Peabody hosts environmental justice expert Dr. Robert Bullard for Dean’s Diversity Series lecture

Expert on environmental racism and sustainable development gives talk on “The Quest for Environmental and Climate Justice” in Wyatt Rotunda


Adin McGurk

Lecture in Wyatt Rotunda (Photo by Adin McGurk)

Adin McGurk, Staff Writer

The Peabody Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hosted Dr. Robert Bullard on Monday for a one hour discussion of climate and environmental justice. The event was the latest edition of this year’s Dean’s Diversity Lecture Series

Bullard is the author of 18 books on topics including environmental racism and sustainable development, and global learning platform Apolitical identified him as one of the 100 most influential people in climate policy. He is a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University and is frequently referred to as the ‘father of environmental justice.’

Held in the rotunda of the Wyatt Center, the event began with an introduction from Vanderbilt’s Interim Chancellor Susan Wente. Bullard started his presentation with a broad explanation of environmental injustice. 

“Historically there’s a direct correlation between exploitation of land and exploitation of people,” Bullard said. “You find me the most exploited places, and I’ll find you the most exploited people.”

Dr. Bullard went on to depict this trend with an extensive series of choropleth maps, which are maps that are colored to depict quantities or frequencies across an area, pointing out the American South as an area consistently falling prey to environmental injustice. Beginning with maps showing population distribution by race, Bullard moved into depictions of life expectancy and quantifications of health including heart disease and lung cancer. 

He went on to highlight that these locations with the highest concentrations of people of color and health problems, also had the highest concentrations of energy production plants and areas designated for waste disposal. 

The lecture was followed by a standing ovation before Bullard opened the floor to questions; more hands raised to ask questions than there was time for. 

“I’m so grateful he came to campus,” said Community Development & Action Masters of Education student Julia de Aragón. “Dr. Bullard’s actually been one of my main sources for academic writing for years.” 

The positive reception of the speech was not limited to students already familiar with Dr. Bullard’s work. Senior Matt Neuendorf expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to hear from such an influential experience on a topic he doesn’t have experience with.

“I’m an engineer so a lot of this stuff is new to me,” said  Neuendorf. “Going to these talks helps me figure out some of the problems that I’m maybe not aware of.”