IDC Special Session Highlights a Negative Space in Family Science: Environmental Justice

/ Fall 2020 NCFR Report

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The most basic requirements of human existence are being violated in the country that’s supposed to be the most powerful industrial democracy in the world.
—Dr. Angela Davis

Over the past several years, NCFR’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee (IDC) has sponsored special sessions on the use of a social justice framework in the context of Family Science. These special sessions have advanced conversations around identifying the dynamics of socially structured and institutionalized oppression and privilege.

The 2017 session asked us to think about the social locations of others, and how social location has an impact on daily life. The 2018 session asked us to think about our own social locations and how they have an impact on our life and work as family scholars. Last year, the 2019 session asked us to think about how we can apply social justice principles in our work. The theme for the 2020 IDC session is environmental justice. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” This year, the IDC is encouraging us to think about our own and others’ connections to the land, to the environment. But beyond that, we are challenging NCFR membership to make real changes in support of environmental justice.


Why Environmental Justice?

The environmental justice movement is informed by the civil rights movement (Skelton & Miller, 2016), and focused on the disproportionate burden of environmental hazards (e.g., toxic waste, air pollution) that is borne by communities of color. Thus, the IDC’s special session (Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2:30–3:45 p.m. CT) addresses issues of racial injustice that have been highlighted in previous IDC special sessions, as well as in the broader NCFR 2020 program. Environmental justice involves identifying and acknowledging community suffering and works to eradicate, or at the very least, reduce, that suffering through inquiry and action. The IDC recognizes the indispensable work of grassroots organizers in environmental justice (Bullard & Johnson, 2000), and we are inspired by the work of St. Louis based activists and organizations that are fighting against environmental racism in their community (Goodwin, 2019).

We are taking our cue from the legendary scholar and activist Dr. Angela Davis, who argues that environmental injustice is the foundation of all other injustice (Rubio, 2017). The overarching question posed in the 2020 IDC Special Session is, “How can we, as family scholars, support environmental justice in our research, teaching, and practice?”


How to Participate

The IDC is honored to collaborate with experts from the following community organizations based in St. Louis for this year’s special session panel: Dutchtown South Community Corporation (, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center (, and Washington University in St. Louis’s Environmental Justice Initiative (…). The panel discussion will include a brief history and overview of environmental justice and its connection to Family Science; information about our community partners’ past and ongoing work in the St. Louis region; and time for audience questions and discussion with presenters. The IDC Special Session (Session #123) will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 11, from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm Central Time.


Conversation and Listening Session

In addition to the special session on environmental justice, IDC is also hosting an active conversation and listening session on Friday, Nov. 13 (11:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m. CT). The listening session is titled “‘I Can’t Believe What You Say Because I See What You Do’ (James Baldwin): Aligning Words and Actions in Social Justice,” and will be moderated by Dr. Anthony James. This session will not only hear member concerns within NCFR but also strategize action steps to address these concerns. At least one member of the NCFR Board of Directors will be in attendance, and all NCFR members are encouraged to attend and make your voices heard. We can’t do this important work without you.

In solidarity,

Shawn Mendez, IDC Students & New Professionals representative,

Chalandra M. Bryant, IDC chair

Jocelyn R. Smith Lee

Tiffany L. Brown

Adrienne M. Duke

Daphne Hernandez, chair-elect

Kristy Y. Shih

Bethany Letiecq (Board of Directors liaison)


Land Acknowledgment

One way to support environmental justice is with land acknowledgments. According to the nonprofit LSPIRG, land acknowledgment is commonly understood as “a formal statement that recognizes the unique and enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories” (

For example, NCFR headquarters resides on the traditional territories of the Wahpekute, Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux) peoples (See To learn more about the importance of land acknowledgments, and how to use them, IDC encourages members to visit the website of Native Land, a Canadian nonprofit organization.

When the IDC Section first started planning our special session for the 2020 NCFR Annual Conference in St. Louis, which resides on the traditional territories of the Kiikaapoi, Osage, Miami, and Očeti Šakówiŋ peoples (See, no one on the IDC could have possibly imagined how quickly and intensely the world would change before the annual conference. Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were still alive. There was no global pandemic. Crisp winter weather had yet to fade into the warmth of spring. Now, we have seen communities all over the United States and the world take to the streets to demand justice—justice for those who have died, for those who still live, and for future generations. Actions like mutual aid and ideas like police abolition have bubbled up into public discussion (Adereth, 2020). The ongoing fight for racial justice is deeply connected to the fight for environmental justice (Sengupta, 2020). As Hop Hopkins, director of strategic partnerships for the Sierra Club, has argued in Sierra magazine, environmental injustice is fueled by white supremacy: “We will never survive the climate crisis without ending white supremacy. Here’s why: You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism” (Hopkins, 2020).


Adereth, M. (2020). The United States Has a Long History of Mutual Aid Organizing. Jacobin. Retrieved from

Bullard, R.D., & Johnson, G.S. (2000). Environmentalism and Public Policy: Environmental Justice: Grassroots Activism and Its Impact on Public Policy Decision Making. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 555-578. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00184

Environmental Protection Agency. (2020). Environmental Justice. Retrieved from

Goodwin, J.B. (2019). Report Outlines 'Environmental Racism' In St. Louis. St. Louis Public Radio. Retrieved from

Hopkins, H. (2020). Racism Is Killing the Planet. Sierra. Retrieved from

Rubio, C. (2017). Angela Davis’ fight for social justice continues. The Southwestern College Sun.

Sengupta, S. (2020). Black Environmentalists Talk About Climate and Anti-Racism. New York Times. Retrieved from

Skelton, R. & Miller, V. (2016). The Environmental Justice Movement. Natural Resources Defense Council. Retrieved from

Ta, L. (2016). Angela Davis: 'The earth is being poisoned for generations to come'. Des Moines Register. Retrieved from