University of Washington Tacoma
Madison Drescher and Rebecca Holden
Date of Interview
The interviewee discusses how environmental justice is primarily about underrepresented people living in heavily industrialized areas that do not always receive the same treatment as higher income groups. She believes that citizen education and awareness is paramount, and feels that even small, incremental changes made on an individual level can help resolve potential issues. The interviewee discusses how the urban environment is a critically important part of nature. Therefore, we should reflect on how our actions are affecting other life, since we are all part of the natural world. She describes how environmental decline has caused health concerns for people and, as a result, has been the chief catalyst in initiating discourse about environmental justice. The interviewee presents many anthropocentric concerns, but also ties in concepts that are related to the well-being of nature.
Masura, Julie, "Julie Masura Interview" (2013). Puget Sound Environmental Justice Interviews. 15.
Additional FilesMasura_Transcript.docx (25 kB)
Madison Drescher/Rebecca Holden: So please state your name and organization affiliation
Julie Masura: My name is Julie Masura and I work for the University of Washington Tacoma, and I teach environmental science courses for IAS our interdisciplinary arts and science group.
MD/RH: What is environmental justice?
JM: For me environmental justice is recognizing the unequal treatment of underrepresented groups with respect to environmental issues especially when we talk about urban development and city planning businesses use of land, etc.
MD/RH: How does, or doesn’t environmental justice work in your community?
JM: So I actually don’t live here in Tacoma, so what I understand with respect to environmental justice here in Tacoma is that there are underrepresented people living in heavily industrialized areas that might not necessarily get the same treatment as groups that live in higher income areas of the city of Tacoma. I do know that there are groups within the city of Tacoma that do represent underrepresented groups and try to recognize that that exists. I think the biggest issue with environmental justice is that people are unaware that there is an issue with kind of ignoring the needs for all citizens in an area. So with urban planning, I can talk about how the city of Tacoma went into an area called Salishan, they re-developed Salishan recognizing it is a low income area. They increased the needs of that area recognizing the needs for low income folks and really trying to clean up that area, before it was kind of a shambles. Does it work, is it effective? The effectiveness is based on education and people understanding that it exists, and I think that it is pretty good here in our city.
MD/RH: What needs to change with environmental justice?
JM: I think you know one of the most thrilling and exciting things about my job is I get to teach a class called pollution and public policy where I get to talk to 40 students each quarter and basically explain to them what environmental justice is, but it is really just a moment – I only talk about it for a couple classes. But I think educating people and making them aware of issues with environmental justice is a huge impact and that needs to continue to happen. Just educating yourself as a citizen and being able to make a change is the most important and that is the most important change is educating the community.
MD/RH: What parts of environmental justice are important you?
JM: Awareness I think awareness and being thoughtful especially if you work for a government group or even in the private industry it’s just being aware and being thoughtful of all citizens and being thoughtful of how it affects people where they live. So if you are a private business for example going into a low land you need to be respectful of your neighbors too. In respect to low I mean low cost maybe lands cheaper it just doesn’t have a lot of property value you have to be really aware of your neighbors and that you’re a good citizen and neighbor and be thoughtful about your industry and how you affect the environment.
MD/RH: Why/why not is that important to you?
JM: Oh, it is so important, it is just so important because before I started teaching this course 8 years ago I was really unaware. You know people really are unaware, if you take out a map and look at where most of the superfund sites are and you look at a place and see high contamination you look at the incomes of those people living around there its very obvious that that is where you see the highest contamination. I don’t think that the people who live there are very aware that they do have rights, and they do have a voice and that’s for many different reasons. So it’s really, really important to be aware, and to educate all people that they have rights to live in a clean community.
MD/RH: How does concern for the environment fit with other environmental justice concerns?
JM: Well I mean it has everything to do with it so you have to manufacture you have to basically have some slight impact on the environment. I use this analogy a lot and you have heard it before in my pollution and public policy class that if you and I walk across a field of grass that we are going to bend the grass blades and they are going to fall over. If we walk across that grass once in the morning and then again in the afternoon then the grass will be fine and everything will right itself but if you continue to follow that same path then we will have a negative effect and kill of that grass creating a mud path. So we have to be very thoughtful about being environmental citizens and trying different paths, we are always going to have an impact on the environment but I think we can lessen our impact and help it recover and I think that kind of coins the term of sustainability is actually allowing the environment time to recover from our use. That’s how those two fit together.
MD/RH: How does concern for health impact other environmental justice concerns?
JM: Oh, health is everything. I mean we wouldn’t have laws, we wouldn’t have policies and try to regulate the environment if it didn’t affect humans. We as human beings are really concerned with our needs and if we are living healthfully. This whole environmental movement didn’t just start because we had ugly areas, people were dying from air pollution and water pollution and it still exists today, but it is a lot better. Impact on humans is what initiated this whole environmental movement and it has evolved to look at the environment as a whole, and not just humans. It has everything to do with health.
MD/RH: How does the idea of nature fit in with other environmental justice concerns?
JM: Oftentimes when people talk about the environment we often lump the word environment to equaling nature. So when I use the term environment I am really talking about all the humans, the animals, the land, the fish, and the water, and the air – all that gets lumped together to be the environment for me so nature is the environment. Because we all are natural I think oftentimes humans are often thought of as being unnatural but we are natural. So it is quite related to nature because we are part of nature.
MD/RH: In your opinion, how is environmental justice useful to you in addressing the issues in your community?
JM: I’m kinda lucky. I live in a nice neighborhood and we have a homeowners association, so I really feel like I have a voice in my immediate neighborhood. I will tell you a funny story in my neighborhood: one day I got an email from my homeowners association letting me know not to play in the park with my kids and dogs because they were going to be putting chemicals on the lawn and landscaping, and it was quite toxic. I actually couldn’t help myself . . . I just emailed back really politely and said just so you guys know, we actually live on an area that has an impact on a wetland that is right behind our property and that we should be thoughtful about whether we really want to be putting chemicals down in our park landscaping. They replied back saying “oh, we didn’t even think about that, and we will see if we can find some other alternatives.” And I thought that was cool . . . I really had a voice. They didn’t think I was a jerk, you know. I was just trying to send a kind email saying “you know, we really need to think about that.” No one thought about those fish that were living in our wetlands behind our community, and so I had a voice. That was really cool. I’m kinda lucky in my area, so I haven’t had much to worry about so far.
MD/RH: How might others be able to help?
JM: I think just educating and you know something I talk about in my class again is that everybody has a voice and there are public meetings. We do have an opportunity to speak especially with respect to laws and policy and changing the environment. Anytime there is real estate going up or land is being used we actually have a voice and can go and talk at a public meeting. But you know we all have lives we got to make dinner, we got to raise our children, we go to work, you guys have to do your homework; maybe you don’t have time to go to public meetings but I think that we need to you know find a listserv, or a newspaper, and start just going to those meetings if you are passionate enough. If you don’t want to go yourself, find someone else that wants to go because you guys really do have a voice as citizens of Washington, the United States and even the world.
MD/RH: Is there anything else on this topic that you would like to say?
JM: I think just awareness and making sure that everybody knows they have an impact on the environment, and that they can speak out even if they are an underrepresented citizen, or a well-represented citizen like myself . . . that we all do have voices, and that it is our responsibility to make sure people are aware that they can make a change and probably even hardest for underrepresented people that don’t know they have a voice that are maybe not as educated, don’t have a chance to be aware. It’s just going out and informing people – make a public announcement. Not everyone will listen to you, but someone will . . . especially if it impacts their home, and impacts the health of their family.