Spotlight: Community outreach program pairs IU East, Hibberd Middle School students to learn about environmental justice

Spotlight: Community outreach program pairs IU East, Hibberd Middle School students to learn about environmental justice

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Students from IU East and Hibberd Middle School are learning together about environmental justice, including visiting the wind farm in Lynn, Ind.

What do wind farms have to do with criminal justice?

Students from IU East and Hibberd Middle School in Richmond discovered some answers to that question in personal ways this spring.

They visited the new farm that has seen 100 of the new and massive turbines spread across the flatlands west and north of Lynn, Ind.

They had learned through working together that many legal issues have cropped up about sounds and the dangers to animals from the increasingly popular wind farms. Many people complain that the massive turbines ruin the skyline of the farm fields and have negatively affected the roads and the traffic during construction.

They also learned that the sites — which are on cement slabs surrounded by crop fields — can be muddy and tough to reach, said Stephanie Whitehead, assistant professor of criminal justice at IU East.

“It was interesting because it had rained,” she said.

It also was interesting because many of the students didn’t know the wind farm even existed.

“They enjoyed it (and) were shocked how big these turbines are. They were going full speed and you basically heard nothing,” Whitehead said. “They were expecting to see dead birds there. But there were none.”

Fifteen IU East students joined 20 eighth-graders from the early-college class at Hibberd. They rode together in a yellow school bus to the site in Randolph County. “Our students found that hilarious,” Whitehead said.

The IU East students are participating in service-learning as part of Whitehead’s senior capstone class in environmental justice. The students all started meeting Feb. 8 and have worked together on Tuesdays every two weeks. They met together on March 25 in the IU East Library about animal rights. This week, they will put together documentaries of 3-5 minutes that will be presented in the last meeting on April 28.

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IU East and Hibberd Middle School students listened to a presentation on politics of food.

Whitehead has been impressed by the students in the eighth-grade community outreach project. “They are on it,” she said. “They ask interesting questions. You can tell they are motivated and want to learn this stuff.”

That goes for the IU East students, too: “I think they are consistently surprised at the young people’s (knowledge). They feel challenged by them.”

Whitehead had always wanted to teach a course in environmental justice, but wasn’t expecting to do so for several years. But, she was inspired to do so by IU East Library Director Frances Yates.

“Frances helped push it and make it happen,” Whitehead said. “She already had a working relationship with the eighth-grade class. They already had been on our campus a lot.”

Whitehead’s IU East class also focused on other themes, including politics of land use, politics of food and animal rights.

Students were forced to consider things such as how they would respond to animal-neglect calls. “It was interesting to watch them re-think that these are issues they will have to deal with, that there are jobs in them,” Whitehead said.

The Kentucky native has taught at IU East for five years. She earned her Ph.D. at IU Bloomington, but loves working on a smaller campus.

“I wouldn’t have been able to pull this project off at other places,” she said. Environmental justice, she continued, “is near and dear to my heart. I grew up in coal country.”

She also teaches introductory courses in criminal justice and is involved in many other projects. For example, she facilitated the recent IU Women and Gender Studies Undergraduate Conference.

“Getting to interact with the community is one big bonus on this campus,” she said. “I’ve worked with the sheriff’s department (in Wayne County). I’ve done lectures at the high school. It’s unique to get access to the community like that. This is a great place.”

 

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