More and more, we are seeing the connections between environmental and social issues. In order to solve complex issues, we must treat them as complex. We must acknowledge all the things that make them complicated—then address them. No one seems more aware of this today than young people. Students are becoming activists, taking charge of the planet they will inherit from their parents and their parents’ parents. Dania Marin-Gavilan is no exception.
Meet Dania Marin-Gavilan, our Courageous Innovator
Presented by Aveda
Dania Marin-Gavilan is a student at the University of Minnesota, where she co-founded the group Voices for Environmental Justice. Voices for Environmental Justice is working to establish curricula, a major and a minor in environmental justice at the University. In addition, the group engages with the University to find ways to partner with community members in environmental justice work. This has taken the form of dialogues, symposiums, conversations and other community events. Regardless of the style of event, Dania’s reflective, supportive leadership has been recognized for pervading those spaces.
When asked about her work, Dania said “I’m doing this for all the people who came before me, as recent as my parents and as far back as seven generations…and I’m also doing this for the generations forward. If I’m not doing my part to transform and activate, it’s a shame and a waste of my abilities, my power and my leverage.” She spoke passionately about how her work connects to the work of others. To her, what she does is about connection, both between people and between issues, and that showed in the way she described her work and her role in Voices for Environmental Justice.
Re-Connecting Environmental Justice and Social Justice
The focus of Dania’s work is building awareness of and compassion for environmental justice. She wants to shift the way people see ‘environmental justice’ by connecting environmental and social justice conversations. As she puts it, “the work is just about engaging people in a way so that we are able to re-intertwine those two entities, because they’re not all that separate. They’re, in fact, very interrelated and dependent on each other.” In her journey to build a bridge between these sometimes-separate things, Dania focuses on building relationships.
“Relationship-building…is an important part of my role and all of our roles and it’s just another piece in this puzzle. What I do specifically may not be all that you think, but we all bring something into it. It is distinct…I see myself as someone who’s able to synthesize all these ideas and dialogues and questions and emotions and create spaces where people feel comfortable and guided and can ask questions and contribute and take actions and feel they have a role in this and they’re excited about these things and environmental justice Twin Cities work.” Relationships are such a key piece of Dania’s work that she told more stories of collective action and the action of others than herself, exemplifying her commitment to collaboration.
For example, when discussing her biggest accomplishment, Dania spoke about a Voices for Environmental Justice symposium. She felt that one of the most rewarding parts of that experience was having the relationships with environmental justice activists to “call them and ask how they’d feel about doing it,” rather than find roundabout ways to contact them. “It’s been really rewarding and fun to develop those relationships.”
Showing Up and Getting Passionate
Finally, if you’re interested in building collaboration in your own life, Dania suggests something relatively simple: showing up wherever you can. “Showing up to an event, showing up to this person’s meeting or volunteering and just showing up.” Of finding partners and building relationships, Dania says, “Just showing up and being there has been really valuable. You start meeting people and talking—and talking about what you’re passionate about. To me, my favorite thing in the world is to listen to people talk about what they love and are passionate about.” After listening to Dania speak about her work, we have to agree with her.
Join the Environmental Initiative community—including Dania and the other Award winners—as we come together to talk about what we’re passionate about at the 2019 Environmental Initiative Awards on May 22.