Professor Tony Arnold offers a resilience justice perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic

Professor Tony Arnold
Professor Tony Arnold

Professor Tony Arnold, who leads Louisville Law's Resilience Justice Project, is a nationally and internationally recognized scholar. Much of his works focuses on the intersection of land, water, the environment and government.

He shares his thoughts on how the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the systemic inequalities and adaptive capacities of vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed communities. 

In this pandemic, he reminds us to think about:

  • the homeless, 
  • low-income households and neighborhoods, 
  • the elderly, 
  • people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, 
  • the politically powerless, 
  • people in low-wage or tip-dependent jobs with businesses that are being closed down, 
  • people without adequate health insurance or convenient access to health care facilities and providers, 
  • families in which the adults don’t speak English or have minimal educations, 
  • neighborhoods and communities that are food deserts (few to no grocery stores or access to affordable, fresh, and healthy foods), 
  • people who can’t drive themselves to the store, 
  • people who don’t live near a large regional park where outdoor recreation with social distancing is possible, 
  • and so on.

"Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the urgency and importance of the need for resilience-justice analyses and solutions," says Professor Arnold, highlighting recent disasters that have also had an unequal and devastating impact on these communities: Hurricane Katrina; Hurricane Maria; and drinking-water crises in Flint, Michigan and Eastern Kentucky.

"Neighborhoods with high poverty, high unemployment, poor-quality housing, minimal access to healthcare, not enough parks, not enough trees, too much air pollution, lack of cars for individual transportation, no high-speed internet, etc. are facing intersecting and reinforcing barriers to adapting to COVID-19, much more than the common problems of social isolation, fear, and restless kids and pets," says Arnold.

The Resilience Justice Project uses a conceptual framework of resilience justice to do three things, often in partnership with community-based groups and government agencies. Arnold and law and graduate student fellows analyze conditions that affect the resilience of communities. They analyze public policies that often result in unequal investment and disinvestment in community infrastructure and capacities in the most marginalized communities, and propose policy reforms. And they identify community capacity-building opportunities and tools that will help vulnerable communities improve their abilities to adapt and will empower communities.

"I’m grateful that my research, teaching, and community service have taken me in recent years to the intersection between resilience and justice, because the COVID-19 pandemic, like many other crises and disturbances, shows the need for all of us to care about and work towards resilience justice," says Arnold.