When my college experience began, all of these responsibilities, expectations, consequences and guidelines were really challenging to balance; to peer through all of the noise and find ways to do something I was passionate about on campus seemed impossible. After my first year at school, however, I had some clues about how I can do environmental and community activism work while also being a full-time student.
1. Assess what your college is already doing.
I so was disappointed in my college’s lack of focus on what I perceived as sustainability or environmental ethics, in both the administration and the student body, that I did not even look at what it was doing. Upon further research, I learned that the Franklin & Marshall College Sustainability Master Plan was established in 2015 after several years of deliberation and drafting between the administration, faculty, and students—a product of collaboration between multiple constituencies working towards common objectives. Nonetheless, I was dissatisfied with the limited role the Center played at F&M, so I began pursuing other avenues to influence sustainability on campus. This includes collaboration with local CSA farms, including Homefields, Inc where students can volunteer some of their time each week in exchange for a farm share. Passionate about sustainable agriculture, waste management, energy consumption/use, upcycling, or another eco-topic? Find an ally, be it faculty or administration staff, to be both a soundboard for your ideas and a support mechanism to get matters moving.
2. Communication is key.
Communication can go a long way in trying to plan events or start new initiatives on campus. While keeping up with numerous contacts is not my strong suit, it has pushed me to have better organization, time management and transparency with both my peers and superiors. Many environmental groups and organizations love free help and are often open to volunteers. Sometimes that volunteer work can turn into an internship or job. The former was the case for me with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, where I became a project intern and social media coordinator, respectively. Did you do a community service event with an environmental group? Introduce yourself to that group’s representative, ask for a meeting to brainstorm and share your vision for environmental ethics or sustainability on and off your campus. Who knows? Their projects or partner organizations may be working towards the same end.
3. Expand the scope of what “environment” means to you.
The environment is traditionally viewed as a single issue, which is inherently misrepresentative of what it should be. As Jim Sandoe of Citizens' Climate Lobby Lancaster put it in a workshop, in order to pass legislation like the Green New Deal or the Carbon Fee and Dividend Act, there needs to be a coalition of organizations pushing for change. Climate change, pollution, and lack of access to healthy food or clean water are environmental issues that disproportionately affect communities of color and working-class neighborhoods. When planning events on campus or looking for collaboration from off-campus organizations, do not limit yourself to just conservation or sustainability. In order to holistically solve systemic issues and institutional failings, we as a society need to focus on environmental justice and how policy can change behavior and restore faith to all groups, placing emphasis on marginalized, working-class and minority communities. talk to the members and/or leadership of an organization that is not environmental-centric, and discuss ways that it can be run sustainably or if particular goals/events align with environmental agendas. You don’t have to be green to be green, if you know what I mean.
4. Collaboration, not isolation.
You may be surprised by the volume and intensity of environmental organizations in your community. At least, I know I was. Lancaster City is a town of around 60,000 people, not including college students and commuters. Yet, I have been able to coordinate with multiple groups and their initiatives, including the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and their Riparian Rangers program, which is a volunteer-led group that monitors the health of riparian buffers throughout the county. There is a hunger for finding solutions to big issues like climate change at Franklin & Marshall College, just like there may be at your school as well, and all it takes is one person to begin a culture shift if there isn’t. Mention your name, your interests and why you want to work with that organization, and that is usually enough to spark a new dialogue.
5. Get off campus!
When I was a freshman, there were few organized volunteer events or activities that my college would provide for students. I found this all-the-more troubling when I began reaching out to numerous environmental groups in the area who were ecstatic that F&M students were interested in green activism, such as tree planting or invasive species removal. While it is important to educate students and provide workshops on campus, nothing is more important than immersion and community service. Getting off campus offers the educational experience for students while assisting environmental and conservation NGOs with their own initiatives, which usually lack the manpower. Support local green organizations by inviting them to campus to showcase their products, services, and background in the green economy. Talk to a local florist about showcasing/selling their greenery in your dormitory. Talk to your local congressperson or government about what their stances are on issues you care about or ways to get your student body involved.