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Erin Heaney '09 Makes Environmental Justice Her Focus

Erin Heaney '09 Makes
Environmental Justice Her Focus

by Linda Hou '13

Erin Heaney '09
Erin Heaney '09

As a student, Erin Heaney '09 took active leadership roles in organizations focused on social justice issues (as well as the volleyball team). In the two years since she graduated, she has continued to make an impact by serving as the executive director of an environmental justice nonprofit. Recognition for her work with the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York (CACWNY) includes being featured as the Huffington Post's "Greatest Person of the Day" and being named to Buffalo's 20th annual Business First 40 Under Forty list.

CACWNY began when residents in Tonawanda, N.Y., came together to protest against the area's dangerous levels of carcinogens caused by illegal emissions from industrial plants. Since then, the organization has taken direct action against a larger variety of environmental justice issues across Western New York. As the executive director, Heaney oversees all operations of the organization, including organizing community members and building diverse coalitions to implement initiatives to reduce environmental hazards, as well as lobbying for state anti-pollution laws.

While at Swarthmore, Heaney was one of the founding members of STAND, the student-led division of Genocide Intervention Network that now has hundreds of chapters nationwide. Her experience with social justice continued with an internship with People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) as a part of a Summer Social Action Awards (S2A2) grant from the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility.

"My summer at PUSH with Aaron Bartley '96 was life-changing," says Heaney, who graduated with high honors in political science and sociology and anthropology. "I got hands-on experience doing grassroots community organizing around housing issues in my hometown of Buffalo. After that summer, I was hooked. The financial support I received from the Lang Center allowed me to gain invaluable field work experience that I've been able to leverage to make Buffalo a greener, healthier place to live."