Highlights from the 2nd Annual Ecological Justice & Social Work Conference
Updated: Jun 17
Our second annual Ecological Justice and Social Work Conference was held on April 12th, and we are thrilled to say it was another year of informative and inspirational thought-leaders and practitioners sharing their expertise with us. We want to take this opportunity to once again thank our wonderful speakers for their insights and for provoking deep reflection. Like last year, we were left wanting more and feeling excited for the next conference!
We also want to say a big congratulations to Jacqueline Patterson, our second annual Environmental Justice Champion! Jacqui was awarded for her work with the Chisholm Legacy Project which is "rooted in a Just Transition Framework" and "serves as a vehicle to connect Black communities on the frontlines of climate justice with resources to traverse the path from vision to strategy to action plan to implementation to transformation". Congratulations again, Jacqui!
So many incredible resources and ideas were shared throughout the day, and we wanted to provide a brief summary for those who might have missed it:
Land Acknowledgement by Chief Vincent Mann
Chief Vincent Mann of the Turtle Clan of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation started off the day with a land acknowledgement. Chief Mann is leading incredible work to advance healing and justice for the Turtle Clan, and co-founded the Three Sisters Medicinal Farm. This is all in the context of extreme environmental injustices faced by the Turtle Clan living on a Superfund site, an area deeply affected by mining, landfill, and industrial waste and pollution from the Ford Motor Company, which we encourage you to learn more about.
Read Chief Vincent Mann's bio here:
Open & Closing Meditations by Dr. Murali Nair
Once again, Dr. Nair expertly led us through a breathwork activity to begin the day with a smile and move forward in a more grounded way. He also rounded up the conference with a reflection on the day's events and ways to bring about change through collaboration, and the importance of meditation. We appreciate how Dr. Nair wove his knowledge and work in environmental justice into his invitation to slow down and ground in connection and community as we moved through the day.
Read Dr. Murali Nair's bio here:
We want to congratulate and thank all of our student poster presenters for sharing their incredible work via video - you can view their work for a limited time at this link. Well done everyone, and congratulations once again for making waves in your schools and communities!
Supporting Survivors of Natural Disaster: Facilitating Posttraumatic Growth by Dr. Victoria Grinman
Dr. Grinman demonstrated her passion for understanding and teaching posttraumatic growth and its role in caring for people impacted by extreme weather and other disasters in this grounding session. Sharing learnings from the areas of collective trauma, optimism, goal setting, and self-efficacy, Dr. Grinman helped us understand how to apply a lens of posttraumatic growth to environmental justice work and what nurturing steps forward with clients might look like.
Read Dr. Victoria Grinman's bio here:
Disrupting the Problem-Focus in Social Work Research and Practice with Indigenous Communities by Dr. Ramona Beltran
Dr. Beltran presented powerful work demonstrating the critical importance of Indigenous framing of ecological justice and the role of story work in the process of healing from trauma.
She shared about using narrative (stories, poems) to disrupt ways that we create knowledge with communities, and presented moving examples of digital stories from communities she has worked with. Dr. Beltran highlighted the importance of relationship, representation, and culture and framing our work with families as within community and part of the collective of humanity.
Dr. Beltran shared this video of Indigenous stories of colonization and intergenerational trauma at the beginning of her presentation and encouraged for it to be shared widely.
Read Dr. Ramona Beltran's bio here:
Panel Discussion with Dr. Lisa Reyes Mason, Jacqui Patterson, Dr. Tonya Hansel & Peter Gudaitis
What an incredible panel this was! Panelists spoke about their extensive experience serving communities impacted by disasters, and the main takeaway for us was that you certainly don't have to be a disaster social worker to advocate and support people and communities impacted by disasters. The systems and inequities experienced by communities we serve are all connected, and many of the challenges mentioned as core issues are not unique to disaster management.
Although there were so many incredibly important points discussed, we pulled out the following as key messages that our panelists imparted for social work students and practitioners, regardless of whether you work in formal disaster management or recovery:
Important information is rarely distributed to impacted communities in effective ways, which means community members make uninformed decisions which can perpetuate more avoidable harm.
Help communities document their needs and challenges to actualize their visions post-disaster. Promote radical imagination in communities as a step towards a radically different future.
Support communities identifying their internal assets, resources, and threats to their vision of recovery. Storytelling and listening to these stories provide power to communities.
Build trust and relationship with communities post-disaster through language and cultural competency, connecting with and supporting local leaders, and providing training to encourage self-sustainability (see Long Term Recovery Groups).
Help communities decide for itself how it would like to be supported.
Despite the need for an urgent response post-disaster, relationship building is slow and is needed to develop lasting recovery (and recovery spans will increase with the growing threat of climate change).
Have a long-term plan that doesn't stop when the resources run out (often agencies are demobilized when the money runs out irrespective of whether the community is recovered).
Community resilience must be built in ways that ensures equitable decision making and upholds democracy in communities.
Instead of perpetuating band-aid disaster management approaches that aim to return communities back to where they were before (i.e. putting them back in the same path of destruction), we must think about the structural and systemic policy changes needed.
Services like case management must be timely to be equitable (at the moment it can take 10-12 months for residents to get case management services after a national disaster is declared).
Advocate for local, community-based case managers and service providers (at the moment, for-profit government contractors apply for disaster case management contracts which disproportionately disadvantage the recovery of communities, especially people of colour and low income community members). Providers and social workers who are already members of the impacted community are usually most effective given their level of understanding of the impacts.
Disasters can be leveling fields for mental health; stigma goes away for the first 1-2 years post-disaster because of universal stress. This is a good opportunity to get services to people who would never have been able or willing to before.
Prevent disasters (and harm) from happening in the first place by transforming core systems. Some examples of this are:
Delink money from politics so decisions are being made by the community and for the community,
Shift energy systems so that they no longer exist to profit from polluting communities,
Provide universal basic income so people have cushion to protect from pre-existing vulnerabilities.
Read the panelists' bios here:
Ecosocial Work: A Call to Education & Action by Dr. Meredith Powers, Dr. Nicole Mattocks, Lauryn Smith, and Melissa Singh
In this short session, panelists started by highlighting the presence of a multitude of wicked problems that stem from an anthropocentric worldview. They introduced the concept of ecosocial work which sees the interconnections between systems and issues, and the wish for all social work to be ecosocial work. Panelists then presented research being done to identify ecosocial work courses in US MSW program curricula and noted that only 5 out of 100 MSW programs offer a single ecosocial work course. Future directions of their work include connecting with other social workers and developing a green report card.
If you are developing or know of an ecosocial work course, email Melissa Singh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Panelists also encouraged everyone to attend the people’s summit ‘Co-Building a New Eco-Social World: Leaving No One Behind’ from June 29 to July 2, 2022.
Lessons from the Work of Black Environmentalists on Resilience and Reparations
by Dr. Kimberly Compton
Dr. Compton's presentation reflected on the interwoven concepts of resilience and adaptability and how they can be applied beyond an individual level to that of communities and social movements. Dr. Compton also highlighted the history of White environmentalism being fraught with racism, White supremacy, and eugenics, and how Black environmental impacts have been sidelined and actively suppressed. Dr. Compton noted that Black concern for environmental issues continue to be underestimated and underrepresented, and that Black voices are excluded from engagement and environmental priority setting. Dr. Compton indicated that we all have a role to support Black environmentalism and called on attendees to counteract whitewashed narratives and narratives of Black disinterest in the environment, and to support the transformation of policy and process in ways that make it more accessible for people impacted by environmental hazards. Dr. Compton presented on
a reparations-based approach, calling it "healing through justice" and outlined the steps required to follow this approach.
Read Dr. Kimberly Compton's bio and dissertation titled 'Pro-Environmental Behaviors Among Black Environmentalists: A Critical Race Perspective' here:
Food Justice: Theory and Practice by Michael Hurwitz
Michael presented on his experience in food justice and security initiatives, including his early work in co-founding an urban farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He noted the historical lack of conversations in social work education and practice about food policy and the relationship between food and housing policy and systems, among others. Michael named interconnected issues like diet related illness, and how it is imperative to addressing health and economic justice in communities to influence the kinds of food available to people. He brought up important questions to ask about our local food systems, such as:
Is it a resilient food system, or one that benefits corporations?
Who produces our food?
How is food is produced?
Who has access to what types of food?
Michael also brought attention to diversified and organic farming methods in community-based spaces, and emphasized that much like housing and carceral systems were designed, so too are our food systems; "it is not broken, it is working exactly as it was meant to". Michael brought attention to needing to be intentional about our responses to food system policy (and especially that of industrial agriculture) as it results in devastating environmental and human impacts and inequities. He finished off with the importance of building sustainable and resilient food systems and food sovereignty that does not take away rights of future generations.
Read Michael Hurwitz's bio here:
This portion of the program challenged speakers to present their chosen topic in only five minutes, and we want to thank the following speakers for sharing their learning and experience with us:
Jenna Rines: A Social Worker’s Journey to Working in Climate & Flood Risk
Cassandra Breeze Ceballos: Multisolving
Sarah Toledano: Urban Farming to Create Community
Colleen Cummings Melton: Energy Justice
Helene Filion Onserud: Let's Mobilize About the Climate Crisis in Groups!
Keynote Address: Storytelling and Documentary Film: Alternative Tools in Environmental Justice by Dr. Cedric Taylor
Dr. Taylor delivered a moving keynote address with excerpts from his own documentary about the Flint water crisis, Nor Any Drop to Drink, and the work of Kate Levy with community members doing on the ground reporting about Detroit, Michigan water shortages. He masterfully demonstrated the utility of documentary and storytelling methodologies for professionals organizing and advocating for environmental and social justice as a way to centre community member experiences, and described the process acting as a bridge between those who experiencing crisis, and those on the outside who may not even be aware of it. Dr. Taylor shared emotional and visceral stories from Flint residents, such as Nakiya Wakes, who continue to experience physical, psychological, and financial ruin due to the gross environmental injustice. These counter stories demonstrated their power to shift dominant or "master narratives" that Dr. Taylor described to be rooted in "unfettered neoliberalism", racism, and "valuing of expert knowledge over community knowledge" which do not convey the real life horror of Black, Brown and poor people in harms way. Dr. Taylor also noted that modern environmentalism has relied on rational and scientific tools, but he advocates that storytelling must be part of this to convey emotion and break silences. Critically, Dr. Taylor indicated that these kinds of documentaries should be incorporated with screenings, panels, talks, townhalls, and other activism activities to provide an opportunity for community members and advocates to share information and paths of resistance.
Read Dr. Cedric Taylor's bio here:
Once again, THANK YOU to all of our presenters, attendees, and conference organizers at Adelphi University and the ISWEJ. We can't wait for next year!
Please help us keep the conversation going by using the following us on Twitter (@theISWEJ), using the hashtag #EJSW2022, 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.