Seeking sustainability for all
A group of students and I discovered that people were hungry for events and conversations that tie equity and social justice to sustainability. After taking Race and Sustainability, a class in the black studies department, and hosting the winter conference Sustainability for All, we decided to continue this work together and were grateful to receive a Solutions Generator grant to host a dialogue series—called Beyond Paper or Plastic—focusing on race and sustainability. The series covered many topics, including privilege, becoming an ally, African-American incarcerations rates, and a moving-into-action session, in which we collectively came up with a list of recommendations for the University on how to make campus sustainability more relevant for everyone.
During the dialogue series, we had open conversations about race and privilege, and learned it was okay to be uncomfortable; these difficult conversations allowed us to stretch and grow. This played an important role in creating space for each of us to be heard.
Alma Trinidad from the School of Social Work was our advisor, and we brought in community member mentors, such as Benjamin Duncan from OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and LeRoy Patton from the Fair Housing Council of Oregon. We were a diverse and intergenerational group. Some attendees even brought their parents and grandparents.
Here is what one of our group organizers, Nichole Martin, had to say about the dialogues:
Sustainability has never felt like a movement I could get behind. I didn’t feel included in the conversation until I was taught to see how interlinked sustainability is with race and inclusion. I believe that equity, justice, and inclusion are lacking in our city, in our schools, and in our neighborhoods. I feel like we, as students, do not have to accept that as our reality. By us creating and providing a safe place to talk about "sensitive" topics, we are embodying courage. I hope we inspire others to have courageous conversations in their homes, in their schools, at their jobs, and in their communities.
These dialogues are an amazing tool to break down barriers created by oppression and to view sustainability through multiple lenses in order to create a movement that represents us all.