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Human rights award to honor champion of environmental rights; Students to unveil Moral Courage Project about fight for clean water

Environmental and climate justice will be at the heart of a series of University of Dayton events to honor the legacy of Saint Oscar Romero. The series will culminate with the University bestowing its human rights award named in his honor to Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic, leader of the Council of Ki’che’ Peoples which helps preserve indigenous lands against corporate exploitation in Guatemala.

"As a result of her frontline advocacy work, Lolita has faced persecution and has lived in exile since 2017," said Shelley Inglis, executive director of the University of Dayton Human Rights Center. "Her story brings awareness to the role of indigenous women in the fight for environmental justice despite the high levels of gender-based and other violence against them."

"Pope Francis has called for urgent action to combat climate change and protect our integral ecology. Yet, environmental and climate justice defenders remain under attack, with governments, corporations and financiers failing to protect their vital and peaceful efforts. The majority of the human rights activists killed last year were working on environmental, land or indigenous peoples’ rights, predominantly in Latin America."  

The University will honor Chávez Ixcaquic April 20 during an event that will include Mauricio López Oropeza reflecting on Romero's legacy. López Oropeza is a former executive secretary of the Red Eclesial Pan-Amazónica, which connects bishops conferences and church communities in the Amazon region.
All events in the series start at 3:30 p.m. ET, are free and open to the public, and will be held virtually. Register for and find more information about events here. Other events are:

  • March 24: On the anniversary of the assassination of Romero, Adrienne Hollis, senior climate and health scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists; Matt Currie, managing attorney with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality; and UD faculty, staff and students working on environment and sustainability issues will discuss human rights, public health, environmental degradation and climate justice.
  • April 7: Attendees of the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 will reflect on the summit and the path of the environmental justice movement. Speakers include Charles Lee, senior policy advisor for environmental justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Richard Moore, program director at the Lost Jardine Institute; and Donele Wilkins, president and CEO of The Green Door Initiative.
  • April 14: A roundtable of regional experts will explore how human rights law can promote environmental protection for local communities in the Western Hemisphere. Moderated by Counterpart International CEO Ann Hudock, featured speakers include Soledad Garcia Muñoz, special rapporteur on economic, social, cultural and environmental rights for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; and Megan Hess, rural organizing director for We the People, a Michigan-based organization working for a society with equality, justice and dignity for all.

The Moral Courage Project's "Poison and Power: The Fight for Water," which explores access to clean and affordable water in Flint and Detroit, Michigan, and Appalachia, also will launch during the series. This multimedia production includes a website and podcast. Students Meg Deneen, Bridget Graham and Jared Marsh will share their work and experiences during the award ceremony. The project tells stories of individuals who take risks to make contributions to their communities during crises. The project trains students in human rights storytelling and typically involves extensive immersion in communities at the center of the story. Previous Moral Courage Projects chronicled stories of people in Ferguson, Missouri, and at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Given the obstacles in the past year, we are grateful and proud to share this work with the world," said Joel Pruce, an associate professor of human rights and coordinator of the Moral Courage Project. "Since we could not travel for fieldwork, we conducted the whole program virtually and even from a distance, we learned so much from the activists featured in 'Poison and Power' that inspired us to persevere in our work."

Visit the Moral Courage Project website for more information.

Created in 2000, the University of Dayton Romero Human Rights Award is presented to an individual or organization promoting the dignity of all human beings and alleviating human suffering. It honors the ministry and martyrdom of Saint Oscar Romero, a Salvadoran archbishop slain while officiating at a Mass because of his vocal defense of the human rights of the poor and disenfranchised. Click here to see a list of honorees.

For more information or interviews, contact Shawn Robinson, University of Dayton associate director of news and communication, at


News and Communications Staff