Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

King celebration emphasizes links between equity and sustainability

A 1987 study found that the best predictor for where to find hazardous or toxic waste sites was not factors such as hydrology, geology or property values — it was race demographics. A similar study in 2007 found the correlation to be even more dramatic: toxic sites were more likely to be near minority neighborhoods.

Willamette University College of Law Professor Robin Morris Collin cited these studies recently as she iterated the importance of addressing equity in relation to sustainability. Her lecture, “Race, Waste and Sustainability: From Common Origins to Our Common Future,” launched the university’s two-week celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

With a theme of “Changing the Colors of Sustainability,” the celebration featured a diverse array of lectures, discussions, community service events and artistic performances. Sustainability awareness is already strong at Willamette — which was named the first university in the nation for sustainability activities by the National Wildlife Federation — and the celebration aimed to call attention to the social justice issues that often get left out of sustainability discussions.

The Monday evening program began with a dramatic interpretation of Angela Davis, performed by Jean Moule, associate professor at Oregon State University’s College of Education. Entitled “I Dream A World, Portraits of Black Women Who Dreamed America: Angela Davis,” the performance was a powerful account of Davis’s bafflement at discrimination and the burdens under which she operated as a young woman.

Davis, a long-time civil rights activist and educator, addressed campus and the community in person last Friday evening in a full Smith Auditorium. 

For a full list of the recent events celebrating King, visit the Office of Multicultural Affairs website.