Root 2020: A virtual array of Environmental Justice events

Root is a First-Year orientation program in collaboration with the Zilkha Center and Davis Center. With core principles emphasizing sustainability, environmental justice, and social identity, First-Year students in Root have opportunities to think critically about themselves and the world around them. Due to COVID-19 and in line with most other First Days programming, Root 2020 emphasized virtual engagement and learning, a change of pace from previous years’ visits to Soul Fire Farm, apple festivities at the Zilkha Center, and hangouts in Hardy House.

First-Year participants learned about climate change inequities plaguing an indigenous community in Louisiana; environmental injustice as a result of governmental neglect in Florida; and modern-day efforts to end racism and discrimination in the food system. Our wonderful Root leaders were there every step of the way and played instrumental roles in supporting First-Years alongside our dedicated staff members.  The three virtual sessions were recorded so please watch them to learn more about each of these issues:

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Community-Based Environmental Justice
With Devon Parfait, future chief of Grand Calliou/Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, current Williams student and Williams Mystic alumni

Environmental Justice at Williams College – A Multi-Disciplinary Approach
With Ruby Bagwyn ’23, an undergraduate, a scholar of Africana Studies Professor James Manigault-Bryant, and a geoscientist Professor Jose Constantine, helped uncover a plot by government agencies in Florida to keep an African American community exposed to toxins in their water. 

Farming While Black
With Cheryl Whilby from Soul Fire Farm, working to end racism and injustice in the food system

A Root 2020 “reunion” is in the works, pending college guidelines in the Spring. Although Root exists in crowded Glow pages and blurry Zoom screenshots right now, we hope First-Years can also have an in-person Root experience. We realize that  2020 has been marred by strife on local, national, and global levels. Root 2020 has both served as a reminder of the historical and modern-day challenges that have confronted society as well as welcomed a space for community-building, bonding, and sharing.


Reflection written by Jaya Alagar ’22, Root Co-Director for 2020

Click here for more information about the Root program.