Seven NC State students recently explored eastern North Carolina as they’d never seen it before: through the lens of diversity, sustainability, justice and action.
Partially funded by a University Diversity Mini-Grant through NC State’s Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity, the College of Natural Resources and the University Sustainability Office coordinated a May 9-12 tour to raise student awareness about the environmental, societal and economic dimensions of sustainability.
“The students were exposed to various topics around environmental issues impacting communities in eastern North Carolina,” said Dr. Shaefny Grays, a co-advisor for the trip and Associate Director of the Community for Diversity in NC State’s College of Natural Resources.
In four days, students traveled to several communities addressing environmental challenges. They learned about water quality issues from Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette, saw sustainable timber harvesting in action at Hoffman Forest, and heard about environmental remediation and cleanup impacts in Navassa, N.C.
“We learned about a lot of technical issues in the environment and the science behind them but we also were welcomed into affected communities and heard firsthand about their real experiences,” said student Taylor Mebane, who is majoring in Environmental Technology. “What we learned from the people are lessons we will never forget.”
Eulis Willis, a native of Navassa and the community’s long-time mayor, spoke with students about local pollution challenges in his community of 1,500 residents located on the outskirts of Wilmington. While a former wood treatment facility that is now a Superfund site gets the most attention, environmental contamination has also occurred at a closed chemical site, a former fertilizer plant, a former meat packing plant and an oil recycling facility.
“It was inspiring to see people work so hard to build relationships within their communities and tirelessly try to find solutions to hard problems,” said student Lauren Frey, who is double majoring in Environmental Sciences and Women’s and Gender Studies.
Students also visited the Lumbee Indian community in Robeson County, where they met local leaders, served at the Lumbee Indian Cultural Center and spoke about the collegiate experience at a local high school.
“This trip was an incomparable way of learning about environmental justice,” Mebane said. “This entire trip was a loud wake up call telling me it’s time to do something — to advocate for people.”