Student Voices

Read below to hear first hand accounts from students who participated on the JBS Environmental Health and Justice program in the fall of 2011.

It is the experience of a lifetime and there will probably be nothing like this in college, aside from Study abroad, perhaps.

Loved loved this program and words alone cannot express how much I learned. It was truly a life changing experience

 The experiential learning components of the program were unlike any education I have ever had and was far more beneficial than any classroom setting.  The unique form of learning and above all the dedication of Professor Goldin. Her determination and sacrifice pushed us to do our best and learn the most out of it. JBS prepared me for my future by sampling all types of different environmental studies' and legal studies' fields. The class size was small which was perfect for intellectual growth on the whole and personal growth. Most of all, it really felt like you were DOING something. In a classroom, you just listen to the professor talk about a subject. In JBS, you DO things. I'd choose JBS any day over a textbook reading. Professor Goldin is the perfect professor to lead a program like this. With her unique ties to the community and organizations, she was able to have us work with various people according to particular issues we studied.

I had such an amazing experience on all of our trips, both to organizations in and around Boston as well as to Kentucky, and learned so much from the nail salon study.  I cannot wait to come back next year and get involved with some of these projects again.  Everything is interconnected and having a class that puts the pieces together is very beneficial.  The guest speakers, places we visited all coincided very well with the books that we read and the documentaries that we watched.  It was amazing how many famous people we met through this program.

Every subject we studied resonated with me. Profesor Goldin is a brilliant educator; she designed a curriculum that made us see the issues first hand, talk about them with experts, and relate them back to our own lives. I have found that experiential education is the best approach to learning for me as an individual, but everybody is different. Regardless, in such a small classroom, every single student was engaged, had to participate, and got the freedom to make the learning and experience their own - which I find essential to making the learning stick.

I definitely believe that studying environmental justice first-hand is the best way to do so. As college kids that are lucky enough to go to Brandeis, many of us have not interacted with or dealt with environmental health and justice issues before. Being able to talk about [environmental health] with people who actually experience such issues was more valuable than I could have ever imagined.

Before taking this JBS, I had extremely limited knowledge of environmental justice, but believe learning about it (especially via first-hand experiences) has radically changed the way I view not only broader American culture, but the culture of communities.  Seeking to find ways to empower every human being to be able to live a healthy life is an extremely daunting task, but one which seems much more feasible given the organizations and programs we were given the opportunity to work with. Naturally, many times I felt overwhelmed by the experiences we heard about or encountered first-hand, but I feel much more confident in my ability to contribute to other humans after experiencing this JBS.

This class made me think beyond what I normally would have perceived in an average class.  It also helped me grow personally in so many different ways.  All of this would not have been possible without [Professor Goldin's] passion for social justice, environmental justice and our JBS class. It took a lot of patience and time to deal with our class and I am extremely grateful that [Professor Goldin] took it upon [herself] to make sure we all had the best experience possible.  We all took a LOT out of this semester. We all learned an exponential amount from each other, from [Professor Goldin] and from our guest lecturers.  But we didn’t just learn.  We tackled problems; we came up with crazy solutions.  We forged amazing friendships.  None of this would have taken flight without [Professor Goldin's] guidance. 

Small class sizes are what attracted me to Brandeis to begin with. JBS is a dream come true with a specialized small task force of students. Overall, not only did we learn an incredible amount from each other, but we all grew to be really great friends. The best thing about small class sizes is that you really feel like you matter in a class. 

I learn much better when I can see and do what is being taught and this program allowed the information to be taught and experienced in so many different methods that everybody was able to benefit from it.

Having class outdoors and taking field trips to beautiful places - who said learning can't be fun? The WATCH clinic was an essential learning point - it revealed the emotional weight of social justice issues and required us to be on top of our game and knowledge of housing rights. The Kentucky trip was phenomenal - a complete cultural experience, the most beautiful sights and hikes, met really wise and interesting people, got to see the issue from different perspectives. The nail salon study gave us an important introduction to what environmental health work looks like on the ground, with inter-agency meetings at Boston Public Health and learning how to use the instruments and design the study. I have a whole new understanding of what the work looks like and means to society as a whole. Also, writing a paper on water contamination and water rights in India was a treat for me. I was able to research an issue I am deeply passionate about, and I learned an incredible amount in the process.

JBS was an eye opening experience every day.

The chance to talk to and form relationships with such brilliant people was huge for me. Prof. Goldin is foremost an outstanding teacher and individual, and learning from her is such a pleasure. And for me, talking to farmers, green chemists, activists, authors, film producers, ect. was an enormous part of my experience. I got to ask my burning questions to truly qualified people, and approach the issue of environmental justice and health from so many angles. It is fun for me because I am also passionate about education models and particularly experiential education. So throughout the program, I was analyzing my learning and taking away a lot of knowledge about learning, curriculums, program planning and such. In the end of the day, it was truly satisfying to know that I was being opened up to a great deal of knowledge, and that I was giving back to the community at the same time.

This program showed me that it IS actually possible for me to get a job in something useful that will help something/somebody and that I can make a difference.

I don't think that I could ever express fully my gratitude, happiness, and excitement about this semester. I know I have told you [Professor Goldin] numerous times in the past about how much I have enjoyed myself, but just wanted to take one more time to thank you and Babacar for such a wonderful semester! I really don't think any other professor/dynamic guy duo could have pulled off this semester with such success. You two really made the experience and facilitated so many AMAZING learning opportunities for us all that I know would never have been the same in any other situation. You both are so wonderful, and I hope that I get the chance to work with you both in the future!

Reflections on the Academic Content

Meeting with the Shabecoff’s, for me, was a highlight of the semester.  Their messages about the connections between the environment and human health completed a greater picture of our program’s focus on environmental justice. 

 The first day our group met with Boston Public Health Commission, I could not stop thinking about how this problem of environmental exposure existed. How does a government, that exists to serve the people, allow human health to be compromised so frequently?  Why are none of these chemicals regulated? Reading “Poisoned for Profit” answered a lot of these questions.  And in our discussion, Philip Shabecoff brought all of these answers down to one word: greed. 

 This word explains the social and environmental problems caused by mountaintop removal.  It explains the abuses of landlords to tenants, the illegal dumping of chemicals, and the millions of dollars spent annually on industry lobbying to prevent regulations on toxic chemicals and environmental hazards.  As our guests noted, our current economic policies were based on Milton Freedman’s idea of market capitalism (Reaganomics), that exempted companies and individuals from any social responsibility other than maximizing profits.  Yesterday, China experienced a coal mining disaster, where four people were confirmed killed and fifty are still missing. When reading about this, my mind immediately jumped to Philip Shabecoff’s conclusion, that the CEO’s of these corporations should be thrown in prison. By continuing business models that are killing people, either directly (like in that Chinese mine), or indirectly through toxic contamination from waste, they are guilty of murder.  I am not sure to what extent I agree with Mr. Shabecoff on this point, but I recognize that our current economic and business systems externalize social costs, and leave no one in the corporation accountable for wrongdoing. Thus I strongly connected with the Shabecoff’s view that our entire society needs a structural change.  Social responsibility must become more important than profits if there is to be any significant improvements in environmental degradation and issues of public health.  

I agree with my classmates that my understanding and connections to the topic were enhanced by hearing the main points of the book emphasized in a powerpoint given by the authors.  Having a presentation and discussion, after reading the book, created a critical pedagogy for internalizing the severity and importance of these issues.

  Going out to lunch with the Shabecoff’s gave us a more informal way of continuing the conversations, which I found extremely engaging. I couldn’t help but be amazed by Mr. Shabecoffs professional history and groundbreaking work in environmental journalism.  To me, he is a real environmental hero.  He has profoundly changed our societies awareness of environmental issues, which is arguably the most important step in creating real change.  I felt very fortunate to spend my morning with such inspirational people.

Both times I have worked with “Breaking Barriers” classes, I have found the experiences deeply rewarding.  We had the challenge of connecting to immigrants, who barely spoke the same language as us and come from very different places.  By starting with the “me too” icebreaker, we were able to ease the tensions and begin making connections with each other.  When we moved into small groups, I was paired with a moderate (English level) Spanish speaker, and a beginner Creole speaker.  I was able to maintain a very educational and engaging conversation with the Spanish speaker. We talked about the different vocab words and applied them to real life situations.  I was happy to hear that my partner, though making a meager living, had good working conditions and a positive relationship with her boss.  Regardless, knowing the laws that protect her in the workplace could only positively influence her and her families working conditions.  I also saw value in emphasizing the vocabulary because it gives them the tools to advocate for their own rights in the workplace.  Getting through to the Creole speaker was much more challenging.  She did not appear to know many basic words, like work or hours, which made teaching her about her rights quite difficult.  By the end, I had exchanged stories and laughs with the Spanish speaker and we had began developing a relationship.  In working with immigrants and environmental justice, having these cross-cultural experiences is crucial.  While learning about what shapes the lives and worldviews of the immigrant or low-income communities we are working with, they can simultaneously learn about what rights they hold and examine the injustices that need to be fixed from examining other communities.

The ACE visit was my favorite field trip so far. While studying social and environmental injustices often leaves me hopeless and disempowered, I left ACE on a very different note.  ACE’s campaigns and grassroots organizing have proven the strength and effectiveness of creating people power. Moreover, their ability to foster the creativity of youth for activist purposes and social campaigns is admirable.  I was equally impressed by the ability of ACE to integrate with the schools by working with teachers. By creating movements that are youth and consequentially family led, such as the campaign against idling, the needs of the community seem to be listened to and understood more readily. Although white outsider lawyers started ACE, the engine that seems to make it run is the proactive and motivated employees who come from Roxbury.  Hearing the passion and empowerment held by the ACE employees captivated me.  The workers we spoke with all clearly cared about both the issues and their community. Instead of letting the MBTA quietly take advantage of them, they spoke out and organized, eventually creating a riders union.  Getting the chance to walk through the streets and see the justice issues first hand was a valuable experience and helped me understand the issues in a much deeper way.