La Chispa: Sparking Environmental Justice Connections at Willamette University and Beyond
This paper features the author’s organizing work with “La Chispa de Salem,” or “the Salem Spark,” an environmental justice coalition at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. This multi-pronged communication and community-building project is committed to 1) mobilizing praxis-based communication; 2) cultivating community and shared learning environments on multiple levels via horizontal relationships; and 3) enacting multidisciplinary collaborations that address urgent entwined social and environmental problems, all of which emphasize place, experiential learning, and student agency. According to the coalition’s website, La Chispa “seeks to spark and support environmental justice conversations and collaborations at Willamette University and in the surrounding Willamette Valley. This largely student-led, multidisciplinary coalition is committed to uncovering and uprooting environmental racism, addressing the inequities of environmental privilege, and advocating for environmental, climate, and energy justice.” La Chispa collaborators enact communication praxis by developing workshops and by partnering with various on-campus groups and programs to welcome guest speakers. The coalition also hosted a KMUZ local community radio show for one year. Particularly relevant for the 2019 COCE conference theme, La Chispa members sought to address inequities and injustices arising from local emergency management efforts, including the impacts of two public health advisories in spring and summer 2018 in response to cyanobacteria being detected in the municipal water supply. Considering these different environmental justice concerns, this paper describes and reflects on lessons learned from creating and maintaining La Chispa, which may be helpful for others seeking to mobilize praxis-based communication, horizontal relationships, and multidisciplinary collaborations.