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Nissa Parker'18, International Relations and Environmental Studies: Justice and Citizenship Major from Steamboat Springs, Colo.

February 2018

Major: International Relations and Environmental Studies: Justice and Citizenship
Hometown: Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Mentor: Dr. Pablo Toral, Associate Professor of International Relations and Environmental Studies

Nissa Parker'18 

How has the research you've done while at Beloit College informed your vision for the future of your career?

The ultimate goal for me, in all of the research and academic work I have done, has been to understand what problems we are facing and how to engineer solutions in this Anthropocene epoch. The common thread through the array of topics I have studied related to environment is justice—we know that industrial pollution damages ecosystems, that glacial melt and sea level rise are imminent, and that we are currently undergoing massive losses of biodiversity—but how do we as people actually relate and respond? Framing these challenges through a justice lens allows us to see that people, not as a monolithic entity but with diverse and dynamic experiences and positions, experience environmental degradation differently. And to no one’s surprise, it is the otherwise marginalized or oppressed groups in our society who experience the most damage. This pattern is systemic and a ubiquitous theme that I have continued to encounter in many contexts, whether in Jordan, Ecuador, or here in the U.S., and it is the single most important factor informing my future goals. I would not even say “career” goals--I have a very clear goal for my future in that I want to offer whatever I can to the goal of creating solutions rooted in science, justice, and human rights to these environmental crises. When it seems, however, as though the way forward is through upending the world’s systems and redefining our relationship with nature, it is hard to pinpoint exactly which step to take first.

What inspired you to pursue this topic?
Nissa Parker'18 (2)

When I decided to go to Jordan, I knew I was taking a particular risk in that my program did not specifically offer any environmental studies or environment related courses. I knew, however, that I wanted to go to Jordan in part because I was interested in the environmental challenges associated with the regional climate and agriculture. I actually reached out to my program coordinators and worked for a couple of weeks to find an opportunity for me with a local environmental NGO, and when we made contact with APN, it could not have been a better fit. I have tried to focus my IR study on the Middle East and I have a particular interest in the geopolitical conflict of the Levant region, but this internship presented me with a question that I had not previously considered: what does environmental damage mean to those facing protracted crises? I had the opportunity to explore how power structures inform the use of nature as a weapon, and the significance of connection to place in indigenous resistance movements. This experience essentially mixed everything I am most interested in—human rights, justice, and Middle Eastern politics blended with environment, agriculture, and relationships to nature.

What role has your mentor (Dr. Pablo Toral) played in your academic experiences?

It was critical for me to reflect on my experience in Jordan with Pablo once I got back in order to formulate a concise message for my symposium. Coming back from study abroad feels like a whirlwind, and it was difficult to identify which experiences to include in my presentation. Ultimately, Pablo’s guidance helped me analytically understand and present what I learned through this experience. In addition to helping me with this project, however, I would like to note that Pablo, as my advisor, has been incredibly influential throughout my academic career here at Beloit. In fact, it was his class in the Boundary Waters Wilderness that formally introduced me to environmental justice.

I would also like to especially thank my mentor at APN, Mariam Jaja, and professor who provided a framework for our internship experiences, Mirjiam Abu Samra. These women guided me through the intricacies of understanding local NGOs in the Jordanian context, and required that I critically reflect on my position as a white American woman throughout my time in Jordan.

Can you reflect on your Venture Grant experience as a volunteer farm worker in Ecuador with Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farms (WWOOF)?

I was lucky to be awarded with a Venture Grant/International Education Grant the summer between my sophomore and junior years to spend the summer on a permaculture farm in Ecuador. I found the farm through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), packed up my gardening gloves, and subsequently spent the summer learning their farming techniques through experience. It was a small farm—the goal was for the people who live at the farm to subsist on only what they grow and steward the land responsibly. They practiced permaculture based in traditional Ecuadorian styles of farming, and had particular interest in reviving indigenous food production practices. I spend a lot of time thinking about food and food systems. Industrial agriculture is unsustainable and unjust, but in my view, the alternative needs to work in community with nature rather than continuing our attempt to dominate it. My goal for my experience in Ecuador was to understand what alternatives exist and how they work. This opportunity allowed me to explore concepts of food sustainability in a different cultural context.

What else are you involved with on campus?

In addition to my academic work, I am also team leader of the Office of Sustainability Food Team with the goal of improving campus’ food sustainability and encouraging healthy relationships with food. I previously worked as an assistant on Food Team as well as Energy Team, and became Food Team leader last semester. I am also a board member on the Revolving Loan Fund board to help develop, review, and fund sustainability related projects on campus.

What are you involved with off-campus?

School and work really dominate my time while I’m here in Beloit. Last summer, however, I had two really great opportunities off campus that helped me explore different facets of environment, justice, and policy. First, I attended Pablo’s course on Environmental Justice at the Coe College Field Station in the Boundary Waters Wilderness. There, I conducted primary research regarding proposed sulfide mining projects and environmental racism against indigenous communities in northern Minnesota and northern Ontario. This was an excellent course and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the intersection of natural resources and human rights.After Minnesota, I went to Olympia, Washington where I held an internship at the State of Washington Department of Ecology. I worked as a policy and financial assurance intern in the Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction program and got a great inside look into the day-to-day enforcement that happens on the regulatory side of environmental policy.

Speaking of off campus experiences, I would like to take this opportunity to boast a bit about some of the work we do in the Office of Sustainability to bridge campus and community. Our ongoing Food Recovery Network initiative collects leftovers from Commons and brings them to Caritas food bank, thereby reducing our food waste and servicing the community in a food desert. In addition, we have connected with Merrill Elementary and provide educational opportunities for their students to learn about growing food in their garden. I wanted to mention these projects here because while my job operates through campus, I think some of the most important work that we do actually happens off campus and in the community.