Racial injustice. Health disparities. The environment. These problems of modern society appear regularly in the news and in conversation. Yet, they are often treated individually, as separate, unrelated issues.
Recent graduate Margaret (Meg) Sanders ‘22 (CAHNR) created a podcast to show just how connected they are.
Sanders created a podcast called “Recalling the Past to Shape the Future,” where she interviewed local environmental activists about how they became involved in their activism and how their identity has shaped their experience in the environmental field.
“I wanted to collect the oral history, highlight Connecticut community members’ experience with environmental injustice, and shed light on issues that require action. What better way to do that than through a podcast,” Sanders says.
Sanders focused on stories of environmental injustice, an area of study that looks at how environmental issues intersect with social justice and explores their impact on society as a whole as well as on individuals. For example, communities of color and low-income communities are statistically much more likely to live in areas affected by air pollution, hazardous materials, and other forms of environmental harm. This is, in part, due to the fact that conversations about environmentalism are often dominated by those from privileged groups.
Sanders, who majored in natural resources and the environment with a minor in human rights, has a passion for exploring and raising awareness of the deep connections between the environment and human rights, known as environmental justice.
“The current whiteness of the environmental movement is deeply flawed. As someone who cares about intersectional environmentalism, we must acknowledge that the foundations of many environmental movements have come from people of color. We must utilize Kimberlé Crenshaw’s framework of intersectionality as we try to take steps forward in this movement,” Sanders says.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanders worked as a substitute teacher in Connecticut public schools. She quickly realized that when students learned about environmental issues, concerns over social justice were, by and large, not part of the conversation.
“One thing that came up recurringly was that our education system is lacking,” Sanders says. “It’s lacking in providing students with resources that are uplifting to their backgrounds and others’.”
So, Sanders decided to make a difference. She launched her podcast and began interviews with UConn peers such as Sage Phillips ‘22 (CLAS) and Kat Morris ‘20, ’21 (CLAS) who have been involved in environmental justice activism. These first interviewees helped connect Sanders to people in other Connecticut communities.
Sanders says that while she has not personally experienced environmental injustice, many of her respondents talked about what they have experienced. She hopes the sharing process will expose others to the intersection between environmentalism, race, prejudice, and other forms of injustice.
In her interview with Sharon Lewis, the executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, Lewis shared how racism often guides the construction of environmental hazards like landfills or railroads.
“You know, a lot of people say that environmental justice communities are low income and people of color,” Lewis says in her interview. “And that is very true, but they focus only on the low-income part when it comes to people of color. It doesn’t matter what income, we are the most desired when it comes to sighting of hazardous facilities.”
Sanders says she hopes her podcast will help increase awareness of other issues created by environmental injustice, including health disparities in conditions like asthma, lead exposure, and fertility issues.
Having graduated from UConn in May, Sanders is now an incoming graduate student at Georgia Tech. She says she would like to continue this work in Atlanta, while being conscious of the fact that she is not from that community.
Sanders says her experience creating the podcast has encouraged her to apply for more grants in the future to continue making and sharing this work.
“It inspired me to use my privilege in a way I didn’t think I could before and step out of my comfort zone,” Sanders says.
You can read about Sanders’ podcast here and listen on Spotify. This work was supported by a grant from the American Association for the Advancement of Science SciTech and Human Rights FutureGen Scholars Program.
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