Transforming Black Experiences Through Environmental Studies
WASHINGTON – It’s 2010 and Dr. Rubin Patterson is standing in the middle of Mount Rainier National Park in Seattle, Wash. He has no cell phone, Internet, or any way of communicating with the rest of the world. Instead, he will spend the next ten days becoming one with nature.
Before leaving, Patterson turns to his family and says, “If I don’t come back and they make a movie about me, get Samuel L. Jackson to play me.”
Patterson had been to plenty of rainforests in Indonesia, Brazil and Africa, but never to one in the United States.
“Because it was so foreign to me, I had a bit of anxiety,” says Patterson, reflecting on the journey. “It’s something that members of the white community do more regularly.”
Researchers have questioned why African Americans aren’t as involved in environmental studies for years. Patterson, Chair of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Howard University, believes things like history, culture and financing has played a huge role.
Growing up, Patterson had no interest in environmental studies. Though he lived in Tallahassee, Fla., national parks like the Everglades were never on his radar. Instead, he chose to pursue engineering at Florida State University. After receiving his master’s from the George Washington University and a PhD from Howard University, Patterson became a Professor of Sociology at the University of Toledo in 1992.
While on sabbatical in the early 2000’s, Patterson traveled to Atlanta with Howard University alum, Dr. Cynthia Hewitt, to work on grants involving African diaspora. By that time, Hewitt had become a noted environmentalist; something Patterson had not thought seriously about.
After losing a series of spontaneous debates with Hewitt, Patterson decided to return to Toledo and pursue environmental studies.
“How did I miss that?” asks Patterson. “Something that important and interesting, and I hadn’t given it as much of a second thought, which is kind of the thing around African Americans in general.”
Through his research, Patterson discovered that the environment is degraded more so in low-income communities of color.
“That’s when I realized I really needed to get involved,” says Patterson. “We have more led, asbestos, and higher levels of air pollution in our communities.”
Patterson’s first step was to write a book titled “Greening Africana Studies.” It details the “insufficient attention” given to the environment within Africana studies programs. It also explains how and why the gap between the two disciplines should be connected, and ultimately calls for a “green African transnationalism.”
“It’s the engineer in me to try and solve problems,” says Patterson. “Ninety percent of African Americans are at predominately white institutions, and while they often don’t take environmental science classes, they do take Africana studies courses.”
Since the release of his book, Patterson is now researching nature deficit disorder. Humans, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.
“It’s kind of amazing how few African Americans I see in Rock Creek Park, particularly in respect to kids,” says Patterson. “Nature is a part of who we are, and it’s only in this late industrial era where we have been so separated from it.”
No Scholarships, No Sound
WASHINGTON – After three months of waiting, members of the Howard University “Showtime” marching band still have not received their scholarship money. In response, they have gone silent, adding to the growing tension between the university and its students.
Howard University has had a tough year regarding financial aid and scholarship funds.
Back in September, hundreds of students expressed frustrations over financial aid, housing, registration and the school’s staff members. Eighty-nine percent of students rely on financial aid to fund their education at Howard. The university stated that the reasoning behind not being able to disperse the funds were due to network outages caused by power instability.
The inconveniences led to several protests around campus, as well as an online campaign with the slogan #takebackHU that went viral.
Now, one of the best-known marching bands in the country has decided to take a stand. Every year, the Showtime band is supposed to receive funding for both the organization’s budget and student scholarships. Members sign a contract detailing this before the semester begins. However, not a single member has received any of these funds.
The band’s protest started at a Howard University football game against Savannah State University on Oct. 31, where they wore all black during their performance.
During halftime, a member then turned the crowd and said, “As a band, we decided to wear all black for the lack of a budget, and to shed light on the lack of financial support for the student body.”
In response, the Howard University administration released an apology to the band. The announcement claimed that the university will honor the scholarship commitments, and is actively working to apply the awards as soon as possible.
Additionally, the hashtag #SilentShowtime has began to surface on various social media networks, causing the issue to receive more attention in the greater DC area.
Although the band has a rich legacy at the institution, abundant support for the silence by students, alumni, and even previous professors is evident through the hashtag.
The Dream Job of a Young Reporter
WASHINGTON – Elise Foley is in the midst of a hectic anti-immigration rally outside of the U.S. Capitol. She’s handed a microphone, asked which publication she is from, and is immediately booed by the entire crowd after stating she is from the Huffington Post, known for its pro-immigration reform outlook. Meanwhile, Matthew Boyle, a reporter that Foley had been having Twitter debates with dealing with immigration, states that he is from the Breitbart News, a conservative publication, and the crowd cheers for over a minute.
While members of Congress come out to talk to the crowd, Foley asks Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) about a poll in Iowa that asked if people were in favor of allowing immigrants to eventually become citizens. Though the poll showed support for immigration development within his state, King is known to be one of the most anti-immigration reform advocates in Congress. He said he did not agree with its results.
Foley’s experience at this rally allowed her to come to the realization that as a journalist, she is likely to be stereotyped because of the publication she is from. It also showed her how polarized an issue can be. People will boo and yell, or people will be supportive and encouraging. Dealing with both sides is a part of the job.
Foley, 25, is a politics and immigration reporter in the District of Columbia. With short brown hair, glasses, and a chai tea latte from Starbucks, Foley looks professional for an interview with a fashionable turquoise blazer that matches her nail polish.
She grew up in the suburbs of Arvada, Colo. with two brothers and both parents. However, at age 10, her mother died of cancer. After graduating high school, Foley decided to pursue journalism and political science at Northwestern University.
“I started in journalism because I thought it would be a good way to get out of my comfort zone a bit in terms of talking to people, and because I knew writing came easily to me,” says Foley. “In college, I joined The Daily Northwestern because I wanted to meet more people and learn new things.”
After interning at the Washington Independent after graduation, Foley was hired as a full-time reporter in October 2010. By early December, the Washington Independent shut down after just three years of publishing due to economic issues. However, this left Foley without a job for only four days, due to the outpouring of support from other local publications.
“Basically, a lot of people felt bad for us,” says Foley. “The publication had a good reputation of young talent that went on to do bigger things.”
The day after losing her job, the Huffington Post contacted Foley for an interview. Four days later, she was hired.
“We have a great work environment with really supportive bosses and fun people to work with,” says Foley. “It’s just a nice place to be. In terms of actual work, we have a lot of freedom to do what we want.”
At the Huffington Post, located at 1750 Pennsylvania Ave in Washington, everyone sits out in the newsroom with desks cluttered into little islands and big TVs always turned to MSNBC or Fox News. There is also a separate yoga and meditation room that allows employees to relax.
Foley sits with three others near one of the large TVs, and keeps a cluttered but not messy desk with a large monitor hooked up to her laptop, plus a mouse and keyboard. She also keeps her phone, a notepad, papers, and cups for water and coffee on it as well.
Foley first decided to cover immigration at the Washington Independent, and stuck with it when she arrived at the Huffington Post. Her first story, titled “McCain Dismisses DREAM Act Supporter,” was about an immigration advocate, Gaby Pacheco, facing an entirely different John McCain than she had met four years earlier. While the McCain in 2007 cared about immigration reform and the DREAM Act, the new McCain dismissed Pacheco and threatened to call the Capitol police on her.
"Elise is an ideal reporter,” says Jen Bendery, one of Foley’s coworkers at the Huffington Post. “She's quick on her feet, she's not afraid to ask politicians tough questions and she has creative story ideas. She's also pretty hilarious, sometimes.”
Aside from immigration, Foley is also interested in gay rights and women’s rights. Her Twitter account, with over 20,000 followers, features witty and informational tweets about all of these issues. “Jessica Alba tweeted one of my articles once – It’s all been downhill from there,” reads her Twitter biography, signifying her sarcastic and funny personality.
Foley considers working at the Huffington Post as one of her greatest accomplishments so far.
“Generally I’m just proud to work where I work,” says Foley. “I work with really great people, and I’m proud to be able to work with that team.”
Foley’s favorite piece that she has written so far is a profile of Eliseo Medina, a 67-year-old activist who fasted for 22 days on the National Mall in support of immigration reform.
The story was one of the longer pieces she has written, and received over 5,000 likes on Facebook after being published.
Aside from reporting, Foley enjoys yoga, tweeting, and spending time with her friends and coworkers.
“This is currently my dream job,” says Foley. “I’m only 25 and things will change I’m sure, but I have no plans to leave.”