OP ED: THE SUSTAINABILITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE FORUM

The forum “21st Century Education: Sustainability and Environmental Justice” on Wednesday, March 21, at 7:00pm in University Hall was hosted by Students for Environmental Action. This was meant to be a space for students to speak their concerns about sustainability on campus and question what it means to have a 21st-century education. They planned to discuss concerns on the intersection of the environment, equity and economy. President Knucl, the Dean of Students Donna Eddleman, other administration and faculty were there to hear our concerns and thoughts and for peers to hopefully be inspired by each other.

 

Co-president of SEA, Elise Eifler began the forum with a speech addressing the room asking, are we learning contemporary issues that are going to critically influence our future, such as climate change and environmental justice issues? Will we be prepared for future issues from our learnings at this university? She was not just addressing whether Environmental Studies and Science majors will be prepared, but whether the collective whole of students are armed with tools for sustainability as our university promises on the steps of the administration building.

 

SEA’s pamphlet read, “You claim this is a green university, but…” followed by multiple examples proving this claim incorrect such as not composting post-consumer waste, excessive watering, minimal solar energy and a lack of transparency about where our money goes, etc. One of the vital points the co-president addressed right off the bat is the desire to improve our campus culture involving sustainability. Unless someone is an environmental studies student or takes classes surrounding sustainability, this information is only being geared towards EVST students. Stressing the importance of sustainability academically and socially involves recognizing intergenerational and intragenerational equity, which is vital to the goal of a more holistic education. Sustainability is a way of thinking and living – a worldview. Developing a culture of sustainability means including the economic, environmental and social aspects as well.

 

Once the forum opened up to whomever, a student began the discussion by asking the administration for transparency with the school’s budget.  We as student consumers want to know where our money is going to since the school’s sustainability annual report shows no definite progress. This is mostly due to initiatives towards sustainability being started, but never actually being completed. This report, however, makes prospective and current students believe the school is currently and continuously taking initiatives towards sustainability, when in reality the bare minimum is being done. We want the school to be held accountable to what they say they are doing.

 

A senior, Zoe Price, was the first person to say what a majority of the student environmentalists at this forum continuously mentioned — our campus’ over-watering problem and the costly quad. She also mentioned how the vegan line should be open on weekends and breaks, since these students have nothing to eat those days. A strew of students who wish to remain anonymous brought up the need for proper recycling lessons and signage, divestment and financial transparency, use of solar energy production, making technical changes in the buildings, radical direction/action, native plants onto our campus, cutting edge technologies and representing California’s leading green initiatives. Every single student who spoke of one of these issues spoke with combined passion, anger, disappointment, excitement and energy. Each time a student spoke up, a chord seemed to strike with another student whose hand would soon be in the air, wanting a chance to speak their truth. This resulted in a string of clear, political messages from these student activists to the administration that we want change.

 

The Dean of Students Donna Eddleman did not embrace our passion, and said “a respect piece is missing” in this forum. Eddleman seemed to completely disregard what was said, and focused more on how the arguments sounded, which in her opinion were “disrespectful.” She followed this by saying “we are missing time with our families to be here for you tonight.” She continued to say how the university is doing some things in response to our interests and she would appreciate some comments acknowledging that. For instance, instead of focusing on how much the university over-waters the campus, we should see the brighter side of things, like how pretty the grass makes this campus look. She ended her response by requesting that we don’t tell her what needs to happen, but instead to politely ask her what can happen.

 

Co-president Elise Eifler commented on Eddleman’s response.

 

“I think Eddleman tried to placate us with her comment on us being disrespectful, which I disagree with, but I think it tamed the room and there was a conversation after,” said Eifler.

 

This is true, for following Eddleman’s comments, a freshman apologized if the audiences tone disrespected her, and said she appreciated the beauty of this campus. However, she pointed out that what she has heard from the students is a question — for change.

 

The job of educated, environmental activists is to already know what the problem is and bring forth creative alternative solutions, not to ask the easy questions.

 

Provost Kathy Ogren then spoke up and “welcomed us to the struggle,” and pointed out that  not every administrator feels the same way as others in the room do. She furthered, “the administration is not monolithic, and we’re in this together.” Her tone was understanding and thankful for everyone sharing their voices, not wanting us to feel discouraged and/or as if they’re not hearing us. She also said the last thing she wants to do is to foster anymore generational divide between themselves and students. Ogren also encouraged us to embrace the academic side of the house, look at curriculum change we want to see and talk to our faculty and first seminar teachers about expanding experiential learning opportunities.

 

While we were happy that our passionate voices were being heard, and not quelled, we as students are only spending four years at this school and cannot change the entire campus culture in that small amount of time alone. Even the ASUR Sustainability Representative, Mara Sherline could only do so much, since this position has been cut and will be non-existent for the following school year. It was felt that we cannot as a student body make this school actually sustainable alone, since only the board can make those fundamental changes.

 

After this somewhat tense moment, the students began to ask more direct questions such as: can we change the watering system to a drip-irrigation system and could xeriscaping be a possibility in the future? Facilities Manager Roger Cellini explained the realities of our irrigation systems and how xeriscaping would be a fundamental change to the whole feel of the university, which is a decision ultimately up to the “big guys” above him. This change, however, as sophomore Anyela Guzman pointed out, is going to happen whether or not we want it to. If the university could see change as a good thing that stands for progress, the removal of the grass on the quad could be a phenomenal acknowledgement regarding this institution’s belief in sustainability. Institutions are slow in making fundamental changes; however, we must push towards this change soon and absolutely everyone has a role to play in it.

 

The lack of communication and community felt on this university is one of, if not, our greatest weakness. However, there was more of an honest dialogue between students and faculty administration at this forum than I’ve seen this past year. So, while we were listened to, we will want to continue to pressure the board, because we need to keep them accountable. We have so many initiatives, but not enough action.
Environmental Studies Professor Daniel Klooster’s words, “don’t have it! Don’t be patient,” exemplifies the type of sentiment that will only increase every year action is not taken. We have been given the gift of a 21st century education and therefore have the tools for change which are now being challenged by the very same source that educated us.

 

Photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer, Caillie Roach.



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