Building Bridges Conference to Focus on Environmental Justice

Posted on February 13th, 2014 by

Building Bridges 2014 LogoGustavus Adolphus College will host its 19th annual student-led Building Bridges Conference on Saturday, March 8. This year’s conference is titled “Disposable Communities? Demanding Environmental Justice,” and will feature keynote speakers Van Jones and Alexie Torres-Fleming.

You can watch the keynote talks by Jones and Torres-Fleming through the Gustavus live streaming portal.

“This year’s Building Bridges Conference will provide attendees with an opportunity to engage in important dialogue that will challenge the disposability of our communities and our Earth,” said conference co-chairs Kelly Dumais ’14 and Mark Zorrilla ’15. “In particular, the discussion will focus on the intersections of race, class, identity, and the environment with the intention of showing people that environmental justice doesn’t simply involve scientific concerns, but also human rights violations.”

Jones, who will deliver the morning keynote address at 10 a.m. in Christ Chapel, is the author of two New York Times best sellers and personifies environmental justice through both environmental and civil rights activism. His first book, The Green Collar Economy, was hailed as the definitive book on green jobs. His second and latest book is titled Rebuild the Dream and is a reflection on his time as Special Adviser for the White House Council for Environmental Quality under the Obama administration. Jones is also the founder of Green for All, a national organization working to provide green jobs to disadvantaged communities, and the co-founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Color of Change. He was named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2009.

Van Jones and Alexie Torres-Fleming will keynote this year's conference.

Van Jones and Alexie Torres-Fleming will keynote this year’s conference.

Torres-Fleming, who will give the afternoon keynote address at 12 p.m. in Alumni Hall, is a visionary environmental justice activist from the Bronx who strives to help communities understand their own power. Her passion stems from her own childhood in the South Bronx during the late-1960s and 1970s, a period known as the “Burning of the Bronx.” In 1994, Torres-Fleming founded Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice with the mission to rebuild the Bronx River neighborhoods of the South Bronx by preparing young people to become voices for peace and justice. She has received numerous awards for her work including the 2008 Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism.

A question and answer session with Jones and Torres-Fleming will take place at 1 p.m. A series of workshops will be available between 1-5 p.m. to provide conference attendees with an array of opportunities to learn more about the different facets of environmental justice and how it differs from environmentalism. More information about workshop presenters is available on the conference’s website at

This year’s action piece will involve an interactive experience where attendees will explore their own roles in environmental privilege and actions they can take to demand justice. Specifically, within the action piece, attendees will examine the implications of heavy metal mining in northern Minnesota and the potential effects on the local and state-wide communities.

The entire schedule for this year’s conference is as follows:

  • 8 a.m. / Registration
  • 9 a.m. / Opening remarks by co-chairs, I Am We Are performance/ Christ Chapel
  • 10 a.m. / Van Jones keynote address / Christ Chapel
  • 11 a.m. / Lunch break
  • 12 p.m. / Alexie Torres-Fleming keynote address / Alumni Hall
  • 1 p.m. / Q & A with keynote speakers, Workshop session
  • 2 p.m. / Workshop session
  • 3 p.m. / Workshop session and action piece
  • 4 p.m. / Workshop session and action piece
  • 5 p.m. / Action piece

Tickets for this year’s conference are currently available online at or by calling 507-933-7520. Tickets are free for students and $10 for adults. Questions about this year’s conference can be directed to Dumais and Zorrilla at

Building Bridges is a student-led, student-initiated diversity conference dedicated to addressing today’s pressing social and global issues. The conference works to increase awareness and action, promoting mutual respect and understanding about diversity. These aims are achieved through inspiration speakers supplemented by interactive workshops and action steps.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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