What makes a great guest lecturer? In past courses, guest lecturers meant an excuse to spend the entirety of the class session checking Facebook and answering emails. However, all of those past perceptions changed when Dr. Elizabeth Albright, professor for my class in U.S. Environmental Policy course, brought in the inspiring Catherine Coleman Flowers. She is a Practitioner in Residence at Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute and founder of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development Corporation.
When I think of issues in environmental justice that involve sanitation and human waste management, I often think of these issues taking place in developing nations. Flowers made it very clear that these issues are happening right here in the U.S. in rural Alabama. She told us of her own personal experiences in the fight for sanitation in these rural communities. These communities, far from city centers with centralized systems of waste management, are responsible for connecting to the larger waste disposal network. High costs and a lack of interest from the federal and state governments have led to mass puddles of human waste along the streets and backyards of the community. She discussed how tropical diseases that were thought to be nonexistent in the United States are starting to make a comeback with rising temperatures and a lack of proper sanitation in many communities around the country. Duke students love helping out communities abroad, including myself, but Flowers encouraged us to look for problems in our own communities and to develop a passion for those. Her stories of flying to Standing Rock after the election and partaking in the protests left me impassioned to continue work in environmental justice. If you would like to see for yourself Flowers’ inspiring power, check out the video below: