“Place matters:” JC Smith University integrates sustainability into activism

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COURTESY OF JOHNSON C. SMITH UNIVERSITY
Students check out products at Johnson C. Smith University’s Sustainability Village on the Beatties Ford Road campus.

Produced in partnership with Pulitzer Center

Second in a series.

Green is Johnson C. Smith University’s new black.

JCSU’s Sustainability Village is more than a collection of plants, fish and renewable energy. It is a connector for historic West End neighborhoods in terms of conservation, energy production, food security and environmental justice. As a historically black university rooted in a rapidly changing community, there is urgency to its mission through education and activism.

“If you don’t understand your connection to your environment, you are in a position to be exploited by those who exploit the resources you depend on, whether you realize it or not,” said Marc Dugo PhD, director of the Center for JCSU. Renewable energy and sustainability. “Therefore, it behooves you to acquire this knowledge to understand your connection, simply from the perspective of social environmental justice, to ensure that you can be a strong advocate for your own individual rights and protection from harm. environmental injustice.”

By emphasizing the twin strengths of modern technology and old-fashioned community activism, many of the nation’s 107 HBCUs are taking a more proactive approach to climate change and sustainability on campus and beyond. .

At the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, for example, its Agricultural Experiment Station conducts research on sustainable agriculture through biofuels and geospatial information technologies. The school has also set aside 20 acres of land to develop a 2.1 megawatt, or 2.1 million watt solar farm, and launched a workforce training program for jobs in agriculture. and renewable energies.

The University of the District of Columbia in Washington, DC – the nation’s only urban land-grant college – oversees the Center for Sustainable Development & Resilience, an urban farm with a hydroponic garden and a food production green roof. UDC also offers academic programs in urban sustainability and water resources management.

The Mickey Leland Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability at Texas Southern University in Houston hosted a roundtable on climate justice and co-hosts the HBCU Student Climate Change Conference with Dillard University in Louisiana. TSU also operates solar-powered cellphone charging stations and sponsors an annual campus sustainability day as well as the Climate Education Community University Partnership, a consortium of HBCUs and vulnerable South Atlantic and Coastal communities. Gulf, where catastrophic weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, and floods are more likely to affect blacks.

“Location matters,” Dugo said. “Where are you in the postal code, you can use it as an identifier [that] can largely determine the major predictors of your health quality, income, and even environmental exposures from an environmental justice perspective, because all of these things are interrelated. … “In the city of Charlotte [there isn’t equality] in terms of these social parameters. ZIP code matters, and you have gentrification, [a] topic that is relevant here in this very hallway. …

“I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that being engaged and aware and standing up for yourself, your family, your local community, is what you need to do if you want to see positive change.”

HBCUs also collaborate with grassroots supporters and crowdfunding for resources as well. The HBCU Green Fund funds projects that reduce energy and water costs on campuses. These savings are reinvested in a sustainability program to fund additional projects.

One initiative is the Atlanta University Center Scholars Program, which connects students from Spelman and Morehouse Colleges and Clark Atlanta University with entrepreneurs and professionals for training, mentorship and internships in industries energy and STEM.

The partnership between the HBCU Green Fund and the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs received a grant from the US Department of Energy for the AUC program.

“AUC’s inaugural scholarship was a huge success,” Illai Kenney, national program director for the HBCU Green Fund, told the nonprofit’s website. “Whether you look at the increase in catastrophic weather events or the impacts of oil on the global economy, the critical need for a rapid transition to clean energy is clear. This program will help expand the pool of skilled professionals needed to achieve energy independence. We are proud that AUC Fellows are prepared to train their peers, educate their communities, and take advantage of new green infrastructure opportunities.

In February, the US Environmental Protection Agency launched an internal advisory to strengthen ties with HBCUs. The goal is to identify HBCU student recruitment opportunities and support campuses through grants, contracts, data sharing, and community engagement.

“It’s fantastic to see the EPA finally lifting HBCUs, as our schools have played an outsized role over the decades in nurturing generations of leaders and seeding justice movements, including environmental and climate justice. “, said Robert Bullard, professor emeritus of urban planning and planning. Environmental policy at Texas Southern University and a pioneer in environmental justice.

“Hopefully this new EPA initiative will help strengthen education and training infrastructure, research centers and community-university partnerships in HBCUs and support organizations that uniquely serve some of our most vulnerable populations and communities. more vulnerable.


Black colleges also produce graduates in STEM and environmental fields, where people of color make up less than 16% of the workforce in related organizations such as nonprofits, agencies governments and foundations. JCSU launched a sustainability minor in 2020 to create an academic pathway in the field.

“What I say to students is that whether or not you are fully involved in the sustainability movement, the world your children and their children will live in will be entirely different from the world your parents and grandparents live in. parents,” says Dugo. “Certainly, this change is coming. That happens. We have no choice.”

JCSU, which has about 1,300 students, has been engaged in sustainability initiatives since 1989, when Professor Joseph Fail was hired to start CRES. The school taps into renewable energy – particularly wind and solar power – to generate electricity for campus buildings. Students grow vegetables in raised beds and greenhouses and fish in hydroponic tanks for on-campus farm-to-fork programs and farmers’ markets. They also engage residents of the historic West End – many of whom live in neighborhoods that lack access to healthy food choices – on sustainability initiatives.

“I would absolutely say progress is being made, and I think depending on who you are in your position in life, it’s always a moot point, especially when it comes to social justice,” said Dugo, who led previously the Sustainability Program at historically Black Mississippi Valley State University. “But there is still a lot of work to do.

We’re not there yet, but we have momentum. We really want to build on the momentum that’s there and get more people involved in what’s happening in the local space.

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