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Let's Talk Human Rights

Our Fall 2021 Climate Strike

By Anna Beebe '22

On September 24th, members of our University of Dayton (UD) community gathered on a central plaza on campus to stand up for the environment and climate justice. We were part of the Global Climate Strike which took place in over 150 countries worldwide. People of all ages walked out of school, work, and other activities to display the urgency of the climate crisis. Being a part of the event was inspiring. Due to the pandemic, our community has not had the opportunity to organize in a long time; and for younger students, this might have been their first chance to take part in such an event.

At UD, our Spectrum and the Sustainability Club led the strike, organizing a range of speakers and activities for the community to engage in, such as painting signs and uniting to chant phrases like “No more coal no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil!” The event began with Spectrum president, Elizabeth Gallagher, and Sustainability Club President, Caroline Garvey, explaining the importance of organizing for the climate. Having student leaders like them on campus to organize and hold us accountable is one of the reasons I love being a part of the UD community.

Oftentimes, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of distressing news I read, especially as a Human Rights Studies major. It is easy to think, “Well, how can I make a difference? I am just one person.” Then, I am reminded that there are people and organizations that aren’t giving up. As I looked around me at the strike, I saw the faces of strong, resilient activists who care, and who are banding together to make a difference in our community.

Faculty and staff members, Vincent Miller and Nick Cardilino spoke about our Catholic faith and the environment. As a Catholic university, UD is responsible for being a steward of the environment. Vincent Miller explained the reality of climate change supported by facts and figures. It is common to think religion and science are in conflict with one another, and this can make the topic of climate change difficult. However, religion and science have the power to work together to protect our planet and humanity. Nick Cardilino took time to describe Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si', which addresses the climate crisis and explains humanity’s role in degrading the environment. This document has been crucial in showing people that faith in God and the Creation is possible along with the belief that climate change is destroying our planet.

Abby Bruns, Student Government Association (SGA) Chair of Sustainability, explained the efforts being made by SGA to help engage students in making an impact on the environment. This includes actively carrying out recycling programs and working with administrators to create more access to green spaces, including ensuring maintenance of Old River Park. To create sustainable communities, we must do more than just take care of the planet, we must also take care of one another. A major part of climate justice is equitable access to green spaces. If people cannot experience the beauty of nature, there will be little inspiration to protect it.

Climate change is affecting more than just our environment. Just recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council acknowledged that access to a "safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment" is a basic human right. This is monumental because as a global leader in human rights, the UN is showing how disastrous the climate crisis will be to the safety and wellbeing of humans, specifically already marginalized communities.

Student speakers Bridget Graham and Amira Fitzpatrick both emphasized that the climate crisis is a human rights issue. To address the climate crisis, we must recognize the ways in which race, income level, and other socioeconomic categories play into how people experience the effects of climate change. Right now, Black, Brown, and indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by lack of government action. Climate change not only damages the planet itself, but also strips people of their basic human rights such as access to clean water, housing, and food.

In the past decade, climate change has become a partisan, politicized issue in the U.S. Yet, the climate crisis knows no borders and no political affiliation. In fact, our local community is vulnerable to the impact of the climate crisis with 30% of Dayton’s population living below the poverty level. We already experience extreme weather conditions and food insecurity which are just two effects. But these problems will only worsen and multiply as time goes on.

My hope for my last year at UD is that events like the climate strike continue and student leaders keep demanding action from our administrators. And, I hope that institutions like the Human Rights Center, the Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center, and the Hanley Sustainability Institute will collaborate to work on the issue of climate justice, addressing all factors that contribute to it including race and income level.

In the grand scheme of things, our community might be small, but we are filled with people who care deeply about the issue, and one another. Small steps forward are better than no steps forward, and together we have the power to make a difference. In fact, this climate strike made it clear that our generation of leaders will not be silenced. We are resilient, we are strong, and we are ready for change.


Anna is a senior pursuing a Human Rights Studies major with minors in Sustainability and Political Science. She is also receiving a certificate in Nonprofit and Community Leadership. Anna is on the MarComm team at the Human Rights Center and also interns for the Human Rights Studies Program. Her interests include climate justice, gender equity, and sustainable development. 

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