The Year of International Human Rights | Webster University
The Year of International Human Rights | Webster University

The Year of International Human Rights

Human Rights 2017 flyer

Environmental Justice and Human Rights

Growing awareness of climate change has led to increasing recognition that human rights and environmental sustainability are inextricably linked. Human rights advocates contend that climate change threatens fundamental rights to health, livelihood, and property, while also infringing on indigenous rights to culture and profoundly impacting the global poor. The environmental justice movement brings together scholars and activists who are concerned about both environmental protection and social justice, paying particular attention to how vulnerable populations are disproportionately harmed by rising sea levels, deforestation, desertification, fossil fuel extraction and transportation, the disposal of hazardous wastes, air pollution, and a range of other environmental hazards.

Webster University’s 2017 Annual Human Rights Conference considered challenges associated with “Environmental Justice and Human Rights” on October 11-12. The conference provided intersectional analyses of environmental racism, sexism, classism, and colonialism with the aim of raising critical awareness of the human rights violations caused by environmental degradation. Sponsored by the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies, this on-campus event was free and open to the public.

Join the conversation using #WebsterHRC

Conference Photo Recap

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Conference Schedule

  • Dates: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 and Thursday, October 12, 2017
  • Venue: Browning Hall Auditorium (Room 160, 8274 Big Bend Blvd.)
  • Event parking is available at the Garden Park Plaza parking structure (568 Garden Avenue). Note that the Garden Park Plaza is #10 on the campus map and Browning Hall, our conference venue, is located at #36.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Time Event Details
10:45-11:00 AM Welcome and conference framework  Kate Parsons, Fellow of the Institute for Human Rights & Humanitarian Studies, Webster University – Saint Louis
11:00-12:15 PM Plenary #1 – Sarah Jaquette Ray, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Humboldt State University “Is There Room for Environmental Justice in the Human Rights Framework?”
12:15-1:00 PM BREAK
1:00-2:15 PM Plenary #2 – Sylvester Brown, Jr., Founder and Director
“The Sweet Potato Project”
2:30-3:45 PM Plenary #3 – Jaskiran Dhillon, Assistant Professor of Global Studies and Anthropology, The New School
“Planetary Dystopia, Indigenous Resurgence, and the Fight for Environmental Justice”


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Time Event Details
10:00-11:15 AM Plenary #4 – Excerpts from The First Secret City with filmmakers Alison Carrick and C.D. Stelzer  
11:15-12:00 PM BREAK
12:00-1:15 PM Plenary #5 – Carl A. Zimring, Professor of Sustainability Studies, Pratt Institute “The Dirty Work of White Supremacy in the United States after the Civil War: Considering the Historical Context of Modern Environmental Inequalities”
1:30-2:45 PM Plenary #6 – Marnese Jackson, Rev. Elston K. McCowan, and Bruce Morrison; The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) “The Environmental Justice Impacts of Climate Change”
3:00-4:15 PM Roundtable discussion An open conversation with our conference speakers
5:30-7:00 PM Keynote Address: Carolyn Finney, Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Kentucky “Reclaiming Our Time: Black Faces, White Spaces and the Possibility of Us”
  RECEPTION Please join us for refreshments in the Browning Hall Lobby and Courtyard


 Plenary Speakers:

Sylvester Brown, Jr.Sylvester Brown, Jr., is a former award-winning columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He published Take Five Magazine for 15 years and later worked as a consultant and researcher for SmileyBooks, owned by public radio and TV commentator Tavis Smiley. There he worked on several book projects, including Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell, Too Important to Fail by Smiley, and The Rich & the Rest of Us by Smiley and Dr. Cornel West. In the summer of 2012, Sylvester partnered with the North Area Community Development Corporation to enact his “Sweet Potato Project,” a year-round program aimed at teaching at-risk youth “do-for-self” entrepreneurial skills. Young people plant sweet potatoes on vacant lots and are charged with turning their produce into marketable products.

Alison CarrickAlison Carrick is a Saint Louis-based, independent filmmaker, and writer. Her previous work has been screened at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase (Close Up, 2011; The Waiting Hour, 2013) and she has worked as a cinematographer on various local productions. Carrick has bachelor degrees in English and Anthropology from the University of Kansas and an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Missouri-Saint Louis.


The First Secret CityThe First Secret City – Before the creation of the secret cities of Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Hanford, the Manhattan Project hired the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works of St. Louis to refine the first uranium used in the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. For the next two decades, Mallinckrodt continued its classified work for the Atomic Energy Commission during the Cold War. The resulting radioactive waste contaminated numerous locations in the St. Louis area some of which have not been cleaned up 70 years after the end of World War II. Told through the eyes of an overexposed worker, the story expands through a series of interviews that careen down a toxic pathway leading to a fiery terminus at a smoldering, radioactively-contaminated landfill. The First Secret City is a feature-length documentary that reveals a forgotten history and its continuing impact on the community in the 21st Century, uncovering past wrongdoing and documenting the renewed struggles to confront the issue.

Jaskiran DhillonJaskiran Dhillon is a first generation academic and advocate who grew up on Treaty Six Cree Territory in Saskatchewan, Canada. Committed to the tenets of public intellectualism, Dhillon’s scholarship is intimately connected to, and informed by, on-the-ground advocacy and direct action. Her work spans the fields of settler colonialism, anthropology of the state, anti-racist and Indigenous feminism, youth studies, colonial violence, and Indigenous studies and has been published in The Guardian, Cultural Anthropology, Truthout, Public Seminar, Feminist Formations, and Decolonization, among other venues. Her first book, Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention (University of Toronto Press, 2017), provides a critical, ethnographic account of state interventions in the lives of urban indigenous youth. Her new research focuses on developing an anti-colonial critique of the environmental justice movement by examining Indigenous political movements working against the extractive industry, including the resistance at Standing Rock. She is also the guest editor of a special issue of Environment and Society that foregrounds Indigenous resistance to, and theorizing of, climate change. Dhillon is an Assistant Professor of Global Studies and Anthropology at The New School in New York City and a member of the New York City Stands with Standing Rock Collective.

Marnese JacksonMarnese Jackson is from Pontiac, Michigan, and she is the NAACP Regional Environmental and Climate Justice Organizer for the Midwest and Plain States. Her background is in energy efficiency and weatherization; she has worked as the Weatherization Program Coordinator for Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency and the Energy Services Outreach Specialist and Project Coordinator for the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy. Jackson is a liaison for the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and an organizer for the Energy Democracy Strategy Convening on Natural Gas. She was instrumental in organizing the 2017 Detroit Climate Justice March and was a member of Al Gore’s 2017 Climate Leadership Corps. She is a member of Soulardarity’s membership and utilities justice teams, supporting the nonprofit organization’s work of building a brighter future in Highland Park, Michigan, by educating and organizing for people-powered clean energy – including working to install solar-powered streetlights to reduce energy costs. 

McCowan Reverend Elston K. McCowan is the 1st Vice President of the Saint Louis City NAACP. He chairs both the Criminal Justice and Prison Committees. McCowan also serves on the Environmental Justice Committee for the Missouri State Conference of NAACP Branches, as well as the Prison Committee. He is the Co-Chair of the Gateway Green Alliance and the Chair of the Green Party Central Committee of Saint Louis City. McCowan is the Pastor of Star of Grace MBC and is also currently employed with the Saint Louis Public Schools as a Family Community Specialist at Walbridge STEAM Academy. 

Bruce MorrisonBruce Morrison is General Counsel of Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit public-interest environmental law center located in Saint Louis. Cases in his docket have included protecting parks and wilderness areas, improving air quality and public health, advancing renewable energy sources, protecting communities of color and low-income communities from toxins, and protecting and preserving the region’s rivers, wetlands, and floodplains. Morrison chairs the Environmental Justice Committee of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP.

Sarah Jaquette RaySarah Jaquette Ray is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where she also leads the Environmental Studies BA program and is an affiliated faculty member of the Environment and Community Master's program. She is the author of The Ecological Other: Environmental Exclusion in American Culture (University of Arizona Press, 2013) and two 2017 co-edited collections, Critical Norths: Space, Nature, Theory (University of Alaska Press) and Disability Studies & the Environmental Humanities: Toward an Eco-Crip Theory (University of Nebraska Press). She is currently working on another co-edited collection entitled Latinx Literary Environmentalisms: Justice, Place, and the Decolonial (with Temple University Press) and a second monograph on climate justice pedagogies, which considers the role of emotion and affect in classes that deal with climate change and environmental injustices. Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of the environmental humanities and environmental justice.

C.D. StelzerC.D. Stelzer is an award-winning investigative journalist. He first began reporting on nuclear waste in 1991 for the Riverfront Times, Saint Louis’ alternative weekly newspaper. In 2010, he revealed how workers and residents at a former Dow Chemical plant in Venice, Illinois, had been chronically exposed to Cold War-era radioactive contamination without their knowledge for decades. The stories appeared in FOCUS/Midwest online.


Carl ZimringCarl Zimring is a Professor of Sustainability Studies in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. An environmental historian, Zimring’s research focuses on ways that human societies manage wastes, and how waste management practices shape environmental, technological, economic, and social systems. His books include Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017); Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States (NYU Press, 2015; paperback 2017); and Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America (Rutgers University Press, 2005). With William Rathje, he edited the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage (Sage, 2012), an interdisciplinary reference volume in critical discard studies. 

Keynote Speaker:

Carolyn FinneyCarolyn Finney is a writer, performer, and cultural geographer at the University of Kentucky. As the author of Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans and the Great Outdoors (The University of North Carolina Press, 2014) and an interdisciplinary practitioner, she is deeply interested in issues related to identity, difference, creativity, and resilience. Along with public speaking, writing, and consulting, she serves on the U.S. National Parks Advisory Board and is part of The Next 100 Coalition – a first-of-its-kind coalition of civil rights, environmental justice, conservation, and community leaders from around the country who put together a vision statement and policy document on diversity and public lands for the Obama Administration. She is currently working on a number of projects including a new book that explores identity, race, lived experience, and the construction of a black environmental imaginary and a performance piece about John Muir (The N Word: Nature Revisited). (Photo credit: Peter Forbes).

Webster University's Year of International Human Rights began in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008. Since then, the YIHR has expanded to include a wide range of programming that includes guest lectures, film series, art performances and exhibits, common reading programs, and more. The YIHR culminates with the Annual Human Rights Conference, hosted at Webster's St. Louis, Missouri campus.

Previous Years of International Human Rights: