SEAS students participate in Student Sustainability Summit
The third annual University of Michigan Student Sustainability Summit was held October 22. It included workshops and activities for students and organized groups interested in learning about sustainability in practice. Facilitated by the U-M Student Sustainability Coalition (SSC), the summit hosted campus student organizations such as Turn Up Turnout, Uproot, Noon at Night, the U-M Sustainable Food Program (UMSFP) and others to facilitate sustainability-based breakout sessions. The event’s emphasis was on environmental justice and the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability practice, education and outreach.
The SSC is an interdisciplinary group of U-M students that serves as a bridge between student organizations and university administration. Students involved in the SSC are from a range of schools and colleges, including the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) and the Program in the Environment. Although they come from all corners of campus, each of the coalition members prioritizes sustainability in their academic and daily life, emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of the subject.
Administered through U-M’s Student Life Sustainability, the coalition provides grants for student organizations, as well as facilitates the Student Carbon Neutrality Network and casual sustainability-related coffee chats. The SSC also published a weekly newsletter updating subscribers about sustainability efforts and events around campus, and facilitates the annual Student Sustainability Summit.
The first round of breakout sessions was mediated by campus sustainability organizations. One of these sessions, “Uproot: Transcending and Radicalizing Environmental Education,” was led by SEAS students Japjyut Singh and Maryam Syed. Singh and Syed are members of Uproot, a student organization developed in 2020 with the goal of decolonizing curricula. Although the group developed within SEAS, “we are trying to reach out [beyond SEAS] and expand into different programs,” Singh explained. The session focused on identifying frameworks that are used to define and develop knowledge and research in academia. Participants were pushed to consider how we might break down these frameworks in sustainability-related academia and real-life application. “Everyone’s work in sustainability is not separate,” said Syed, noting how this practice can be applied across disciplines and not just within SEAS.
Between the breakout sessions, the summit included a student panel focused on sustainability and environmental justice mediated by an SSC member. Panel members included Marsalis Jolley and Lashaun Jackson, SEAS students who are specializing in landscape architecture and environmental justice, respectively. The panel was asked to reflect on why sustainability is important in their academic and personal lives. “I love to learn about people who care about these issues the same way I do,” explained Jackson. “The student body at SEAS is so diverse, and there is so much to learn from my peers.”
The second breakout session of the day included three activities. The first, mediated by the UMSFP, was a creation marathon, designed to push participants to think about their relationships with food and food’s social and ecological context. The second session, mediated by artist-in-residence Dawn Weleski, delved into the idea of food as a binder for solidarity, and encouraged students to think about ways that their relationships with food have radicalized them and pushed them to advocate for change. The third activity was moderated by students in the SSC and guided participants through general grant-writing strategies and the specific grants available through the SSC. These breakout sessions encouraged active participation from each summit attendee and pushed them to think critically about what sustainability means in different aspects of their lives.
Throughout the afternoon, participants, event facilitators, panelists and discussion leaders all placed emphasis on the importance of community in sustainability work and organizing. The carefully curated sessions at the summit provided attendees with new tools, perspectives and a sense of community to take with them to apply to their personal, professional and academic lives.
“We aren’t just students,” said Jackson. “We are artists, teachers, and people, and we have a lot of power together to make action happen.”