Dr. Pavithra Vasudevan (University of Texas at Austin), “Race and Waste in an Aluminum Town”: Performing Environmental Racism and Justice

Performance is a valuable cultural and political tool for environmental justice organizing and research. In this talk, I reflect on the process of developing and staging a play— drawing on oral-history interviews, ethnographic observations, and archival materials—as a form of activist scholarship. Titled “Race and Waste in an Aluminum Town,” this 90-minute play was developed through a community-engaged research collaboration in Badin, North Carolina, an early aluminum smelting site that is the site of an environmental-justice struggle today. For communities of color burdened by toxic wastes, performance can serve as a catalyst for dialogue, as a testimonial of injustice, and as an archive of struggle. I discuss how performance reveals insights about the body as a locus of racialized toxicity, the specificity of everyday life in these conditions, and the unrecognized political strategies that enable survival in conditions of racialized violence. The talk will conclude with a short excerpt from the play, staged with audience participation.

Pavithra Vasudevan is an assistant professor of African & African Diaspora Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. Her scholarship and teaching are concerned with how racialized peoples and landscapes are devalued in capitalism and the abolitional possibilities of collective struggle. Rooted in critical performance ethnography, Vasudevan uses arts-based interventions to develop critical analysis in collaboration with affected communities. Her research on anti-Black environmental racism received support from the National Science Foundation, the Society of Women Geographers, and the Center for the Study of the American South. She has published in Antipode (forthcoming), Environment and Planning DArea, andPerformance Research and coauthored chapters for the Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice and the Routledge International Handbook of Gender and Feminist Geographies. Vasudevan earned a PhD in geography from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in spring 2018.

De Andre Woods-Walker ’15, “We Deserve to Grow Up, Too” 

My very first time behind the wheel of a luxury car, I was pulled over. My very first time in a wedding, the ceremony was canceled because the groom was killed. My first time on campus, I was escorted to the athletic orientation meeting instead of the scholarship onboarding meeting.  

Let’s talk about why.

Let’s talk about what we can’t do.

Then, let’s talk about what we can do.

De Andre Woods-Walker, a 2015 graduate of Southwestern University, studied communication, Chinese, and education. A proud native of Brooklyn, New York, and a descendant of Kittitian and Nevisian roots, Woods-Walker currently serves as a fourth-grade teacher in Austin, Texas. Before becoming a traveling teacher, Woods-Walker worked with the New York City Department of Education and Teach for America as a culturally responsive teaching ambassador. This led him to his roles as the director of Youth Grassroots Movements for the NAACP and racial justice teaching fellow at the Institute of Urban Justice Education. An advocate and travel enthusiast at heart, Woods-Walker’s guiding principle is that being ourselves is the greatest act of service we can do for our children, families, and global community.

Both talks will be followed by a rich discussion on race, racism, and activism in this historical moment.

Refreshments will be provided.

For more information, contact Dr. Melissa Johnson, professor of anthropology, at 512.863.1406 or meljohn@southwestern.edu.