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Conversation Series Session 2

Below you will find detailed descriptions of the work that will be presented during the Conversation Series: Session 2 on April 14

"Integrating Social Equity into Multi-objective Optimization for Urban Stormwater Low Impact Development"

Seth Herbst (he/him)

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Graduate Student

The environmental justice problem that I am addressing concerns the inequitable distribution of green infrastructure in urban communities and how one of the most current optimization practices may perpetuate it. Previous spatial optimization studies have determined the "best" local locations for future green infrastructure entirely based on hydrologic and economic goals. My work introduces a way for future optimization studies to account for social equity when searching for "best" locations for future green infrastructure. Primarily, my work demonstrates the need to introduce a metric for social equity when conducting spatial optimization studies for stormwater low impact development.

A clear blind spot/limitation in my work is that equitable green infrastructure design is not just an optimization problem. Throughout the course of my research, I have learned that green infrastructure planning is a highly collaborative process . The "best" locations for future green infrastructure are ultimately the choice of property owners, community members, and local officials. Though my method offers material that can help identify underserved community areas for greening, I do not offer much detail on how optimal designs can reach the implementation stage.

Next steps include publishing this work so others can reproduce and improve upon my method and to communicate the optimization results to local government officials and stakeholders so that they can better plan for more equitable green infrastructure in Charlottesville and Albemarle County in the future. My work teaches that the most current and state-of-the-art infrastructure design methods can still be improved by accounting for social equity goals and that engineering researchers must always be mindful of the environmental justice implications of their work


"Ocean Microplastic Contamination: A Design Perspective"

Sarah Rivard (she/her)

School of Architecture, Graduate/Professional Student

Microplastic fiber contaminates all environments and life on Earth. I believe architecture is the physical manifestation of the negotiation between humans and the environment. Our environment has changed due to this ubiquitous contamination, therefore, we must change the way we design. My project specifically looks at ocean contamination through the site of the Mariana’s Trench Marine National Monument and its protected ecosystems. My thesis proposes a theoretical framework for designing our place within the relational ecosystems of Earth, a design process that embodies this way of thinking, and a design proposal that tests it.

There is still so much unknown about the systems/cycles of harm related to this contaminant. Some of the questions I have are not directly design-related and, thus, are a tangential part of my thesis. I would love it if this conversation could inspire others with different academic backgrounds to research this issue as well.

This work has taught me that we cannot ever act in isolation because the systems of this planet are not linear. This contaminant is such a stark example of that because it is at the intersection of so many systems of harm. I think this work teaches that to care about the health of deep sea amphipods is to care about the health of the fish population of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, the entire food chain of the fish, the indigenous practices of the people of the Mariana Islands, the quality of the seawater, the habitat of the trench, and the practices of all who impact those ecosystems. I use this as one example to say that I think Environmental Justice includes non-human species because humans and non-humans do not exist in separate worlds. This contaminant bridges environments and species. It impacts us all and it’s here to stay


"Coasts in Crisis: Caribbean Arts and Cultures after Hurricanes"

Rebecca “Elise” Foote(she/her)

Department of English, Graduate/Professional Student

My project, "Coasts in Crisis," explores the importance of creating art in the aftermath of hurricanes in the Caribbean. "Coasts" began as an in-person event at the University of Virginia in September 2019, and this project translates the event--from photographs of the art to recorded interviews and musical performances--into a website that hopes to raise awareness and increase access to the project and the questions posed by the artists involved. Through this project, my collaborators and I explore the implications of increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes in the Caribbean, a region already marked by the ongoing disaster of colonialism. The governing aesthetic for the website is based on the Caribbean spiral, commonly defined as "returning with difference" in various cultural productions, to interrogate the narrative of hurricanes as exceptional events. In doing so, we situate hurricanes within longer historical trajectories to understand how this history of colonialism intersects with environmental studies in both the past and the present and with regions outside of the Caribbean. As it stands, one of the difficulties posed by the project is how to translate the Caribbean spiral into often rigid, linear digital platforms. Currently, the site uses Drupal as a content management system, which inhibits the spiral form; because of this, we are in the process of migrating the site to Jekyll, a static site generator that would give us more flexibility in the site design. The goal is to use these digital tools in conjunction with the art displayed on the site to explore environmental justice in the Caribbean by changing the way we think of and ask questions about disaster in the region.


"Under pressure: Community health impacts of gas pipeline compressor stations"

Rachael King (she/her)

Virginia Scientist-Community Interface, Graduate/Professional Student

The environmental justice (EJ) team at VSCI works to address issues affecting EJ communities (defined as low-income and/or minority communities) across Virginia. Currently, that looks like writing a white paper on the community health impacts of natural gas compressor stations. Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC is expected to propose a new compressor station in a suspected EJ community as soon as May, which can negatively impact community health via air pollution, noise pollution, local environmental degradation, and the stress and anxiety of living near an industrial plant. Impacts from compressor stations tend to disproportionately affect EJ communities as the cost of land may be cheaper in these areas, these areas may be more rural, and/or communities may be less able to speak against development. This white paper is intended to provide the scientific background EJ communities living near compressor stations need to protect their health and speak against new development projects they feel threaten their communities. The report may also be useful to statewide non-profits and even developers to better understand how gas pipeline infrastructure creates EJ concerns in Virginia and across the US. We are writing this report in conjunction with people on the ground collecting information about community identity to better represent potential EJ issues surrounding this compressor station. Next steps will include a careful consideration of accessibility; is our paper digestible for the community we are trying to support? We do not want to hand individuals technical scientific language and expect to have solved the problem, but do still want to present the community with real science they can use to increase awareness of compressor station impacts. We intend to continue thinking about how we can take technical content and relate it to individuals in the most supportive way.


"Learning Pathways for Social Justice Education Inside and Outside of the Engineer Classroom"

Patrick I. Hancock (he/him) and Sydney Turner

School of Engineering, Graduate/Professional Student

In countless ways, the current state of engineering curriculum has helped to preserve a culture that does not place equity or justice at the heart of engineering practice. We feel this has furthered the inequitable divide, in society, from who benefits from or is harmed by the work done by engineers. In action, this practice, often, furthers the pervasive systemic oppression of historically marginalized groups.

To contribute to the work that seeks to address this education gap and needed cultural transformation, we, a group of engineering graduate students at the University of Virginia, created Social Justice in Engineering Design (SJ-ED) - an organization that advocates for and creates content that integrates social justice in engineering education.

Our first project was the creation of, a platform that shares open-access content, created by us or others, that illuminates the intersection of social justice in engineering. In this work, we intentionally center historically minoritized groups within the field of engineering on our project team and throughout the webpage and learning modules.

The learning modules are designed to make bringing social justice into the classroom, workplace, home, and everyday discussion more accessible to all. Our first module focuses on a transportation project. The project walks the reader through each stage of the design process and highlights how adopting socially just design practices, with the community, helps facilitate just outcomes.

In this session we will collaboratively explore the future of the learning platform. During our time together with you we seek to engage in a participatory dialogue where we collectively co-create an outline for a environmental justice learning module. We encourage folks from all backgrounds to come and share their expertise and experience as we envision the next chapter of

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