Students Explore Environmental Justice

Like many college students, a group of NC State students traveled toward the beach over spring break. But that’s where the similarities end between this Alternative Service Break trip and the typical spring break.

Lumberton City Council member Chris Howard shows NC State students a road impacted by Hurricane Matthew flooding.

Ten students and two staff advisors toured eastern North Carolina to learn about environmental issues impacting soil, air, water and ‒ most importantly ‒ people.

“The purpose of this trip is to explore environmental justice issues,” said Rebekah Dunstan, a sustainability program coordinator who co-led the trip. “Students on the trip get to see firsthand what these injustices look like, meet people who are impacted and meet people who are actively doing things to improve the conditions.”

This year’s trip included touring areas flooded during Hurricane Matthew, meeting community leaders and environmental advocates and visiting a community impacted by environmental toxins. Students also participated in a lake clean up and helped a local nonprofit with construction projects for people whose homes needed renovations and repairs.

“This trip was an opportunity to learn more about what’s going on in the local community,” said student trip leader Corey Aydlett, who is majoring in environmental technology. “I love traveling to places and learning about environmental issues. It’s important to know. It changes your outlook on life.”

Student Corey Aydlett helps Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM), which helps low-income homeowners.

Environmental justice explores the intersection of equity issues and the environment. As seen in high-profile crises such as lead-contaminated water in Flint, Mich., not every community has access to the same quality of soil, air or water. Whether naturally-occurring or an outcome of human activity, poor environmental quality can impact people.

“The trip taught me to be more critical of processes that happen and the people they affect. I also had the opportunity to meet a lot of great students who have similar passions to make the world they live in a better place and to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves,” said Doha Hindi, who is majoring in science, technology and society.

Most of the attendees of a student-organized NC State Environmental Justice Symposium on April 8 were students.

That desire to raise awareness of environmental justice is what led student Lauren Frey to organize a campus Environmental Justice Symposium, which was held on April 8 in partnership with the University Sustainability Office, African American Cultural Center, Multicultural Student Affairs and the Environmental Sciences Academic Program. Frey participated in a similar environmental justice trip in May 2016.

“After the trip, I felt inspired to bring some of the information I learned to campus,” Frey said. “I wanted to raise awareness of environmental justice as a topic and specifically I wanted students, staff, faculty and community members to gain a greater understanding of environmental injustices here in North Carolina.”

Another environmental justice-focused trip is planned for students during NC State’s spring break in 2018. More information will be available at the university’s Alternative Service Break website.