Battling ‘Environmental Racism’

Headshot of Monique DiTullio

Monique DiTullio, RWU Class of 2017

Juris DoctorStudent

Whether in Flint or New Orleans, “environmental racism” refers to the placement of low-income or minority communities in proximity to environmentally hazardous or degraded environments, such as toxic waste, pollution and urban decay.

The term first came to national prominence in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans – in particular, the city’s lower 9th Ward, a community of low-income, mostly African-American homeowners. Despite the city’s impressive comeback, much of the 9th Ward “still looks like the hurricane happened just yesterday,” says 3L Monique DiTullio, who arrived at RWU Law having worked for the Rainforest Action Network and as a senior team leader with Greenpeace.

The same dynamic, DiTullio says, is playing out today in the lead-contaminated water crisis of Flint, Mich. “Once again, you see people’s race and economic standing dictate how they experience their environment,” she says.

DiTullio should know. A 2011 graduate of Roger Williams University, her senior thesis  was, “Wind, Water and Environmental Racism: The Elements that Destroyed New Orleans  During Hurricane Katrina.” As a law student, she’s worked with the Committee for Public  Counsel Services in Fall River, Mass., and Southeast Louisiana Legal Aid Services in New  Orleans; this summer she’ll be with the Public Counsel's Mental Health Commitment Unit. With a future eye on both legal advocacy and politics, DiTullio says her dream is to “help  these communities to empower themselves with the resources to rebuild and fight back.”