Considering Climate Across Campuses: Mount Holyoke Summit on Women’s Leadership in Climate Justice

From April 13th to 15th, I had the opportunity to attend the Mount Holyoke Summit on Women’s Leadership in Climate Justice alongside fellow Williams students Micaela Foreman ’23, Blue Jordan ’23, Rebekah Lindsay ’25, and Ainsley Ogletree ’25. The summit brought together students, faculty, community members, and activists with a common interest in environmental justice advocacy for three days of inspiring presentations, resource sharing, and thoughtful conversations. Sign against brick wall the says "Welcome to the summit on women's leadership in climate justice"

Panel discussions provided insight into the efforts of women and non-binary leaders to integrate sustainability across disciplines. We learned about entrepreneurial approaches, such as the honey company Under the Mango Tree that equips farmers in India with the necessary tools for beekeeping and a returnable takeout container project called Usefull, which operates primarily on college campuses. Another panel fostered discussion on climate migration across the world. We heard from one artist who integrated the sounds of climate change into her work, making  records of glacial melt out of paper that destroyed themselves as they spun. One of my personal favorites was the panel on the built environment, where we learned about architectural approaches to dealing with climate change. In it, we were asked to consider how our built infrastructure shapes our everyday interactions with sustainability, such as our connection with the natural environment and our relation to food security. We looked at examples of buildings designed to withstand floods and those that incorporated sustainable living practices. “Design is never neutral,” said architect Caitlin Taylor. “It either hurts or heals.”

Throughout the event, participants had the opportunity to attend training sessions on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and receive certification for the completion of the program. These events focused on defining the SDGs and exploring how they could be implemented on a college campus, bridging the gap between international commitments and local advocacy. We worked with Mount Holyoke students to brainstorm ways to more closely integrate the voices of students into institutional sustainability, aligning with SDG 17 for partnership and SDG 11 for sustainable communities. Blue folder with name tag 

The conference encouraged remote participation, with an online option for all events and several panelists and keynote speakers joining via Zoom. This made the valuable ideas shared at the summit accessible to a wider audience, and cut down on the emissions associated with the travel to and from the event. One of the keynote speakers remarked that this was the first time they had been asked by a conference to refrain from traveling rather than needing to request it. This innovation made the conference feel more committed to its purpose, centering the importance of accessible and fruitful conversations about the climate. 

Outside of organized events, we got to connect with fellow summit attendees and learn about their experiences with sustainability and climate justice. We heard the stories of Mount Holyoke alumni who had returned to their alma mater for the summit and felt energized by the knowledge being shared, and connected with current students who shared their experiences with campus sustainability and environmental action. These conversations made me excited about the breadth of engagement with environmental justice and were some of my favorite parts of attending the conference. I came away feeling inspired and eager about the prospect of fostering similar connections at a conference at Williams.

Sasha Horvath ’25 is a 22-23 academic year Dashboard intern with the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives at Williams College.