Why was this thing being held in an art gallery? Why did I say I’d do this anyway? Now I’m stuck here for my whole Saturday. Will I like the other people? The whispers of doubt floated through a head or two, or fifteen, as a group of UMN undergraduate students representing five different colleges made their way up the stairs to the NASH Gallery at the Regis Center for Art. They represented the students selected for the Institute on the Environment’s Undergraduate Leaders Program and it was the Kick Off on November 8th, 2014. They shared in common an interest in sustainability, making a difference, and leadership.
In their hands, they brought a representation of sustainability and unsustainability to put on a timeline. (Well….and a few people had some cakes and cookies too).
Here’s what they said afterwards.
The Undergraduate Leaders’ Kick Off was….
“A new perspective on an old passion.”
“An incredible opportunity to meet fellow undergrads who are passionate about sustainability and social change. We had the opportunity to collaborate on our ideas for what the next AASHE Conference in 2015 can look like, and, for me, it was valuable to continue the discussion of bringing a social justice lens into sustainability. Best of all…we all like each other a lot! I can’t wait for the next one. :)”
“A breath of fresh air for my soul.”
“My first introduction to on-campus peers who are also passionate about sustainability and activism. I loved it!”
“Inspiring. The connections and experiences at the Kick Off empowered me to take these messages out into the world and not be afraid to shake up Business as Usual”!
“Inspiring! It was so cool to learn about other people’s views on sustainability. I’m super excited to grow with this team and learn about how we can make a difference!”
“Engaging and built social capital.”
“A unique way of bringing multiple disciplines together to discuss sustainability issues.”
What happened in between? A lot of team bonding and thought and practice about creative means of communication. Centering around sustainability as equity and reciprocity, one of the major tools this year is to think about how to effectively communicate and represent sustainability in a way that facilitate it to be more inclusive and interdisciplinary.
Leaders were greeted by the thinking making living exhibit at the NASH. The exhibit drew on a range of artists and mediums to create a public art platform that required participation and confronted us to “think making and make living.” Through art, it questioned how we are in the world today, how we relate to each other and interact with the ecological, political, and cultural issues that shape our lives. It immersed the group within creative forms of expression on sustainability, equity, diversity.
They made their way to a project space located within the exhibit itself. It was not a museum that shushed people into a quiet observance, but one which encouraged engagement. That was good since a gurgle of talking and laughter starting flowing from the group almost immediately as they shared out on who they were, made goofy grunting noises while throwing around an imaginary ball, and did some team building.
“I appreciated having the time to get know each other,” Miah Ulysse, a student in Food Systems and Leadership.
Flash forward to Representation. Question: How can we be creative communicators and represent a vision of sustainability that is inclusive and diverse? Methodology: As one of our activities at Kick-Off, we will be creating a History of Unsustainability/Sustainability Timeline to help us contextualize sustainability as well as introduce each of us to each others’ views on sustainability. Come with a “representation” of an event, invention, social change, person, power shift, etc. that you feel is important to both the history of unsustainability/sustainability and your vision of sustainability.
As each of the students explained their representations, everyone brought something a little different to the table.
“Is it good? Or is it bad? Sustainability is often not black and white.” John Thompson of HECUA said as he thought through his presentation on several inventions that have impacted our past, present, and future.
Exploration. Take time explore the gallery to see how public artists are engaging sustainability. Then translate that to your own art project and work.
“I was looking at Seitu Jones’s Self Portrait and Seed on Drawing and saw they were connected. He was the seed and the seed was him. It was like an ah ha. We are the seeds and they are us. We’re connected. Sustainability, I am in you. Sustainability is us,” said Kyle Samejima, a student in environmental communication, as she thought about how to integrate some of the ideas on thinking making living into her own work.
Application. Apply these creative thoughts to reality. What do you think should be in the call for proposals for the 2015 AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) conference that will be hosted in Minneapolis should include. Students thought outside the box to come with a wide range of ideas that will go to the conference planners.
“Being surrounded by art and positive energy today was really refreshing,” commented Beth Mercer-Taylor, UMN Sustainability Studies Minor Advisor to sum things up.
Thanks for the great time.
If you have questions about the Undergraduate Leaders Program, contact Kate Flick at email@example.com.
Last week five students from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities jetted off to Portland to exchange ideas for campus sustainability with students, staff, and faculty at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) annual conference. AASHE holds the largest conference of its kind in the world, and this year it drew members from every state and twelve countries on six continents. Simone Childs-Walker, Tyler Redden, Bailey Rockwell, Jeff Tierney, and Madeline Giefer represented Sustainability Education during many workshops, roundtable discussions, and networking sessions. Out of the experience they brought back plenty of new ideas from these sessions as well as presentations by high-profile sustainability advocates.
Sunday was dedicated to student action with the AASHE Student Summit, where students participated in workshops on student engagement. From leadership theory to strategizing specific campus initiatives, there was something to support the work of any student activist. The Student Summit closed with a keynote address by Anna Lappé, world-renowned author and educator on sustainable food systems. She raised questions of health inequities, environmental risk, the implications of advertising to children, and corporate power in the American democratic system.
The full conference officially kicked off with another keynote presentation by Annie Leonard, creator of the Story of Stuff campaign. She argued for “busting out of the environmental silo” to bring more disciplines into the sustainability movement. She also mapped out human behavior in terms of our “consumer muscle,” which is continuously rewarded, and our “citizen muscle,” which has atrophied. Leonard believes a collective decision to “flex” our citizen muscles is necessary to “get corporations out of our democracy and the citizens back in” and ultimately achieve a sustainable economy and society. Though Leonard is more optimistic than many about our ability to change for the better, she nonetheless delivered a stern ultimatum: “Are we going to change by design? Or are we going to change by disaster?”
On Monday the conference continued with more sessions on curriculum design, student leadership, and enhancing a university’s role as a sustainability leader and exemplar. There was also a poster session with more than one hundred presenters, which drew so much engagement the session was running strong well past its one-hour time slot.
Monday closed with an address by sustainability and diversity advocate Marcelo Bonta. Sporting bright orange pants, Bonta explained the value of “color” in his life as a metaphor for cultural diversity. Bonta grew up in a multi-racial family and now has one of his own. Early in his environmental career, he had encountered blatantly racist remarks from coworkers and felt a constant sense of exclusion in the field, which later inspired him to found the Center for Diversity and the Environment and Young Environmental Professionals of Color. While he now has a much more positive outlook on this issue, he worries the environmental movement may not be able to incorporate the rising percentage of minorities in the United States, especially children of color who are expected to make up half the U.S. child population by 2019. “In order to be for all, we have to be with all,” he said in his appeal for more active incorporation of people of color into environmental organizations.
The conference closed on Tuesday with a closing presentation by EcoDistricts founder Rob Bennett. EcoDistricts works to heal communities and neighborhoods that are victims of environmental injustice. The organization focuses on “urban renewal,” or working sustainability and community building into urban planning. Bennett believes strongly in the potential of community and campus organizers. “We are the disruptors!” he told the crowd. Bennett’s speech nicely tied together the conference’s themes of university responsibility, community and student action, and diversity and justice within the environmental movement.
Medical student Simone Childs-Walker had great success connecting with other sustainability enthusiasts at the conference, which she believes is critical in her sustainability work. “Place matters. Stories matter. Relationships matter. It is our work to meet people where they are and to be present, humble, and grateful.”
Next year we are fortunate enough to have the AASHE conference in Minneapolis. Organizing such a large international event is a monumental task, so if you are interested in getting involved, contact Madeline Giefer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sustainability Education was able to send so many students thanks to a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation through Student Unions and Activities.
Tomorrow is election day, when we’ll be choosing the Minnesota Governor, federal Senators and Congresspeople, and our state legislature. So whichever candidates you believe have our best interests in mind, be sure to cast your vote.
And remember, even if you haven’t registered yet, you can register at the polls tomorrow.
To find your polling place and answer other logistical questions, visit this webpage provided by the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. Public transit is free all day, and you may be able to secure a sponsored free ride to the polls.
Information for voters without a Minnesota driver’s license is available here. Just bring another photo ID plus plus a bill (utility, cable, etc.) with your name and address on it, or another registered voter who can vouch for you.
If you live in Minneapolis but aren’t sure who you’ll vote for, check out this voter information packet provided by the League of Women Voters.
Voting is both a right and a civic obligation, so please help ensure the best government possible for Minnesota and the nation.
Image credit: Alan Cleaver
Three times a year, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition offers paid, full-time internships in its Policy and Grassroots departments.
NSAC is currently seeking a Policy Intern for the winter and spring, beginning in mid-January 2015 and ending in May 2015. This position is full time and is located at NSAC’s DC office on Capitol Hill. Find the full description here: NSAC Policy Internship
NSAC is currently seeking a Grassroots Intern for the winter and spring, beginning in mid-January 2015 and ending in May 2015. This position is paid, full time, and is located at NSAC’s DC office on Capitol Hill. Find the full description here: NSAC Grassroots Internship
APPLICATION DEADLINE: Monday, November 3, 2014.