Proposal for a 2011 Environmental Health and Justice JBS

Description

In this hands-on, multidisciplinary, community-engaged learning program, students will become deeply immersed in the law, policy, social impacts and science of current environmental health issues challenging individuals, families and communities today. The focus will be on low-income, diverse populations as we examine issues at the juncture of environmental challenges and social justice — toxic exposures in food, soils, air and water disproportionately affecting low income communities; decisions about location of hazardous waste facilities; access to environmentally safe and affordable housing and others.

Along with strong grounding in the course material, students will spend much of the time in the field and in the community, acquiring real skills for real needs to engage in these issues firsthand: application of laws to assist client, negotiation, advocacy, interviewing and counseling, environmental health study design and execution, field monitoring and assessment, sampling methodology and data analysis, working with key scientific equipment and tools, and more.

Throughout the JBS program, students will collaborate directly with community organizations and government agencies to tackle critical environmental health problems facing low-income residents in the Waltham and Greater Boston community. Among other community partnership projects, students will run a Housing Advocacy clinic for low-income Waltham residents, and design and produce an environmental justice health study that they will present to the affected local and scientific community at the end of the JBS. We will also do some travel together as a group; the summer 2010 Environmental Health and Justice JBS began with a two-day stay on Cape Cod, and included other beach trips, meals together and involvement at an environmental health conference.

Target Audience and Prerequisites

This JBS is suited for students across the disciplines at all levels with an interest in engaging in the community as part of their academic work. There are no prerequisites. Students with an interest in environmental studies; HSSP; social policy and social justice; sociology; women and gender studies; and legal studies may have particular interest, although participants last summer included students majoring in economics, politics and other fields as well. We will select up to 15 students for participation based on interviews and personal essays.

Courses

Course Content, Attributes, Evaluation

This JBS will consist of the following interwoven components:

Environmental Health, Social Justice and Empowerment (AMST 102aj)

Instructor: Laura Goldin

Instruction and engagement with the Waltham and Boston area communities in environmental justice and toxic exposure and health concepts and issues as they affect families, communities, women and minorities. Students will explore the law, policy, science, history and social impacts of current environmental health issues challenging individuals, families and communities today. We will focus on low-income, immigrant populations, and challenges ranging from exposure to contaminated water and food to dealing with the effects of climate change.

Students will become involved firsthand with the topics studied through field trips and visiting speakers, discussions with the stakeholders themselves, field observation, research, writing and reflection. They also will collaborate directly with community organizations, government agencies and individuals, participating in the law and policy in action as we explore initiatives for addressing local environmental health challenges, such as the EPA Lead Enforcement Initiative and the Lead Action Collaborative program to reduce childhood lead paint exposure in high-risk housing, and Alternative for Community and Environment’s initiative to reduce asthma triggers such as diesel pollution in low-income neighborhoods.

Throughout the JBS, students also will address the particular challenges of toxic exposures in low-income housing in Waltham through twice-weekly work at the Waltham Alliance to Create Housing’s (WATCH) Tenant Advocacy Clinic, organized and staffed by my classes in collaboration with the Boston College Law School Legal Assistance Bureau, and Greater Boston Legal Services. All students will become trained advocates at the Advocacy Clinic, meeting in teams with clients to hear concerns, provide assistance, furnish information on basic legal rights and provide targeted referrals to other needed social services.

Students will learn the applicable substantive housing and discrimination law and the relationship between toxic exposure and housing conditions, as well as critical skills such as interviewing, legal research and application of facts to law, negotiation, written and oral advocacy and case management, and working with low-income and multiethnic communities. Students may also see selected housing cases as they proceed through the court system, and work in collaboration with the Harvard Law No One Leaves eviction prevention program and local organizations on direct intervention initiatives with low-income tenants in the Boston area to prevent homelessness and substandard housing conditions due to foreclosures.

Attributes

School of Social Science/Humanities, satisfies Writing Intensive and Oral Communication, elective in legal studies; women and gender studies; ENVS/Social Science Group, IGS/Global environment, SJSP/Dynamics of Discrimination and Inequality. I hope to receive for approval from HSSP committee as an HSSP elective.

Assignments and Evaluation

Series of papers requiring research and analysis, reflection essays, quizzes, individual and group presentations, project work. Also Advocacy Clinic work including legal research and drafting, case management, tenant advocacy, writings in Weekly Case Forum and blogs. 

Environmental Health: The Science of Toxic Exposure (BISC 6bj) 

Instructors: James Stewart et al., Laura Goldin 

This course will introduce students to the science and tools of environmental health, and give students hands-on skills to explore directly exposure issues experienced by local, primarily low-income communities through fieldwork and studies. Students will be introduced to the tools of toxicology, epidemiology and risk assessment as applied to specific environmental issues such as air and water quality and chemical contamination, and the impact on human health of environmental contamination with toxic, carcinogenic, or pathogenic agents. One specific focus of study will be on understanding environmental exposure issues in residential settings, and in particular within low income communities. Students will learn the potential environmental health effects of particulate exposures (fine, ultrafine, etc.) nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, lead, hormone disruptors, mold and aldehydes.

Students will use their environmental health monitoring and assessment and other tools in a supervised settings in the field along with community partners or government agencies. Student fieldwork might involve calibrating equipment, planning inspections, accompanying inspectors, taking measurements, participating in evaluation of worker protection at remediation sites, analyzing sampling data, participating in the regulatory enforcement process, or other tasks. Potential partners include environmental health specialists from the Boston Public Health Commission, Department of Public Health, Department of Environmental Protection, a municipal Public Health department or residential lead inspectors. With these partners, students may address a range of possible community hazards such as lead, mold, formaldehyde, unknown chemicals smell reports, radon, carbon monoxide, infectious diseases, diesel exhaust and cat or other allergens.

Attributes

Elective ENVS/Natural Sciences Group, HSSP elective/Focal Area A Biological Dimensions of Health and Illness, SN School of Science distribution requirement.

Assignments and Evaluation

Research assignments and study questions, quizzes, research papers integrated with other components of JBS including participation in hands-on work, reflection assignments, final presentation.

Field Research and Study Methods (ENVS 102j)*

Instructors: James Stewart et al. and Laura Goldin

This new course is designed as the skills and methods component of the proposed four-course Environmental Health and Justice JBS. The course will train students in environmental health study design, sampling methodology, field research, use of environmental health field equipment, data interpretation, statistical analysis and risk communication. The course will equip students to carry out an environmental health research study integral to the themes of the EH&E JBS in collaboration with a local environmental justice organization, and prepare and present their findings to community groups and o the scientific community, possibly at a scientific conference. This course would be offered only in the context of the Environmental Health and Justice JBS.

* The registrar agrees this could be reasonable course designation, used here as placeholder. 

Learning Objectives
Attributes

Proposed elective ENVS/Natural Sciences Group, HSSP, SN School of Science distribution requirement/

Assignments and Evaluation

Performance in steps of study design and execution, written and oral presentations.

General Note on Assignments, Evaluation

For evaluation purposes, students will complete some assignments specifically reflecting progress in each individual course component of JBS. Many assignments, however, will be designed intentionally to require students to integrate their learning in this multidisciplinary JBS.

Experiential Learning and Community-Engaged Learning

Partnerships with organizations and an integral part of this program as described above. Most of the organizational partnerships are already well-developed. I also plan to use the opportunity of my academic leave in spring 2011, when will be working in an official capacity with the EPA Region 1 Civil Rights/Environmental Justice Office to identify exciting new collaborations and research opportunities to pursue with students in this JBS.

General Schedule

Thirteen weeks of instruction in the classroom and in the field, plus practicum and research, as set forth below.  Since course materials, assignments, fieldwork, etc. are intentionally integrated within the JBS structure, the schedule below reflects a mix from among individual courses. Each course, however, will meet for at least the minimum number of contact hours.

Instruction: Average weekly seven hours in the classroom plus seven hours in additional fieldwork instruction, for a total of 14 hours. Classroom hours may be concentrated more heavily into the earlier weeks in order to prepare students to engage in field practicum work and projects, and into the later weeks for preparation of study results and presentations, reflection and integration of field experiences.

Community engagement and practicum activities directly supervised by instructor: 6 hours.

Total contact hours: 260 hours overall, and each course will meet for at least the minimum number of contact hours. (I may need to reduce somewhat if it feels like too much for students to handle.) 

Sample Weekly Schedule

Monday and Tuesday
Wednesday and Thursday
Monday and Thursday
Selected Sundays and Evenings

Campus Resources

Classroom: Although much of the teaching and field activities will occur away from campus, we will need a dedicated classroom with media (PC, digital projector, video, screen) for some of the time, possibly up to seven hours per week. Ideally, we would like to be able to leave research tools, equipment locked in or near the classroom overnight when needed.

LTS/Media Services: Possible part-time loan of digital camera, camcorder or other video tools.

Campus Housing: I will encourage students who participate in this JBS to live off campus since it may help students to become more easily engaged in the Waltham community and disengaged from campus life. But some students may chose to stay on campus.

Expenses

See attached chart.

Effect on Program and Department

This JBS would enhance the environmental studies program by enabling students to carry on their classroom learning in the field and within the community without the constraints of the normal semester scheduling time limitations. It would also allow us to integrate into a rich, interdisciplinary learning experience for students the Environmental Law and Justice curriculum with the science and tools of Environmental Health and Toxics. Students who participate in both the Field Semester JBS and this Environmental Health and Justice JBS would cover the major bulk of the ENVS curriculum in a particularly fulfilling, experiential manner. Our current idea is to alternate Field Semester JBS and Environmental Health and Justice JBS during the fall.

This program would also be useful for HSSP, SJSP, LGLS, SOC and other majors and programs that currently choose or may chose to cross-list the entire program or its individual course components. For example, this JBS may be particularly suited to HSSP majors and SJSP minors.