Perspectives

Academic Sustainability Program statement on race and environmental justice

Race remains one of the principal determinants of how people experience the environment in modern America. Research over the past thirty years has consistently found that Black, Indigenous, and people of color suffer from environmental hazards at far higher rates than white people, even controlling for variations of income and education. Landfills, incinerators, and toxic waste dumps are disproportionately sited in highly-segregated areas; communities of color are more likely to drink poisoned water and breathe polluted air; BIPOC are less likely to receive high-quality health care when they seek treatment for environmentally-related health conditions; and BIPOC are overwhelmingly excluded from political and social decision-making processes at which these issues can be addressed (see, e.g., Bullard, 2000; Bell & Ebisu, 2012; Taylor, 2014; Sampson & Winter, 2016; Johnston et al., 2016; Bravo et al., 2016; Mikati et al., 2018; American Public Health Association, 2019). An unhealthy environment affects everyone, but the burdens of contemporary environmental problems fall disproportionately on people of color.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” This goal cannot be achieved so long as BIPOC continue to face structural and discriminatory obstacles to education, employment, health, housing, food security, political power, and safety. Achieving a sustainable, just society means fundamentally restructuring the institutions, policies, and patterns of behavior that prevent all people from participating equally in our economy, our society, and our environment.

The Academic Sustainability Program is dedicated to supporting the efforts of students and faculty at Auburn University to integrate environmental, social, and economic considerations in their search for solutions to the pressing challenges of our world. We cannot successfully complete this mission without making issues of racial equity central to every aspect of our work. To that end, the program commends the work of Auburn students, faculty, staff, and community members as they address issues of systemic racism on our campus and beyond. Having read the demands of student groups including Auburn Students and Community for Change, we pledge to do our part in fulfilling them, and state the following:

  1. We endorse the call to rename buildings and locations on campus that bear the names of Confederate soldiers and white supremacists.
  2. We endorse the call for yearly mandatory training for faculty, staff, and teaching assistants around equity, inclusion, and diversity, and commit to assisting in the development and implementation of such a program across the university.
  3. We endorse the call for a mandatory first year course that addresses the deep histories of race, racial violence, and racial justice, and commit faculty time and resources to assist in developing and teaching such a course.
  4. We endorse the call to hold a series of critical conversations on race at the University or College level, and commit to collaborating with departments across the curriculum to organize these events.
  5. We commit to substantively revising the curriculum for our core class, SUST 2000, so as to center issues of environmental justice and the impacts of structural racism on social, economic, and environmental sustainability.
  6. In the summer of 2021 we will organize and host an interdisciplinary curriculum development workshop focused on the creation of new courses on racial and environmental justice.
  7. We will work closely with the Office of Sustainability to identify and address material issues of racial inequality on campus.

We hope that others will join us in taking substantive steps to build a more just society at Auburn University and in the City of Auburn, the state of Alabama, and the United States of America.

Last Updated: June 23, 2020