In the first of a series of collaborations between Temple’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership, the Office of Sustainability and Paley Library, students, faculty, and community members came together to host a roundtable on environmental justice. People came from organizations like Philly Thrive, Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Serenity Soular, the Philadelphia Streets Department and the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council.
“The goal was to dialogue together to find solutions,” said Kathleen Grady, director of Sustainability at Temple. The department is in charge of maintaining the university’s environmental obligations and furthering Temple’s goal to become carbon free by 2050. The office does this through programs like the roundtable held Thursday and a Fruit Tree Adoption program that will be held in November.
“Temple students have gotten a bad rap in the community, but there is a real energy in the student body to have an impact,” she said.
One solution suggested during the group portion of the program was to find ways to involve Temple students in things like the Philadelphia Streets Department’s SWEEP initiative. According to its website, SWEEP is a “city-run program created to educate Philadelphia citizens about their responsibilities under the Sanitation Code.”
The idea proposed during the roundtable would have students working directly with the Streets Department and community to keep the sidewalks and streets clean.
“We’re always in education mode first,” said Kerry Withers, an enforcement officer for the Streets Department. “Dumping in the North Philly area is out of control. [Students are] not the only people that are here.”
Doryán De Angel of TTF Watershed Partnership warned of the dangers of stormwater runoff in the local water supply.
“When all that rain water is flowing and rushing into the storm drains, it carries with it all the trash, all the debris, all the chemicals and pollutants,” De Angel said. “[These are things] that are on our streets, on the roofs, on the area around us, and this flows into the creek.”
Also in attendance were representatives from Philly Thrive, a local environmental justice nonprofit, whose “Right to Breathe Campaign” aims to oppose measures to turn Philadelphia into an energy hub. North Philadelphia resident Bernadette Williams got involved after losing her mother, brother and sister to cancer that she said was tied to water pollution from a nearby oil refinery. Thrive has been fighting to stop its expansion.
“I found out when I was 40 years old that I had asthma, and I couldn’t understand how,” Williams said during the roundtable. “And it’s because I used to live in South Philly right where they want to expand the refinery and the electric company has substations. Right in that area there’s a lot of people with respiratory problems. This is everybody’s problem. We all need to breathe.”
“Events like this are a really good opportunity to step out of that role as just a Temple student,” said Faithe Beadle, a sophomore psychology and human development & community engagement major. As a member of IDEAL’s Student Advisory Coalition, she acted with other Temple students as facilitators for the night’s discussion.
“We all go to school here in North Philly, but we forget that this is someone’s home,” she said.
Jacob Garnjost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.