suggestions for change.
The audience was vocal and participatory, which is the object of the event every month.
UWF Libraries even made an appearance with a pop-up library, offering a selection of books with titles such as “Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense” by John E. Ikerd.
Diversity programs coordinator Flore Septimus was pleased with the day’s events despite scheduling conflicts resulting in a relocation for Campus Conversations.
“The participation was awesome,” Septimus said. “I want to continue to bring in dynamic topics like this. I feel like students engage more because it’s a different take.”
The Office of Equity and Diversity will be busy hosting events throughout February in light of Black History Month.
The Campus Conversation for March will be held on the third Wednesday of the month due to Spring Break. Lunch is provided, so grab a friend and join the conversation.
The event will be held from 12-1 p.m. in the University Commons (Building 22).