By Lily Makhlouf
“Stronger in Solidarity”—the motto of this year’s Association of the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, or AASHE conference, couldn’t have been a more fitting phrase for a turnout of students, faculty, non-profits, and businesses that are eager to unify on the front of sustainability. Ranging anywhere from undergraduate students to published climate scientists to corporate professionals, there was an overarching sense of the pressing need to collaborate on all levels across the board to enact change.
There was a lot to take away from the event, which was designed in sessions that addressed different projects, research, and workshops of students, faculty, activists, etc. Each session had its own set of knowledge and tools to contribute to the ongoing strive for sustainability in higher education and beyond. While I noted a lot of important information at the conference, here are 3 points that stood out to me:
1. Students hold the power and influence in the fight against Climate Change.
As students, we have a great capacity to affect change in this battle because we have the opportunity to connect with other young people and share ideas. At the conference, I realized how easy it could be to connect with other college students and establish a network to exchange ideas and support simply by reaching out. Despite the fact that we may be separated by distance and rivalries among other factors, we need to make a consorted effort to unite behind our shared goals if we want to make impactful change on a large scale. In addition, we can reach out to the leaders of our institutions to endorse solutions like carbon pricing and divestment from fossil fuels. Organizations, like the Citizens Climate Lobby, equip students with bi-partisan training and resources to use their political influence to lobby members of Congress to address climate change.
2. Environmental Justice and Social Justice are intrinsically related.
Understanding Intersectionality and its relation to environmental issues is critical if we want to promote justice on all levels. The discussion of environmental concerns needs to be made more inclusive. The effects of climate change more adversely affect people of color. For example, coal plants, landfills, and incinerators are more likely to be built in minority communities than in affluent white communities. Because of this injustice, many people of color suffer from health issues and are at risk of even more problems. On college campuses, intersectional awareness of sustainability issues needs to be a priority to include everyone in this conversation. The Post Landfill Action Network, or PLAN, advises creating a survey on inclusivity to see where people feel they stand in the conversation of sustainability.
3. College communities need to work beyond campus boundaries.
Improving sustainability efforts on our college campus is imperative, however our efforts need to extend beyond our campuses into the local communities that surround us. College students are not confined to the limits of their campus community. In fact, we have an obligation to improve the communities around us. Whether this is working with local council members on environmental initiatives, supporting local indigenous people, or working with local non-profit organizations, we have the ability to improve our surroundings. At the conference, I shared the details of the Ramapough-Lunaape’s ongoing struggle against the Pilgrim Pipeline at the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp and so many people I met were shocked that this was happening in our local community. This goes to show the need of student and faculty support in our community. Being involved with non-profit organizations like the Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization (MEVO) is a great way Ramapo students are already giving back to their local community. When we become members of an institution, we also become members of the greater community around that institution. In addition to the ideas that I gleaned from the sessions at the conference, I feel that the greatest take away was the emotional motivation I received from other participants to actively contribute to this growing effort. I feel impassioned to devote more of my time, abilities, and passion to ensuring the success of sustainability across our campus and beyond into the local community. I truly believe that “stronger in solidarity” is a goal that can come to fruition when we unify our knowledge, skills, and passion.