Soaking in the Sustainability: Reflections on the 2016 AASHE Student Summit

November 1, 2016

Picture from AASHE

~By Rachel Merriam-Goldring, Class of 2017

‘The person next to you is going to heal the world,’ said our first speaker. I smiled at the friends I was sharing a table with, knowing he was right.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the student summit at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)’s annual conference. While at the summit, I went to panels and talks on the links between art and science, on food waste and student-led compost programs, on southern energy policy, on marketing sustainability, and on the power of science to expose injustice. It was a day jam-packed with learning and warmth.

It was also a day full of many good questions, many of which I’m still mulling over.

What would you surrender to fight climate change?

How do we fight apathy?

Can emotions play a more central role in combatting environmental degradation?

What partners can help us get our message across?

How do we bring about continuity and continued student engagement?

What role does culture play in the transition to renewable energy?

What is climate change a symptom of?

I was initially surprised by how participatory the conference was. In the first panel on the links between art & science, we started by doing an exercise that allowed us visualize connectivity. We each chose a word that represented our homes and natural spaces, and then passed around a ball of string to people whose stories connected with ours. The resulting web was a lovely reminder of the links we often don’t see. In later panels, I quite enjoyed the breakouts, where we had wonderful conversations about to better facilitate participatory decision-making, and how to collaborate with other organizations to make our outreach more effective and intersectional.

Another highlight of the day was hearing  the keynote speech for the larger AASHE conference, given by Marc Edwards, the professor whose research team was integral in exposing the Flint Crisis. He talked about the work he’d done in DC in the early 2000’s to expose lead levels in water supplies, and how that ultimately lead into his research on Flint water supplies that garnered significant national media attention. Although there’s significant criticism of Edwards, most of which rests on the ways in which his role as spokesperson took agency and credit for progress away from the residents and community leaders in Flint, he nevertheless had many useful lessons to impart. As he reminded us, ‘you’re judged by how you treat your most vulnerable.’

Perhaps the most important part of the conference was something more ephemeral and less concrete than a specific speech or panel. Broadly, it was powerful to be surrounded by so many people who are fighting the good fight. I’m constantly wowed by the sheer amount of energy people bring to sustainability efforts. It was revitalizing to spend the day in Baltimore learning from and with people who also hope to heal the world.

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Welcome to Hark Upon the Green! This blog is a shared space for members of the sustainability community at William & Mary to write about sustainability topics on and beyond. If you would like to contribute to the blog, contact Madeleine Boel, Committee on Sustainability Web Assistant, at mgboel@email.wm.edu.
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