The TOXIC Symposium in Review

by Joseph Zordan 

On March 3rd and 4th, scholars from all around the world gathered to discuss their research on environmental and social toxicity at the TOXIC symposium at Yale.

The conference opened with a conversation between Chicago-based art professor LaToya Ruby Frazier and another notable Black female activist, Dr. Nana Adusei-Poku. Organizer Professor Vanessa Agard-Jones, of the Yale Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies department, was determined to place the perspectives of Black women on activism, academia, and art in dialogue. This choice set the tone for the rest of conference, in which all panels were led by women or people of color.

Topics of discussion included lead poisoning, postindustrial trials and tribulations among the working class, pollution of the great lakes, and the storage of toxic chemicals. In this space, academics from Agard-Jones’ readings – including Frazier, whose work tackles issues such as environmental racism, healthcare inequity, toxicity in Black life in her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania – finally had the opportunity to meet. The presentations discussed not only how humans are entangled with toxins from conception, but also how race, class, and gender all factor into the ways in which these toxins are introduced to us.

Those unable to attend the event could follow along through social media as Professor Agard-Jones and her team live-tweeted the proceedings, accumulating over 800 retweets and likes during the event. There were also daily blog posts leading up to the event to introduce the topics and conversation. These posts can still be seen at toxicsymposium.org.