In October, Claudia Reyes ’18 and Marshall Borrus ‘20 attended the 2017 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference in San Antonio, Texas with Zilkha Center staff. The annual conference invites members of various colleges and universities to share and learn ways to position institutions of higher education as global leaders in sustainability.
“This was the first time Williams students attended the conference,” said Claudia, who attended as a presenter. Her presentation focused on her experience with Root, an EphVenture program sponsored by the Zilkha Center and the Davis Center, which explores the intersection between sustainability, social justice and identity. As a first-year, Claudia did not select an orientation program and was placed into Root. She loved her experience and returned the follow year to serve as the program’s director. “The community was the best part,” Claudia recalled.
“I met several students over the course of the conference who were impressed by Claudia’s presentation. Many of them expressed interest in creating a program similar to Root at their institutions,” said Elayne Elliott, Sustainability Coordinator in the Zilkha Center. “It was great to see Williams recognized as a leader and innovator in that space.”
When asked about key take-aways from the conference, Claudia reflected on some of the workshops she attended. “I went to a panel that focused on how to get away from ‘thinking green’ when it comes to sustainability,” she said. “One school started a campaign where they removed the word and color green from all of their signs and labels.” This campaign emphasized that being sustainable does not only mean “being green,” as the two are not equivalent. This change could bring forth the notion that sustainability is everyone’s work in creating a better community, not just those who take interest in environmentalism.
Marshall, who leads Williams Environmental Council (WEC), reflected on similar lessons learned. “AASHE made me think a lot about my role a student ‘activist’ – or whatever the word one would use is – at a school like Williams. While the goal of WEC, and clubs like it, is to increase sustainability on campus, ASSHE brought up the idea that the main, unwritten goal is to act as a conduit for hands-on-learning,” said Marshall. “In essence, [we should work to] make the campus more sustainable while learning how to plan, organize, and enact change within a large multi-headed system. It turned my views from ‘what can I achieve with this club’ to ‘what can I do to get members involved’.”
“In a larger sense what AASHE really opened my eyes to was looking at projects through a more holistic lens. This includes…thinking about non-tangible goals and metrics – even if itself project doesn’t have a large direct carbon reduction, does it influence people to change their behavior and ‘buy-in’ to sustainable thinking,” he said. In the semesters to come, Marshall plans to use this new paradigm to help form and drive projects for members.
Rio Salazar ’20 is the communications intern at the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.