Spotlight Series: Perspectives on Environmental Justice

Three Thursdays each semester, 3:30-5:00pm in Northrop’s Best Buy Theater

Presented by the Institute for Advanced Study, Northrop, and the University Honors Program

The University of Minnesota Spotlight Series is a collaborative partnership between Northrop, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University Honors Program to present lectures, panel discussions, exhibits, and other events throughout the academic year around a topic of timely interest. The 2019-20 series focuses on Environmental Justice and features perspectives from a variety of voices in the field, including academics and practitioners from multiple disciplines. Campus leaders, artists, policymakers, and funders will explore several critical aspects surrounding the intersection of the environment and equity. This series is cosponsored by the Race, Indigeneity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Initiative; the Institute for Global Studies; the Department of Geography, Environment, and Society; and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Urban and Regional Planning Area. The events listed below are 3:30-5 pm Thursdays in Northrop’s Best Buy Theater. They are free and open to the public.

Thursday, September 19th

“Environmental justice” and “intersectionality” arguably have been two of the most popular buzzwords in social science research in recent years. Both concepts are rooted in radical Black traditions, environmental justice in anti-racist community organizing in the U.S.’s South, and intersectionality in Black feminist legal scholarship. Both concepts have traveled significantly from their original respective homes and have been used to examine issues ranging from fatphobia to climate change. In this discussion, Dr. Fayola Jacobs of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs traces the theoretical, methodological, geographical, and topical journeys of environmental justice and intersectionality. With a focus on how the two concepts have been taken up in research on flood-related disasters and climate change, Jacobs lays out what has been lost and what has been gained on these travels. She argues that current literature’s use of the two concepts is largely superficial, which betrays their critical origins, limits their power for historically rooted understandings of environmental issues, and undermines their ability to help imagine radical solutions.

Thursday, October 10th

Artists in all art forms facilitate important cultural work within communities, especially those affected by climate change or environmental issues that intersect with identity and economics. Often artists are uniquely qualified to see unexpected solutions to problems and to create perspectives to help people understand challenging ideas. This panel discussion brings together Minnesota artists working in several media, including Ananya Chatterjea, Shanai Matteson, and others, to discuss their experiences and artistic perspectives of environmental justice on a regional and global scale.

Thursday, November 7th

How can the legal concepts of copyright and common property be brought to bear on environmental justice issues? Aviva Rahmani created Blued Trees Symphony as copyrighted art with nature installations in the path of fossil-fuel pipelines. Kathryn Milun founded and directs the Solar Commons Research Project, which investigates common property governance models to pilot trust ownership of solar energy for low-income communities. Their moderated conversation will explore these models as well as new ideas about innovative legal structures in service of environmental justice.

Thursday, February 13th

The Minneapolis Climate Action and Racial Equity Fund, a partnership between the City of Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Foundation and the McKnight Foundation, was created to connect corporate and philanthropic giving with place-based, community-driven initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within Minneapolis. Leaders from these funding partners discuss the first round of grants awarded in the summer of 2019, as well as their work with communities for future grant cycles and their dreams for the program. Aimee Witteman leads the McKnight Foundation’s Midwest Climate & Energy program, which focuses on clean energy promotion and development in the Midwest. Paul Odegaard will participate in the discussion on behalf of the Minneapolis Foundation also joins the conversation.

Thursday, March 19th

Join a conversation about environmental policy with two regional leaders who have organized political and grassroots justice efforts. Halston Sleets served as the Senior Policy Aide for Environmental Justice and Sustainability to Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and is now the Associate Manager of Sustainable Tech Products at Best Buy. Sam Grant is a social entrepreneur committed to environmental health, cooperative economic wealth, and cultural integrity and well-being. He directs the HECUA Environmental Sustainability program and has co-founded many justice-oriented organizations including AfroEco and the Movement Center for Deep Democracy.

Thursday, April 9th

Jessica Hellmann leads a discussion on the evolution and current directions of Environmental Sciences and Ecology programs in public higher education. Hellmann is the director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the Ecolab Chair in Environmental Leadership. She and her colleagues work to help build a future where people and planet prosper.


Friday, October 11th, 8:30am-3pm, Wilson Library. Free registration required (click title link) by October 8.

This workshop is for everyone interested in topic such as community development, politics, racism, civil rights, industrialism, food security, or environmental discrimination. Spatial relationships help to define factors that diminish social equity, environmental safety, and ultimately, quality of life. Mapping Environmental Justice offers perspectives from invited speakers who will share their scholarly work surrounding the intersection of the environment and equity, as well as opportunities for participants to learn story mapping, and spatial data availability. Presented by U-Spatial, cosponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study, Liberal Arts Technologies & Innovation Services (LATIS), Digital Arts, Science & Humanities (DASH), and University Libraries.