Saturday, April 1, the Student Assembly hosted the first Student Sustainability Forum in the Sadler Center. The forum, led by Sydney Thayer ’24 and the Student Sustainability Council, promoted communication and collaboration between sustainability-focused groups at the College of William and Mary.
These groups included the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the Environmental Humanities department and the students working in the Office of Sustainability. At this forum, each group had the opportunity to share their perspectives on the College’s current sustainability initiatives.
The first group to present was the College’s chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. CCL is a national organization that establishes chapters around the country to advocate for legislation promoting sustainability. The group discussed its current initiative, which focuses on raising awareness for passing a Carbon Tax and Dividend legislation.
Organizations at the forum discussed the idea of a “snowball effect” to build support for sustainability initiatives. For example, Environmental Humanities, a new major at the College that combines environmental science with economics, political science, public health and the arts, hopes to build support for its program in a similar fashion. By doing so, it hopes to encourage widespread sustainability practices across campus.
“It has a lot of movement in terms of making connections between people within the humanities and the sciences,” program founder Isabel Schruer ’23 said. “So solving climate change from a way that everyone can be involved and making sure that when you’re going into solving a problem, you’re aware of all the biases present. You just go through the science lens. You can forget a lot about the impact it would have on society or how to actually influence people and the environment.”
Thayer, Student Assembly Secretary of Sustainability and now president-elect, shared her perspective on sustainability activism in the College community.
“I think the change that happens at William and Mary is very much student driven,” Thayer said.
For Thayer, advocacy from the student body is extremely important, and the driving factor that will drive the College towards a more eco-friendly community. Thayer and the Office of Sustainability, the third organization to present at the meeting, emphasized how students can advocate on behalf of themselves.
Sophie Pittaluga ’23 and Breegan O’Hearn ’25 presented on behalf of the Office of Sustainability. They emphasized that the College administration should listen to the students on sustainability projects, and a large part of their presentation focused on how to make your voice heard. Some of the most effective methods they advocated for were writing directly to College President Katherine Rowe, speaking with the members of the Board of Visitors at their meetings and participating in the Office’s initiatives whenever possible.
“Just look up student appointments at the president’s office and you can do a ‘request an appointment’ and you can write what you want to talk to her about,” O’Hearn said.
A key idea from the discussion portion of the forum was access to information. Participants felt that people often do not use sustainable practices because they lack knowledge. They believe that knowledge about sustainable practices is generally hard to reach, so making information more accessible should be a priority.
“I hope that there’s more transparency and communication, not only within the sustainability world, but also with other departments and offices to try and integrate the idea of sustainability and the green-ification of things into the school,” Pittaluga said.
Thayer emphasized during the event that change starts with the students at the College. The Student Sustainability Council aims to foster an environment that prioritizes sustainability and hopes to do so by continuing to host these events.