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Highlights from Environmental Justice & Social Work Conference

We did it! We hosted our inaugural Environmental Justice and Social Work conference last week, and we were thrilled with the level of connection, engagement, and enthusiasm of our participants and speakers. It left all of us at the ISWEJ feeling inspired and wanting more!


Also, we were proud to award Dr. Meredith Powers as our first annual Environmental Champion:

We want to take this opportunity to once again thank our wonderful speakers for their insights and for provoking deep reflection. Many incredible resources and ideas were shared during the conference, so we wanted to try and condense these and provide a brief summary of the day. Here are some snippets of these ideas:


Open & Closing Meditations by Dr. Murali Nair

Calling in his extensive background in wellbeing and engaged learning, Dr. Nair set the tone of the conference as he expertly led us through breathwork and laughing meditation activities at the start and end of the conference. We loved this invitation to slow down and make room for joy as we moved through the day.


Self-Care Mini Session with Georgianna Dolan-Reilly & Jenna Rines

Georgianna and Jenna provided a conceptualization of self-care steps for those involved in environmental justice, compiling ideas from social workers like our Environmental Champion Dr. Meredith Powers, as well as those from other disciplines (Powers & Engstrom, 2019; Engstrom & Powers, 2021). Check out our February blog post on self-care for more information. Participants shared their self-care practices, challenges, and plans for the future here, and received a handout summarizing key concepts and resources that you can access below:

Self-Care & EJ Handout
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Download • 988KB

Multisolving with Cassandra Ceballos

As always, Cassandra from Climate Interactive fueled our obsession with multisolving, the approach to targeting multiple problems with a single solution. She highlighted the many co-benefits of cutting fossil fuel emissions and taking climate action and presented inspiring cases of communities coming together to promote resilience and well-being.

We encourage anyone not familiar with multisolving to check out Climate Interactive's resources and examples of how to incorporate these principles into your practice.


Collaboration with Dr. Meredith Powers:

As the founder and director of the IFSW Climate Justice Program, Dr. Powers shared her perspectives on ecosocial work and grounded the audience in what collaboration within this worldview looks like. She emphasized the importance of centering reciprocity, sustainability, sharing of resources, and ensuring inclusive and equitable participation. In sharing her journey through this work, she invited reflection on our own stories and where our passion stems from.


Dr. Powers offered many resources, including: the idea of degrowth, Social Work Promoting Community & Environmental Sustainability (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3), the Ecologically Conscious Social Work Facebook community, and Green and Environmental Social Work on Twitter. She encouraged participants to keep an eye out for an announcement soon via IFSW for a new way to come together in an ecosocial work community.


Panel Discussion with Dr. Lisa Reyes Mason, Dr. Christine Lynn Norton, Dr. Anne Deepak, and Dr. Reggie Ferreira:

In an engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion, Dr. Reyes Mason facilitated conversation among Dr. Norton, Dr. Deepak, and Dr. Ferreira as they explored topics like coping with the weight of global-scale problems and decolonizing social work from their individual areas of expertise. They encouraged seeing past silos of micro and macro approaches in order to bridge practitioners and engage in collaborative system transformation. Speakers challenged participants to consider how we use our privilege and critical skills to address inequities and rethink solutions rooted in capitalism, neoliberalism, and extractivism.


When problems feel so big and beyond our control, immobilization as a result of overwhelm and a collective experience of solastalgia can occur. We were encouraged to find ways to stay engaged in the work, and to practice directing our attention to sensations of well-being by doing things like going on an "awe walk". Panelists reminded us that we and the natural world around us are "hardwired to heal", and promoted paying attention to ecological metaphors of regeneration and healing all around us.


The panel ended with words of inspiration to students, challenging them to look for new solutions to our complex problems, and provided recommendations including:

  • Keep elected officials accountable

  • Get involved with grassroots organizations

  • Seek out and follow thought leaders

  • Find spaces to connect with other like-minded social workers

  • Get outside and nurture your own connection with the planet

Student posters:

We want to congratulate all of our student poster presenters for sharing their inspiring work, some of which has already had positive impacts on influencing policy and programs in their schools and communities! Well done!


Many thanks to the students who shared their posters live:

Christopher Daniels

Nicole Pearl

Priscilla Yim Mui Kwok

Heather Hamilton

Christopher Weatherly

Wende Moulis


Neurodecolonization with Dr. Michael Yellow Bird:

Rooting the audience in the importance of memory work to decolonize the mind, Dr. Yellow Bird shared how neuroscience paired with an understanding of traditional Indigenous practices can contribute to health and healing within Indigenous communities. Promoting the integration of Indigenous and western practices to investigate and counteract the impact of colonialism on the brain, he noted that social workers should be thinking more about this level of intervention.


Dr. Yellow Bird encouraged us to consider the absence of colorful and joyful practices within social work and shared how he works to bring a more contemplative pedagogy to the profession. In the face of ongoing colonization, Dr. Yellow Bird spoke of the Indigenous resistance and restoration of cultural practices and beliefs. He promoted the understanding of history, introduction of empowering land-based practices, and use of new technologies to indigenize settlers and overcome the universally damaging effects of colonialism.


Dr. Yellow Bird called for a major paradigm shift in social work, calling attention to how basic activities like sleep and movement have been colonized by industrial society. He shared that finding ways for social workers to engage in healing practices like developing edible landscapes and promoting the incorporation of traditional dance and song in the outdoors can help us all "become part of the Earth again."


Speed sessions:

This portion of the program challenged speakers to present their chosen topic in only 5 mins - and they rose to the challenge! Thank you to the following speakers for sharing their learning with us:

Carrie Dorn

Colleen Cummings Melton

Michelle Willoughby

Jamie Keaton Jones

Jeanne Dagenais-Lespérance


Keynote by Dr. Kishi Animashaun Ducre:

Titled "#SayHerName: Black Women's (In)Visibility, Agency & Environmental Justice", Dr. Ducre's presentation centered experiences of Black women as they navigate environments characterized by racial and environmental injustice. Beginning with important work by Dillon and Sze (2016), Dr. Ducre expertly wove stories of individual women together with her research to draw parallels between Black feminism, ecofeminism, and environmental justice (and why it's a problem that we don't always make connections between these concepts).


Despite being "the backbone of the Movement for Black Lives and environmental justice", Dr. Ducre notes how stories of environmental injustice and deaths of Black women are still largely invisible in the public sphere. Learning about spatiality and placemaking through photovoice and mapping, her research conceptualized marginalized women as "shapeshifters" as they "move in a world that does not include them or meet their needs".

Dr. Ducre emphasized from these accounts that things like the built environment (e.g. abandoned housing) and the presence of violence were seen as environmental justice problems. She highlighted that with no option of moving away, Black women in her study developed strategies to "maximize success while minimizing risk". After making sense of the data, she developed a Black Feminist Spatial Imagination of the Environment that centers what justice looks like for Black women and girls.


Once again, a massive THANK YOU to all of our presenters, attendees, and conference organizers at Adelphi University and the ISWEJ. We can't wait for next year!


In the meantime, please help us keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter (@theISWEJ), reaching out to us with your questions using this form, and letting us know how you would like to engage with the ISWEJ in this survey.


References:

Dillon, L., & Sze, J. (2016). Police power and particulate matters: Environmental justice and the spatialities of in/securities in US cities. English Language Notes, 54(2), 13-23.


Ducre, K. A. (2018). The Black feminist spatial imagination and an intersectional environmental justice. Environmental Sociology, 4(1), 22-35.


Engstrom, S., & Powers, M. (2021). Embracing an ecosocial worldview for climate justice and collective healing. Journal of Transdisciplinary Peace Praxis, 3(1), 120-144.


Powers, M. C., & Engstrom, S. (2019). Radical Self-Care for Social Workers in the Global Climate Crisis. Social work , 65 (1), 29 37.

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