Last semester, the Environmental Justice Club was introduced at UHM and is taking initiative to use the resources around them to make a stand against environmental issues in Hawaiʻi.
The Environmental Justice Club was formed back in September of 2022 when Aya Kimura, professor of sociology at UHM, asked a few students if they would be interested in starting a club focused on environmental activism for the island state. Several students came together to launch the now Environmental Justice Club. The club members believe that it is important to advocate for the islands, as well as the planet as a whole, and act against environmental harm so that the environment is taken care of for future generations. They aspire to educate UHM students and get them involved through different activities.
Kimura said that the main inspiration for this club was sparked because of Red Hill. This issue made her feel that the university needed an environmental justice club and motivated her to reach out to students.
“People were feeling like we needed younger generations to be heard, and so — where better than the university?” Kimura said.
Hayden Kasal-Barsky, president of the Environmental Justice club, said that it is important to protect the limited resources that the islands have. She believes that sometimes people need to see Hawaiʻi not as a paradise, but rather as a fragile chain of islands with environmental injustices which people need to speak up against.
“I am just here to support the Indigenous communities here, and do whatever I can to keep those in power, accountable,” Kasal-Barsky said.
Members from the club feel that coming into an Indigenous and colonized space gives them the responsibility to do what they can to preserve the environmental and cultural aspects of the islands.
Madison Owens, vice president of the Environmental Justice Club, said that environmental justice is a very pressing issue which comes down to a sociological issue at its core. She believes that this is her way of giving back to the community that allowed her to obtain an education.
“I am not from here, so it’s my service to work for the betterment of the community, the people, the land and the water,” Owens said.
Students within the club said that the environment is an important attribute in their lives and hope to do everything in their power to make even the smallest difference.
“Ever since I was little, the environment had such a big part of my life,” Kasal-Barsky said. “I just don’t want to see any of that destroyed, and I don’t want to imagine a world where we don't have any of that.”
Members believe that arguably one of the most important objectives of the club is giving students and the public the opportunity to share their ideas and opinions.
“I really just want to get a lot of voices heard,” Kasal-Barsky said.
The club hopes to show UHM students that the decision to come together and share their ideas can make a sizable impact. They said the idea behind the foundation of the club's goals is to start conversations in order to inspire people to do their part.
“Whether this club does expand a bunch over the years, or doesn’t, I think it still shows people that little individual choices can really make the environmental change that we need,” Owens said.
The team of students have worked closely with several other programs and organizations such as the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation. They also want to exhibit that students from other communities can still come together and bring their knowledge to work together and build networks within the community.
The club also looks up to other student organizations that have been established for years, such as the Ethnic Studies Student Association. They hope to be able to work with clubs, such as this, in the future.
“We’re bringing different types of environmental justice organizations together,” Owens said. “To really show that a student can go and participate in a beach cleanup, but they can also go work with the Ethnic Studies Student Association, and kind of see both issues that those clubs point out and make life decisions with that in mind.”
The Environmental Justice Club meets every Thursday at 3 p.m. in Dean Hall 6 ACCESS Lounge. Anyone is welcome and they encourage everyone to stop by. You can find more information about the club and their upcoming events on their instagram page @environmentaljusticeuhm.
“There is so much space for growth,” Owens said "I think that it deserves more students, and I think that students also deserve environmental justice.”