Students and local groups aim for diversity in environmental movement

By Maddie Stagnaro  – mstagn[email protected] – Staff Writer
The Center for Diversity Education and UNC Asheville’s Student Environmental Center plan to host a conference emphasizing the importance of diversity in the environmental movement in western North Carolina.
“This is targeted toward building networks and pipelines between organizations of people of color and organizations that focus on the environment and conservation,” said Deborah Miles, director of CDE.
The conference will be held in the W.C. Reid Center in Asheville when renovations complete. Students can expect to see a variety of organizations pairing up to discuss different methods in diversifying the environmental movement in WNC and Asheville.
The SEC and the CDE plan on working together for a one-day conference where they will educate local environmental groups and organizations about the importance of diversity, said Valentin DeLeon, an intern for both UNCA’s SEC and CDE.
“We are working to promote collaboration between organizations that represent people of color and agencies that focus in environmental conservation and preservation,” DeLeon said. “The meaningful discussions that will take place could potentially lead to long-lasting relationships that would help bridge the gap separating the environmental institutions from the underrepresented minorities.”
Miles said she believes students should be aware of the ever-changing demography in the United States, and everyone should be able to access green space to help take care of the earth, water and air.
“It is all about 2042. That is the year the white, non-hispanic population dips below 50 percent. The other 50 percent of the voters need to equally feel that, ‘This land is my land.’” Miles said.
Deleon said he believes society has made a lot of progress in the environmental movement, but as the demographics and backgrounds of people change, so will the environmental movement in North America.
“We need to have everyone on the same page so that we can build the safety net that will catch us if we begin to fall.  The organizations that will be attending this event have had difficulty in their efforts of collaboration, so we hope to offer resources that will assist them in various ways.” DeLeon said.
According to DeLeon, the purpose of the conference is to get as many people as possible with interest in this topic, with as many different backgrounds, to discuss innovation and forward thinking in the same room together.
“A person’s background is much more than their ancestors and heritage. Socioeconomic status, geographic location, age, gender and even educational background are all equally as important as the buzzwords of the traditional diversity conversations like race and ethnicity,” DeLeon said.
DeLeon also said he thinks of race in terms of ecosystems.
“Ecosystems that are rich in diversity have greater resilience and are therefore able to recover more readily from stresses.  When ecosystems are diverse, there is a range of pathways for the primary needs, so that if one is damaged or destroyed, an alternative pathway may be used, and the ecosystem can continue functioning at its normal level,” DeLeon said.
Officials with the SEC and CDE said they want to create a durable and committed movement that enhances the stewardship of the environment.
All of the organizations the groups are working with are local, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Dogwood Alliance. Each organization has at least one representative serving on the conference committee.
SEC and CDE officials said they want to work with a total of 110 more companies before the conference this fall, in addition to the six they currently work with.
“There are many personal connections we would like to have with the local environmental organizations,” said Yaw Amanfoh, a sophomore mathematics student at UNCA.
Amanfoh said he serves as an EcoRep for Overlook Hall, as well as a volunteer in undergraduate research for SEC.
“We want to have a plethora of representation and participation in our conference,” Amanfoh said.