Mines students often spend the majority of their time working on technical problems, but several students are working on diving into the environmental, social, and political implications of engineering work. The Environmental Justice club, a new organization on campus sponsored by the Hennebach family, is bringing students together for collaborative discussion about these issues and environmental inequalities.
“Engineers are not really trained in the social impact of the work that we do,” explained Meaghan Guyader, a graduate student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department and the founder of the Environmental Justice club. “I am trying to create a space on campus where we can talk about these issues and take some actions.”
The Environmental Justice club’s initial meeting took place in late January and consisted of about 20 interested students and faculty members. Participants ranged from freshmen in Mechanical and Environmental engineering to faculty members to PhD students and post-docs. However, a desire to gain awareness of environmental issues and integrate this understanding into one’s career brought the group together.
Elizabeth Murphy, Community Organizer for the Colorado People’s Alliance (COPA), led the group in a discussion of environmental justice issues in Colorado and possible methods for members of the STEM community to become involved.
“We are a member-led, grassroots organization,” Murphy explained. “We lead the fight for racial justice by focusing on climate, immigrant, and economic issues.” For instance, COPA is working with communities in Montbello and Commerce City within their Water Justice campaign.
“The response to environmental justice issues and toxic pollution in the working class and communities of color is much different than in predominantly white and affluent communities,” expressed Murphy. The group was not surprised to learn that members of lower socioeconomic classes and people of color are more likely to live near industrial facilities and therefore suffer the negative effects.
“We want to be clear that when we are talking about environmental justice, we are talking about racial justice,” Guyader stated. “A lot of environmental justice movements in the past have historically not centered the expertise of community members.”
As engineers and scientists, much of the group set goals of becoming the voice for these issues and diving into them from a scientific stance. Proposed solutions included everything from raising awareness, to taking a step back and identifying the basic issues, to simply listening to community members’ perspectives.
Many participants also set goals of learning more about global warming, studying positive case studies, working as ambassadors for the larger CSM community, and dispersing info on projects that others can become involved with. As the semester progresses, the group will continue to reshape its original mission and adapt to the dynamic needs of local and global environmental challenges.
“We are actually speaking with community members and giving them a voice,” Guyader explained. If we talk with people and step outside of our comfort zones and admit that we don’t always know the answer, then that is a good starting place.”