Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE NEW CRUSADERS: Environmental Education Producing Cadre of Freedom (from Toxic Waster) Fighters

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE NEW CRUSADERS: Environmental Education Producing Cadre of Freedom (from Toxic Waster) Fighters

Article excerpt

THE NEW CRUSADERS: Environmental Education Producing Cadre of Freedom. (from Toxic Waste) Fighters

While studying chemistry at Xavier University in New Orleans, Robert Swayzer III excelled in the classroom during his freshman and sophomore years. Although the twenty-three-year-old Winnsboro, Louisiana, native decided against pursuing medical school early on in his college career, Swayzer's performance as a chemistry major won him an environmental research scholarship as a junior through Xavier's Center for Environmental Programs.

That scholarship, which was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), allowed Swayzer to work with Xavier faculty to develop materials that absorb toxic chemicals from waste water. As a result of the research experience, Swayzer grew more interested in environmental science and won another research award. He became an Environmental Justice Scholar at Xavier's Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) during the 1995-96 school year.

As an employee at the Xavier center, Swayzer now coordinates student programs and publishes community newsletters on environmental issues. Next fall, he expects to enroll in a master's program in Industrial Hygiene at Tulane University's School of Public Health in New Orleans.

"My goal is to work in industry in a capacity where I can help a company improve its safety practices in the workplace and assist it in safely disposing toxic chemicals," Swayzer said.

Swayzer's story is part of an educational movement that is sweeping historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority institutions. Over the past seven years, a dramatic expansion of environmental education has transpired. Through partnerships with the federal government, largely the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and EPA, institutions have developed environmental education programs that are attracting students to environmental careers.

A total of seventeen schools comprise the Historically Black College and University/Minority Institution Environmental Technology Consortium (ETC), which has been funded for the past five years by DOE. In 1990, ETC was organized to participate in federally-funded environmental programs. Since winning the support of DOE, member schools have dramatically added environmental education courses, content and degree programs to their curricula. They have established outreach programs with their local communities and pre-college students, and have provided environmental education training for faculty.

"We have become part of an effort where we are among the leading institutions. Traditionally, HBCUs have played catch up," said Dr. Kofi B. Bota, the consortium's director and vice president for research and sponsored programs at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta.

Adding momentum to the expansion of environmental education at many HBCUs has been the environmental justice movement and The College Fund/UNCF. Originating as a grassroots community campaign in the early 1980s, the environmental justice movement has prompted four consortium schools, including Xavier, to establish research centers to work directly with communities adversely affected by environmental problems.

Since 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has charged its Office of Environmental Justice "with a broad mandate to serve as a focal point for ensuring that communities comprised predominately of people of color or low income populations receive protection under environmental laws." EPA's Office of Environmental Justice has supported community-based/grassroots organizations that are working on solutions to local environmental problems with a small grants program.

Terry Davies, director of the Center for Risk Management at Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan, environmental issues think tank, said it's well documented that low-income and minority communities have borne a disproportionate amount of exposure to hazardous pollutants and polluting facilities. …

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