University News

EmPower concert ties social, environmental justice

Student group joins with national organization to bring environmentalist speakers, local bands to campus

Contributing Writer
Monday, October 5, 2015

Through a live concert, speakers and a conference this weekend, student environmental group emPOWER worked to raise awareness of environmental issues related to climate change and social justice. The concert, hosted in partnership with the national organization Know Tomorrow, was held in Salomon 101 after bad weather forced a venue change from the Main Green.

“We wanted to have a night of fun music and enjoying ourselves” but also to deliver “a social justice message that we need to do something about climate,” said Maria Camila Bustos ’16, executive director of emPOWER and coordinator of the concert. “Essentially this is a social justice issue,” she said.

The concert and keynote speakers attracted around 40 students Friday.

“Local bands including Young Hummus, What Cheer? Brigade, Sons of Providence, Sebastián Oreo and Sports Footage took the stage. Kerry Kennedy, a human rights activist and member of Know Tomorrow, delivered the event’s keynote address. Analisa Freitas of Voces Verdes, a Latino organization dedicated to protecting the environment, also spoke.

Both speakers connected environmental action with social action.

“We don’t have environmental problems. We have social problems,” Freitas said.

“There is a direct correlation between democracy and human rights and the environment,” Kerry said.

On Saturday, emPOWER hosted the Rhode Island Youth Summit on the Environment in Wilson Hall. RYSE was open to students from Brown, the Rhode Island School of Design and local high schools.

EmPOWER offered seven different talks, including one on the intersection of environmental and workers’ justice, the use of storytelling for social change and diversity and the environment. Speakers included representatives from the Student Labor Alliance, the Rhode Island Environmental Justice League and 350 Massachusetts.

Bustos said she hoped the conference provided opportunities to learn more about a wide variety of environmental issues. Qianyi Zang, a first-year at RISD, attended a talk about new energy technology including the latest solar panel inventions. “It’s a new concept,” and in the future, “I would want to learn more about that,” she said.

For those with prior knowledge on environmental issues, Bustos hoped the conference would “challenge how they understand” them and raise questions about “how (these issues) intersect with class and race and others things that we care about.” The impact of the conference “is kind of a twofold thing depending on people’s backgrounds,” Bustos added.

Freitas gave the keynote speech at RYSE and discussed the connection between environmental issues, racial issues and social justice issues, finishing the talk with a question-and-answer session.

“You don’t have to be an activist,” Bustos said. “But from wherever you are, in business, in engineering, there’s a component of what your environmental impact is, and social impact as well.”

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