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Honors & Awards
April 1, 2008

The High Price of Banana Pesticides

Students Spearhead Photo Exhibit and Panel Discussion

It started with a class project for three students in Professor Maria Finn's Writing in the Public Sphere class and turned into a real world lesson on social activism that culminated in a three week photography exhibit and panel discussion on the dangers and victims of pesticides used on banana plantations in Central America.

Jacqueline Siino and twins Steve Romano and Theresa Romano split up the duties under the guidance of their professor to handle all aspects of the production and promotion of the show, The High Price of Bananas: Costa Rica, which is based on the award winning photojournalism of Meredith Davenport.

The documentary style photographs show some of the children who are believed to be victims of the pesticides that were sprayed on their parents either when working in the plantations or living nearby. The exhibit ran from April 1 until April 21 in the St. Francis College Callahan Center and ended with a panel discussion moderated by Professor Finn with photographer Meredith Davenport and Dr. Sherrie Baver, who teaches Political Science and Latin American Studies at City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Students were also given literature on how they could get involved.

Davenport told the packed room about how she first got started on this project while living in Costa Rica in 2000. She read an article about clusters of birth defects and traveled to the affected areas, finding family after family with children born with major birth defects.

In trying to get the victim's stories told, Davenport told how the companies using the pesticides would continually release studies that refuted previous scientific studies claiming widespread defects and sterility from pesticides. She described the frustration of the local residents in dealing with long legal delays and small financial settlements of only hundreds of dollars to care for children with serious problems.

Dr. Baver, who works with environment groups in Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx, said that it is often poor women with no prior political experience who champion the cause of environmental justice because they deal with the health effects of contamination on their families on a daily basis. She pointed out that the usually grassroots movements tend to go further than just the Not In My Backyard advocates, but demand an end to practices that hurt people and the environment.

Meredith Davenport's work has appeared in National Geographic, The New York Times magazine and Newsweek among many other national and international publications. She has been awarded a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism and her work on the use of pesticides in Costa Rica won an award from UNICEF.

The High Price of Bananas was sponsored by the St. Francis College English Department. The panel discussion was co-sponsored by The New York Council for the Humanities.

Photos: Students (L-R) Jacqueline Siino, Steve Romano, Theresa Romano

Panel (L-R) Meredith Davenport, Maria Finn, Sherrie Baver

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City's five boroughs and beyond.
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