Ways of Imagining Environmental Justice: Spring 2021 Student Showcase
July 20, 2021
This guest post was written by Dr Rebecca Macklin, the 2020-21 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow with the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities. In this piece, she reflects on her experience teaching a Spring 2021 class titled Imagining Environmental Justice (an approved course on the new Environmental Humanities Minor and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Minor), and speaks to three of her students. The final project of the course culminated in a just-launched showcase of student work that we hope you will explore!
What does it mean to imagine environmental justice? From January to May 2021, I met with a dozen Penn students twice a week to consider this question. We met online, as was the new norm by then, dialling in from around the country. In the United Kingdom, I felt especially far removed, meeting my students each session across a five hour time difference. This was, in the end, quite fitting--reflective of the global, wide-ranging focus that our conversations took.
The materials that sparked our conversations consisted of a range of narratives from global contexts including the US, Canada, South Africa, the Marshall Islands, and Palestine. They highlighted a variety of forms and modes of storytelling, particularly emphasising Indigenous responses to the intersecting threats posed by colonialism, environmental degradation, and climate change.
For the final assignment, students were asked to examine a subject of their choosing through creative inquiry. The Imagining Environmental Justice Student Showcase is the result of this: a public exhibit of creative pieces that explore topics from animal ethics and food insecurity, to the complexities of belonging in settler colonial contexts.
Rebecca Macklin: So to start with, I'd love to know: what made you want to take this class?
Adriana Discher: I really appreciated seeing environmental justice in the title of a class because it’s something I was introduced to outside of an academic space. And I think that's true for a lot of people; a lot of environmental justice education is very informal. I think that part of the beauty of this class is that it meshed the formal and the informal, given that it wasn't science-based. It was really looking at narratives and how to talk about environmental justice in normal settings.
Sophia Landress: I studied Anthropology; it was my major and English was my minor. And I was really struck by this intersection. It was the only class I had ever seen that was cross-listed, to have this ethnographic-like approach to research and knowledge while also examining literature, and narrative. And then also being able to find that nexus at environmental justice, which is a personal passion of mine, was a prime opportunity to learn.
Faye Parker: English and Science have always been my two favorite subjects. And I didn't really see how they overlapped until I came to Penn and I took “Water Worlds” with Simon Richter. I think it was the environmental justice aspect and the Indigenous aspect of this class that made me so interested, because I've done all this reading on how they're the most vulnerable groups, but they also in many ways understand the environment better than anyone else. So that was what drew me to this class.
Rebecca Macklin is the 2020-21 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow with the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities. Her research is focused on Indigenous cultural engagements with environmental justice and resource extraction. She gained her PhD from the University of Leeds in 2020 and is currently writing a monograph entitled Unsettling Fictions: Relationality and Resistance in Native American and South African Literatures.