Art by Ally Armstrong
In the wake of what feels like a never-ending fire cycle, students are thrust into another season of unknowable weather conditions and past emotions. Even with Pepperdine’s consistent email updates assuring students that everything is being monitored, there is always the human fear of the unknown. Yet, there is a strong sense of comfort in knowing that Pepperdine is insured, has precautionary steps to follow and prioritizes safety.
Many Californians do not experience any sense of comfort amidst evacuation warnings and directional shifts in the infamous Santa Ana winds. A study published amidst the 2018 wildfires by researchers from the University of Washington and the Nature Conservancy show that wildfires disproportionately affect low-income people of color. How do we, as a state and a university, justify the inequality down the street from our own neighborhood?
Elizabeth Ferris, a research professor at Georgetown University, argued that a problem often encountered in a natural disaster is unequal access to assistance. Many celebrities experience natural disasters on the complete opposite side of the spectrum than those in poverty.
During the 2018 wildfires, Kim Kardashian West fled her home in Calabasas via a private jet. Low-income residents rarely have the opportunity to leave the disaster site, let alone leave in a private jet.
Aside from the immediate access to evacuation resources such as cars, places to stay, etc., there are post-disaster resources like insurance and savings that allow for those with more wealth to rebuild after displacement. The ability to replace lost items or destroyed homes is not a universal privilege that everyone has access to.
Not only does unequal access provide barriers in evacuation, but there is also an increased health risk to low-income residents who have been displaced to locations within the vicinity of the wildfires. Without the option to leave the state or relocate to an unaffected region, many residents are left with the harmful effects of air pollution and toxins.
Students have felt the effects of the surrounding fires through smoky air and ash that require safety masks to be worn during the walk from the classroom to Payson Library. The impact of air pollution in the areas directly affected are much greater than what has reached campus.
The issue of unequal access to basic human rights is one that can often be forgotten under the protection and safety of a university like Pepperdine. The student body is made up of individuals who care for those around them and seek to enact change, yet it can be easy for anyone to become centric-minded in the face of natural disasters. What can Pepperdine do to combat the effects of inequality in times of fear?
Whether it is providing temporary housing relief to low-income residents who have been displaced or assisting in food and clothing provision, there are opportunities for Pepperdine to assist and provide for those in need in our community.
Los Angeles is full of opportunities to partner with outreach organizations. The United Way of Greater Los Angeles is a non-profit on a mission to end cyclical poverty and has provided disaster relief and recovery funds to low-income families affected by the Woolsey Fire.
There are many people who do not currently have the capacity to evacuate and do not have a sense of comfort in these times. It is essential that we are both aware of our privilege as a university and utilize that privilege effectively to provide support and resources where we can.
Email Lexi Scanlon: email@example.com