Student Experiences at AASHE 2016
On October 9-12th, students and sustainability leaders at higher education institutions across the nation and beyond gathered in Baltimore, Maryland. A cohort of 6 UC Berkeley students and some UC Berkeley staff journeyed together to the other side of the country to engage in a national higher-ed sustainability dialogue. Read on for some of their reflections and experiences!
Anna Yip, 4th Year, Zero Waste Research Center:
This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend AASHE in Baltimore. I learned about eco initiatives and products being implemented and used on campuses across the globe, and brought home ideas about how we can better improve our campus’ sustainability movement. Overall, the conference was, as cliche as it sounds, an extremely eye-opening event. But, what is perhaps less cliche is the main reasoning as to why I felt my perspectives broaden. Of course I got that motivational push you feel when attending environmental events with like-minded individuals who share similar passions and beliefs with you. But more jarring to me was stepping out of the bubble we live in here on campus and in our environmental community.
I know I personally spend most of my days picking out the flaws and the areas in need of improvement on our campus in terms of sustainability. I am so wrapped up in our bubble that often I only notice the negative. In Baltimore, I had to step out of the bubble. I met representatives from other campuses who are still struggling to implement their first and only recycling program on their campus, or who are looking into starting their own “Refills not Landfills” campaign. We from Berkeley were often asked for advice on our existing efforts. Now, do not think that I am advising for anyone to halt their efforts or am deciding to pat myself on the back and call it a day. I am still well aware of the leaps and bounds our campus needs to make towards a more sustainable future and will spend the rest of my college career pursuing just that. However, I am perhaps slightly more proud of the campus I represent, and hope this helps you all feel the same.
Charlie James, 4th year, F.E.E.D.:
Not an experience to forget, as a student at AASHE, which was full of sustainability professionals from different institutions of higher education, I was able to learn about the struggles these staff face on a daily basis. It was sobering. The struggles sustainability staff experience with getting administration to recognize the urgency of sustainability runs parallel to students’ struggles in doing the same. These adversities exist in diversifying sustainable spaces as well. Conversations about nurturing equity, inclusion, and diversity became those of putting people of color in sustainable spaces or offices without thinking deeper about the root causes why these spaces are predominantly white. One reason is conventional sustainable discourse in which “sustainability” has become a white coined term that in conversation almost always overlooks the natural sustainability of indigenous people from around the world, implicating that if it isn’t white, it doesn’t belong in the conversation, which reflects the predominant reality that if you aren’t white, you don’t belong in sustainable spaces. I was fortunate enough to present with Amanina Shofry, Sharon Daraphonhdeth, and Katherine Walsh about the this issue, focusing on the epidemic of sustainable spaces nullifying equity, inclusion, and diversity by addressing them only in words, in their mission statements, without action. In contrast, we gave light to the actions within UC Berkeley that are addressing inequity, exclusion, and oppression, including the formation of the Students of Color Environmental Collective (SCEC) itself as a statement to the environmental movement as one that has been and is marginalizing people of color and the growing impact of the SCEC in giving people of color a voice in the movement (if you’re interested in SCEC, check out this link!), and the initiatives set forth by the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) to build equitable and inclusive food systems at UC Berkeley as a primary goal (please contribute to their campaign to raise funds for this initiative via this link).
Another valuable lesson to be remembered from AASHE is how fortunate we are at UC Berkeley to have the amazing divisions of sustainability that we do; places like the Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC) and programs like Cal Dining Sustainability don’t exist at a lot of other colleges. The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) we have is exceptional and is in fact a model for a lot of other campuses; the growing influence of TGIF is shocking. SERC, the Berkeley Student Food Collective (BSFC), Cal Dining Sustainability, and many other projects, which were initiated by students, are making a lasting tangible impact by transforming this university to a more sustainable institution. While there is definitely more room for change and space to question if the pace at which Cal is changing is too slow, still take time to appreciate how far we’ve made it and what we have accomplished; this distinction became especially clear to me at AASHE; I hope to share it with whomever happens to come upon this article without forgetting the urgency of dismantling the predominance of white conversations in sustainability.
Scott Silva, 2nd year, Zero Waste Research Center:
At the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, I learned many new strategies on how to combat the areas where we are lacking efficiency in waste and sustainability. I saw presentations from many different people, from surplus companies, a Greek Sustainability Office, and from Mark Edwards, the professor from Virginia Tech that made the Flint, Michigan EPA failures visible. At all of these presentations, we were presented with new tactics, examples, and ideas for follow through, all of which will help benefit student engagement. I got to present a poster on the TGIF campaign during the poster session, and I got to watch Amanina, Charlie, Chiel, Katherine and Sharon present a few times! It was exciting to collaborate with other schools as well, and there were many excellent networking opportunities for students of all sorts. I learned a lot at AASHE, but the group of us from UC Berkeley that went noticed one thing: we were the most diverse group of individuals at AASHE.
My experience at AASHE really opened my eyes to the social injustices that exist within the environmental community. As a white male, I do not often see the racial and social injustices that exist in society. Thankfully, I get to go to school in a place that is accepting and diverse, allowing me to learn more about how to fix social issues, more specifically environmentally justice, in my own job. At the conference, there were many, many older white people, usually having an occupation in administration. There is no problem with this, as many of these individuals made great progress in environmental policy during the beginning of the climate change regime. But this poses an issue to the idea of environmentalism, as it should be a field or ideology that is accepting and progressive. Unfortunately, I felt as though we were actually going backwards at the conference: the underrepresentation of minorities, the issues within Baltimore itself, and the people in positions of power. I hope that my work with zero waste can help out with fixing some of these issues.