Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Environmental Justice Collective rejects University sponsorship

Courtesy of Julianne Bantayan

The Environmental Justice Collective registered as a student organization to continue their mission of addressing inequity in environmentalism while still complying with Senate Bill 17, which banned diversity, equity and inclusion offices and hiring practices in public universities, they announced March 29.

The Collective, previously housed under the Campus Environmental Center, shifted their mission to remove diversity, equity and inclusion language when SB 17 went into effect. Collective co-leader Julianne Bantayan said the organization spent the semester deciding whether to stay in the center and face SB 17 restrictions, or register as a student organization and continue their diversity practices. 

The University declined to comment.

Co-leader Anya Gandavadi said no matter what the law says, the Collective’s high attendance rates prove students crave a space to discuss diversity and equity in environmentalism.

“Our entire mission from day one has been to create a safe space for BIPOC students and all students to feel like they can engage with intersectional environmentalism from an entry level knowledge,” Gandavadi said. “It feels like that’s not at all close to (UT’s) priority and (UT sees) it as a threat, which is not fun to hear. So I’d say the biggest effect on the community has been the mental message of, ‘You’re not welcome here.’” 

The Collective made a list of pros and cons concerning staying in the CEC. Gandavadi said the pros included a staff advisor, resources, a bigger audience and a $13 pay rate for leaders. 

Cons included having to censor their ability to discuss social justice, Gandavadi said. Staying true to their mission outweighed the pros that come with a University sponsorship, she said. 

“All of our members came to the conclusion that it felt disingenuous to do our work without acknowledging these histories and using these words because language is powerful,” Gandavadi said. 

Law professor Tom McGarity said he cannot fully teach environmental justice without mentioning diversity and equity. He said while the University once moved in the right direction to become more inclusive, SB 17 made the University take some steps back. 

“It sends out a message that if you’re interested in equity, if you’re interested in environmental justice, the University is not going to support you,” McGarity said. 

Since the Collective can no longer meet with CEC staff, Gandavadi said the organization created a faculty council composed of professors from the Department of Geography with interest in promoting environmental justice to bridge the gap between students and faculty. She said this also benefits the professors because it shows them what students actually need to learn in class when it comes to environmental justice. 

“No matter what the law says, these topics are real and they’re being experienced by so many people,” Bantayan said. “Just because the law says DEI is bad, it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden environmental racism is gone.”

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