EastBay Today

Posted November 30, 2017

Empowering Fruitvale

Cal State East Bay students advocate for environmental justice through free community event at Peralta Hacienda Historical Park

Cal State East Bay students visited Peralta Hacienda Park to perform original research as part of a new transfer student pilot program called E.A.S.T.
Danvy Le

The value of gathering and preserving the oral histories of longstanding community members. Predictions on the future of rainfall and how to prepare for flooding. The difference in temperature between grass, asphalt and painted surfaces (otherwise known as "urban heat islands") and their effect on people and climate change. 

They’re just a few of the topics Cal State East Bay juniors have been researching in Oakland’s Fruitvale District, and will give presentations on at a free community event at Peralta Hacienda Historical Park Dec. 5.

Throughout the fall quarter, the students have been taking field trips and performing original research at Peralta Hacienda, which boasts a museum and green space, and serves as a gathering place for the Fruitvale community. The multifaceted uses of the park make it an ideal microcosm for studying cultural, political, social and climate change issues all in one place.

The students have been grappling with those subjects through the lens of a pilot program at the university called E.A.S.T., or Entry Academics Serving Transfers, developed by Associate Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences Dennis Chester. 

Instructionally, E.A.S.T. is being co-led by faculty from different disciplines across campus, including Assistant Professor(s) Danvy Le (political science), Patty Oikawa (environmental studies), Ryan Heryford (English), and lecturers Michelle St. George (English) and Nicole Buyagawan (general studies).

The goal of the cohort-based program is to ensure the success of transfer students, but Le, Oikawa and Heryford are spearheading a collaborative, project-based learning experience that combines their respective areas under the shared focus of environmental justice.   

“Peralta Hacienda is a hub for Oakland, and if you want to have discussions about environmental justice, Oakland is rich ground for that conversation,” Oikawa said. “You’ve got the port, freeway traffic, chemical factories from the past, contaminants, one of the largest youth asthma populations in the country — there’s a lot to explore in terms of community engagement and solutions.”

For instance, students Breeahna Bright Cannon, Steven Lewis, Joseph Martinez and Jake Kong assessed issues with the air quality at Peralta Hacienda. Next week, in front of an audience that includes members of the Fruitvale community as well as their parents and friends, they will present their findings and offer solutions directly to those affected by the research. The team will discuss how the Port of Oakland, diesel fumes and the nearby 580-freeway contribute to poor air quality, and then follow-up with ideas and campaign slogans they’ve created like “Wheels Up” to promote how residents can take action.

As Kong explained, “We all know what we need to do, but what is it that actually changes someone’s mind? We’ve always had PSAs and programs, but I want to find out what is that thing people need to hear that hits home and causes change?”

Other teams will give presentations on their predictions for changes in rainfall and how communities such as Fruitvale can prepare for more severe weather events; the effect of heat waves on the human body and preventative measures; share lessons on the value of collecting narratives from people of diverse cultural and social backgrounds; and more. 

“Environmental Justice for the Bay” will take place at Peralta Hacienda Community Park from 5-6:30 p.m. Dec. 5. The event is free and open to the public. Food and refreshments will be served.