March 2022 – Drew University was one of over 1,000 universities, colleges, K-12 schools, and faith communities to take part in the Worldwide Teach-In on Climate and Justice.
The initiative aims to create climate and justice dialogues across the globe. Drew’s event encouraged the community to plan and participate in solutions to cultivate actionable solutions. “The goal of the Teach-In is to grow students into citizens with the agency to take action and build an understanding of climate and justice challenges and goals,” said Amy Koritz, professor of English and director of the Center for Civic Engagement.
“To be clear, we are in a climate crisis,” said Dean of Arts and Sciences Ryan Hinrichs. “We are gathered here today for awareness, planning, awareness, action, and hope.”
The University-wide hybrid event welcomed Melissa Miles, executive director at the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, a statewide organization dedicated to serving New Jersey’s low-income and of color communities overburdened by the impacts of pollution and climate change.
“Learning in community is something you can do here at Drew University,” said Interim Dean of the Theological School Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre of Drew’s opportunities in environmental studies and ecological justice opportunities across the three Drew schools. “This is an incredible opportunity for us to learn from each other.”
The event opened with faculty experts framing the complex climate and justice issues across all disciplines. Students heard from Timothy Carter, assistant teaching professor of political science and environment studies; Lisa Jordan, associate teaching professor of biology and environmental studies; Laurel Kearns, professor of ecology, religion, and society; and Jennifer Olmstead, professor of economics.
Miles shared her evolving path to become an advocate for environmental justice—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.
By participating in sustainability-centered grassroots activism and community service, she steadily developed a passion for change in her Newark community. This passion was exasperated when her young son was diagnosed with asthma.
In her role, Miles fights for critical environmental justice issues throughout New Jersey. “I was a victim before I knew what was happening in my community, now I’m the protagonist,” she said. “Environment justice should make a tangible change for people.”
Miles offered tips for students seeking to make a difference, which does not entail one defined path. “Do what you love and try to figure out how it intersects with a just transition. It might not be overtly environmental; it might be something that transforms how we think about relationships with each other.”
“One main project for substantial change is being together in community—the solution is always together.”
Moving Miles’ words into action, Hannah Primiano C’22 and Nate Roark C’24 led a student action plan where students gathered into breakout groups to discuss sustainability at Drew.
Drew student leaders from environmentally-centered student-led Drew organizations moderated the groups, including Jennifer Arias C’24, Drew Environmental Action League; Adrian Mendoza T’23, TERRA; and Amelia Abruscato C’24 and Elisabeth Sauerman C’24, both members of Drew’s StuGov Sustainability Committee.