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

FREE EVENT

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.

Moderator
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.

Panelists
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 – Accessibility in the Outdoors: Changing the Narrative

FREE EVENT

There is a pervading narrative that only certain types of bodies can be classified as “outdoorsy.”

This stereotype often excludes individuals with chronic illness, disabilities, neurodivergence, and folks of size; all of which are populations Explore Austin serves via a social-emotional learning-based outdoor adventure curriculum. This panel discussion will focus on the ways that natural spaces are frequently inaccessible or unwelcome to bodies that don’t fit the “traditional” outdoor enthusiast profile. 

Special Video Introduction By
Amy Denton-Luke, Founder of Disabled in the Wild
Amy Denton-Luke lives in Montana with her husband, Dave, and dog, Lucy. She is a rockhound, writer and lover of the outdoors. Her background is in anthropology and she has a growing interest in advocacy work. She’s struggled with illness since birth and has been disabled since 2015. She created her blog, “Disabled in the Wild,” in January 2022 to discuss issues affecting people with chronic illness and disabilities, and to encourage everyone to explore the outdoors.

Moderator
Dr. Demekia Biscoe, Director of Education, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Dr. Demekia Biscoe joined the Wildflower Center in the spring of 2022. She previously lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and created educational programming for the Botanical Research Institute of Texas located at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Dr. Biscoe’s informal educational philosophy — to create relevant, engaging programs for diverse learners — was honed while serving students and families for over 18 years in public education. She earned a doctoral degree from Dallas Baptist University to further her impact on education. Dr. Biscoe enjoys exploring natural spaces as much as she enjoys creating wonderment around them. She promotes engaging youth in outdoor activities by serving as a board member for the Texas Children in Nature Network. She’s currently finding new outdoor adventures in her newfound home in Austin.

Panelists
Ragen Chastain, Founder of Sized for Success
Ragen Chastain is a speaker, writer, researcher, Board Certified Patient Advocate, multi-certified health and fitness professional and thought leader in weight science, weight stigma and health. She is the author of the “Weight and Healthcare” newsletter, the blog “Dances With Fat,” the book “Fat: The Owner’s Manual,” editor of the Praeger Anthology “The Politics of Size,” co-author of the HAES Health Sheets, and co-founder of the Fit Fatties Forum.  In her free time she is a national dance champion, triathlete and marathoner who holds the Guinness World Record for “Heaviest Woman to Complete a Marathon.” She lives in Oregon with her fiancée Julianne and their adorable foster dogs. 

Leslie Jordan Garcia, Founder of Leslie Jordan Wellness
Leslie Jordan Garcia is a passionate, multi-certified, anti-diet Ed Recovery and wellness practitioner who has turned her personal struggle into a mission to help others heal and reclaim their power. With a unique blend of wit and empathy, and a social justice lens, she brings her own experiences to the table to create a truly transformative approach to wellness. 

Through years of eating disorder treatment, Leslie developed healthy coping skills and found a way to manage her disorder. However, while receiving treatment, she noticed a glaring gap in the conventional treatment approaches: They lacked relevance to her experiences as a Black person. This realization led her to understand that her struggle wasn’t just about controlling her body — it was about coping with oppressive systems. Fueled by this revelation, Leslie dedicated herself to crafting a holistic wellness approach that addresses not only the physical aspects of eating disorders but also the societal influences that shape our relationships with food, our bodies, and ourselves. Today, she works tirelessly to empower others by helping them heal and break free from diet culture and systems of oppression.


Syren Nagakyrie, Founder & Director of Disabled Hikers
Syren Nagakyrie is the founder and director of Disabled Hikers. Syren grew up with multiple disabilities and encounters numerous barriers to outdoor recreation, but has found a sense of connection and belonging in nature even though society has told them otherwise. They were inspired to create Disabled Hikers following one particularly difficult experience on the trail, during which a lack of information and access put them in a dangerous situation.

As a long-time disabled activist and community builder, Syren is committed to an outdoors culture transformed by representation, accessibility, and justice for Disabled and all other marginalized outdoors people. They’re the author of “The Disabled Hiker’s Guide to Western Washington and Oregon: Outdoor Adventures Accessible by Car, Wheelchair, and Foot,” and the forthcoming “Disabled Hiker’s Guide to Northern California,” both published by FalconGuides. They work with parks, organizations, brands and government agencies to improve access and belonging of the disability community.

End of Year Party

This event is for Explore Austin current and former Mentors, Trip Leaders and Explorers and their families. Please lookout for an email from us with a link to RSVP.

If you have questions about this event, please contact:

Blair Adams, Events Manager
blair.adams@exploreaustin.org

Combined Saturday Challenge

Each May, our Explorers and Mentors conclude their year of Saturday Challenges with a final combined challenge involving all teams! Then, it’s on to Summer Wilderness Trips…