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Great Outdoors Month Panel Discussion – Eco-Justice in Austin & Beyond


Tue, June 25, 2024

6:30 pm

Motion Media Arts Center

2200 Tillery St #A, Austin, TX 78723


Environmental Justice is defined as the equal treatment and involvement of all people in environmental decision making.

However, that decision making frequently excludes discussion that, firstly, recognizes the original land stewardship by Native communities, and, secondly, addresses the long-term consequences of those decisions, many of which disproportionately impact marginalized communities. The youth that Explore Austin serves via our social-emotional learning-based outdoor adventure curriculum come primarily from such marginalized communities. This panel discussion aims to provide examples of environmental justice, demonstrate ways that youth are getting involved, and showcase how various communities are responding, both nationally and here in Austin.

This event will include a reading of “To Greet Ancestors of Place,” written by Naomi Ortiz, poet, writer and visual artist.

Rocío Villalobos, Equity and Inclusion Program Manager (Immigrant Affairs) for City of Austin Government & Explore Austin Mentor Alum
Rocío Villalobos is a Xicana indigenous woman from Austin, TX and a former Explore Austin Mentor (class of 2024). In her personal life, Rocío created an outdoor adventure group to help (re)connect women of color and indigenous women to the land and to explore the history of the land they live on and travel to. As a child, she grew up speaking Spanish at home and went on family road trips to Mexico to visit her relatives. However, it wasn’t until much later in life that she learned that her great-grandparents on both sides of her family were indigenous peoples who felt they had to sacrifice their culture and language in order for their descendants to survive. Rocío is now committed to learning as much as she can about her family’s roots and supporting other people’s ability to strengthen their relationship to the land and each other.

Dr. Amanda Masino, Chair for the Department of Natural Sciences, Huston-Tillotson University
Amanda Masino, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Biology and Chair of Natural Sciences at Huston-Tillotson University (HT). Amanda co-created and now directs HT’s STEM Research Scholars Program, which in the last six years has provided 130 funded undergraduate research experiences to HT students. Amanda led an NSF-funded redesign of HT’s Natural Science curriculum to emphasize inquiry-led learning and embed research skills into coursework. Her own research projects include a resident-focused investigation of affordable housing impacts and the environmental health of our homes, a collaborative project investigating urban wildlife as environmental sentinels, and student-led analysis of cardiovascular health disparities.

Amanda directs HT’s new Environmental Justice major, co-founded and organizes HT’s annual environmental justice conference, the Building Green Justice Forum, and mentors environmental student group Green is the New Black. She also directs the St. David’s Foundation Scholars, a pre-health career enrichment and scholarship program which seeks to diversify health fields, and mentors HT’s chapter of the Minority Association of Premedical/Pre-health Students.

Amanda is Executive Director of the Austin Community Data Coalition, a non-profit that organizes collaborations for community research, and Co-Director of the Dumpster Project, a K-12 environmental learning program. Amanda also serves on the City of Austin Zero Waste Commission and on the boards of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, the Austin Housing Coalition, and the Community Resilience Trust.

Amanda earned her B.S. in Zoology from Texas A&M University, where she studied chromosomal evolution, and her Ph.D. in Genetics and Developmental Biology from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where she investigated the genetics of early heart development. Her postdoctoral work at the University of Washington in Seattle focused on cardiac stem cells. In 2019, she was chosen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Lyda Hill Philanthropies as an IF/THEN Science Ambassador. She advocates frequently for environmental justice and diversity in science.

Beth Wright, Attorney for Native American Rights Fund
Beth Margaret Wright re-joined the Native American Rights Fund (NARF)  team as a staff attorney in 2022, having previously served as a NARF summer law clerk. Throughout her education and career, Beth has focused on advancing Indian Country’s next generation. Her work is inspired by a desire to uplift Indigenous joy, strength and success. At NARF, she devotes much of her attention to Indian Boarding School healing, history and policy, but she also tackles issues related to Indian child welfare and Indigenous methods for dispute resolution through the Indigenous Peacemaking Initiative. Beth’s dedication to the Native American community extends beyond her work at NARF. She is an avid runner who feels that running is what keeps her closest to her community, and she is a repeat Boston Marathon finisher.

Great Outdoors Month Panel Discussion – Eco-Justice in Austin & Beyond