HAL Convening in 2020

Humanities Action Lab Restarts Initiative on Climate Change, Covid and Inequality

Work on a $500,000 grant awarded to The Humanities Action Lab (HAL) in 2020, which was put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will resume next month when the group holds a national convening at Express Newark to continue a three-year initiative on climate change, Covid and inequality.

The project, Climates of Inequality and the COVID Crisis: Building Leadership at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), brings together faculty and students from nine higher-ed campuses across the country, along with community advocates partnering with these schools, to address the racially disproportionate impacts of both crises through public humanities and history engagement.

Forty participants will gather at Rutgers University–Newark on June 7–10 for three days of workshops and strategy sessions and field trips.

“We started in 2020 with the first cohort of five schools, and so this is actually the first time we’ll all be coming together as a group since the project started, which I’m really excited about,” said HAL Director Liz Ševčenko. 

This project is about frontline communities most impacted leading the way in crafting solutions to climate change and social-justice issues experienced with Covid.

The grant, awarded to HAL by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, supports minority-serving institutions and their frontline communities in building narratives around their shared and distinct histories of environmental racism and climate-change degradation, and the overlapping burdens they’ve borne with the Covid-19 pandemic. Projects range from the creation of a podcast series focused on the role of agroecology in achieving environmental justice in California’s San Joaquin Valley, to the production of an oral-history archive and magazine on climate justice in Puerto Rico, to local curricula development and short video products for the Newark Water Coalition. 

“This project is about frontline communities most impacted leading the way in crafting solutions to climate change and social-justice issues experienced with Covid,” said Ševčenko. “These communities have valuable knowledge and experience to bring to the table to solve these problems, so we’re investing in these deep partnerships between environmental justice leaders and minority-serving institutions to engage in local storytelling and create lasting strategies around these issues. It’s about the local projects and the big picture agenda.” 

The first cohort of schools, which includes Shaw University (North Carolina), University of California Riverside, University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, University of Illinois at Chicago, and RU-N (which is fielding two teams), has been working on their projects since 2020. During the June gathering, teams from these schools will discuss their project experiences with the group, identify the challenges they faced, and use that knowledge to help the second cohort get started on their community projects.

The second cohort includes Doña Ana Community College (New Mexico), University of California Merced, California State University–San Marcos, and California State University–Northridge. 

The Ironbound Community Corporation, one of the local nonprofit partners for the RU-N teams, will be hosting the participants for a tour and Q&A session at one of their community gardens while they’re visiting Newark.

“Many of these schools and their community partners are in rural or desert areas of the country, so they’ll get to learn about the issues faced by post-industrial urban centers like Newark when they visit the Ironbound,” said Ševčenko. 

It turns out that work on the Mellon Grant is not the only thing resuming next month. 

Climates of Inequality exhibit from 2019
Climates of Inequality exhibit in 2019. Photo courtesy Liz Ševčenko

On June 6, the day before the group convenes, HAL’s Climates of Inequality exhibit will once again be on display—this time in an unused storefront at the Hahnes Building, near the RU-N campus—before moving on to Phoenix, Arizona, and Greensboro, North Carolina. Climates of Inequality is a nationally traveling exhibition telling the stories of Newark and 21 local communities' environmental justice histories and their impact on the climate crisis, created by students in each community in collaboration with environmental justice leaders. The exhibit launched in Newark in October 2019 and was due to travel to all 20 cities. It made it to Albany and Indianapolis before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and put the exhibit, and the community stories it contained, in storage. 

The exhibit, which will be on view through June 20, is open to the convening participants and, due to logistical issues, by appointment only to the RU-N community and general public. For more information or to make an appointment for viewing, email liz.sevcenko@rutgers.edu.