De-centering the White Voice: Environmental Justice Conference Creates Space for Organizers of Color


Clare Reimers-Hejnal ’26
Staff Writer

On April 15, students from across the 5Cs gathered for the Environmental Justice Conference located on Scripps campus. The event was organized by Scripps’ Power, Justice, and the Environment class and received over 50 official attendees.

Throughout the day, many additional students were drawn in by the diverse offering of workshops and the welcoming atmosphere. This interest, in part, reflected the intentional focus placed on the role of people of color (POC) within the organizing space.

Jacqueline Tsai ’25, a member of the working group that planned the event, saw the conference as an important opportunity to break from the norm of white voices in organizing initiatives. As a POC herself, Tsai finds that organizing in a predominantly white space can be scary.

“Our conference organizers made sure that we did not perpetuate this cycle of white-occupied organizing,” Tsai said. The group paid special attention to center organizers of color in environmental justice work.

The majority of the speakers and workshop leaders at the Environmental Justice Conference identified as people of color, reflecting the demographics of the communities most intimately affected by environmental justice issues. Their specialties varied but each speaker highlighted how environmental justice connects to abolition, workers’ rights, immigrant justice, Indigenous sovereignty, food justice, and beyond.

The conference was composed of a combination of workshops, keynote speakers, and a climate walking tour of Scripps campus. Participants were also invited to a community dinner and party at Pitzer’s Grove House at the end of the day.

To kick off the event, ACT-LA Communications Director Alison Vu spoke about how intersectional coalition building is central to success in organizing. ACT-LA is a coalition of 44 nonprofits and community organizations across Los Angeles County, united in their recognition that housing and transit justice must be the first step in addressing many other issues impacting LA county residents.

Vu noted that though ACT-LA’s campaigns are focused on uplifting Black and Brown communities, as they are the most harmed by exploitative systems, improvements in LA’s affordable housing and transportation system help everyone. “Collective liberation doesn’t happen until you lift those that are most disadvantaged in our communities,” she said.

The workshops that followed featured speakers from 5C Prison Abolition Collective, Huerta del Valle, the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, and the ACLU, and even the Scripps faculty. “I saw Alison Vu, Blessing, Annie, Nala, Maria Teresa Alonso, Professor Jasmine Baetz, Asiyahola Sankara, Eddie Torres, and Lizbeth Alben as examples of the intersectional nature of this fight, and by nature showed how centering voices of color is essential in winning this fight for environmental justice,” Tsai said.

One of the featured workshops was led by Blessing Roland-Magaji ‘24, Annie DeVoe ‘23, and Nala Berry ‘24. As members of 5C Prison Abolition who had participated in protests in Atlanta and the Weelaunee Forest against a proposed 300+ acre police training facility (Cop City), the group presented the basics of the Stop Cop City movement while sharing their experiences with both the forest defenders and the protests in downtown Atlanta.

Their stories showed how even with an issue like Cop City, where environmental protection is directly tied to abolition of the Prison Industrial Complex, there is all too often a lack of intersectionality. They explained how the fifth Week of Action in the Weelaunee Forest was almost entirely led by white environmentalists who were focused on protecting the forest rather than how Cop City would further endanger marginalized communities. In contrast, protests in downtown Atlanta were largely led by BIPOC organizers and were centered around the goal of abolition.

While educating students of the Claremont Colleges on environmental issues, the Environmental Justice Conference also sought to address the lack of diversity in many leftist organizations and provide a platform for organizers of color.

“This conference expanded who we viewed as ‘belonging’ to the organizing space, de-centered the white voice, and recentered voices of color,” Tsai said. “People of color are those that are systemically most impacted by environmental crises, and thus should be the ones leading this fight.”

Image Source: Clare Reimers-Hejnal ’26

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