Senior Danya Axelrad-Hausman has won the 2016 Pacific Sociological Association’s Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Student Paper for her senior thesis essay titled “Responses to Environmentalism and Environmental Policy as Mechanisms of Exclusion.” The PSA represents the entire U.S. West Coast and this award is given to only one student per year, so it represents a significant honor. Danya told us that she is very honored to have received the award, and had a great experience presenting her research at the PSA meetings.
Danya’s research focuses on how racial identity, gender, and other sociocultural factors influence environmental activism, and unpacks racialized constructs surrounding environmental purity. Danya shared her paper’s abstract with us:
Taking into account the unique sociocultural and sociopolitical climate that shapes the contemporary environmental justice discourse, this paper provides an account of the processes of identity formation that individuals and communities undergo when participating in environmental justice movements. Specifically, this research examines how socioeconomic status, race and gender influence participation in environmental justice advocacy. Through this approach I address the following questions: How are individuals and groups harnessing social and cultural factors, such as gender, socioeconomic status and racial identity, to drive activism? How does identity shape environmental activism and social movements, and how is environmental activism ultimately shaped by identity? Finally, I examine the policies and discourses that are shaped by racialized notions of environmental purity and ultimately reinforce systems of exclusion and marginalization. Through the examination of these driving questions I find that individual identity influences conceptions of the environment, environmentalism and structures of power. The construction of collective identity by environmental justice organization and activists connects the physical and social realities of environmental injustice. Finally, a perceived disconnect between the environmental movement and the environmental justice movement perpetuates a tangible disconnect and barrier to the environmental justice movement meeting its goals on an institutional level.