By Georgia Johnson & Anna Korotina
About 200 students, faculty, staff and Santa Cruz community members attended the 15th annual UC Santa Cruz Student Environmental Center (SEC) Earth Summit held in College Nine and Ten’s Multipurpose Room on April 29. The daylong event included tabling from student organizations, several student speakers and the second annual Student of Color Caucus hosted by the People of Color Sustainability Collective (POCSC), all of which were related to the summit’s overarching theme of student empowerment and sustainability.
“We wanted to showcase what Enviroslug has been working on over the whole year,” said third-year Andrew Chang, the Earth Summit logistics coordinator. “But we also wanted to get students to be aware of the work that we’re doing and the available resources to them to have a student voice and encourage people to be more active on campus and in issues that are around.”
This year’s themes also encompassed the Blueprint for a Sustainable Campus topics. The blueprint serves as a multipurpose document comprised of students’ visions for the future of UCSC’s sustainable growth. Topics range from water use and waste prevention to social and environmental justice and energy use. Breakout groups at the end of the summit focused on these issues.
The schedule also included Enviroslug Interactive Tabling which had games, DIY beauty products and chocolate samples. A Sitar Indian lunch was served on sustainable wooden utensils and bowls.
“Overall, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction among students with the prospect of expansion and possibly enrolling more students without providing good resources for them. That’s not sustainable,” said UCSC fourth-year Student Environmental Center blueprint co-chair Madeline Turner. “We want students to be involved in decision-making processes and we want people to be really engaged with their campus. Increased engagement would make our campus way more sustainable.”
Jessian Choy’s keynote speech highlighted ways to be more environmentally sustainable, such as purchasing clothing made with organic cotton versus synthetic cotton, which spreads microfiber threads into the water and ends up in the ocean.
Following lunch, Nikki Silvestri — UCSC alumna and former executive director of People’s Grocery and Green for All — gave a keynote speech on the importance of diversity in environmental organizations.
Like last year, the Student of Color Caucus served as a space for students of color to discuss the campus sustainability movement. About eight students attended the caucus this year, said caucus co-facilitator Raymond Lebeau. Goals for the next year include increasing the number of participants by outreaching to other student organizations and spaces across campus.
The caucus was created to address disparities and lack of representation within the environmental justice movement.
“These conversations need to continue to be had. The validations of these conversations also need to be part of campus discourse,” Lebeau said. “There is a need to keep trying to prove the sentiments that people of color aren’t interested in environmental and sustainability issues wrong.”
This year SEC invited Silvestri to help facilitate the caucus and give a keynote speech about her experiences as a black woman in environmental justice and social equity for underrepresented populations in food systems.
“Incorporating environmental justice and incorporating connections from different communities at Earth Summit is important,” Lebeau said. “The caucus is important for validating students of color’s space in the environmental movement.”
In her keynote Silvestri discussed her own experiences as a UCSC student involved with the Education for Sustainable Living program, the California Students Sustainable Living Coalition and African Student Union.
“There’s always the people like [us] that are in the intersections. We always exist. Find us. Care for us. Care for yourself as one of them, because we all stand at the intersection of something,” Silvestri said to the audience. “Class, gender, something. Let those who feel deep identity and ownership in both groups be the one to carry the message.”
Silvestri also discussed her life growing up as a foster child in Los Angeles, how she was subject to violence because of her race and gender and the disconnect between black communities and the environmental movement because of these issues.
“The most important issue is keeping our bodies physically safe in the short term. The stuff [environmentalists] talk about is keeping our bodies safe in the long term,” Silvestri said. “And [black people] don’t have that luxury. We’ve got to get through tomorrow.”
During the summit, the green ceiling was cited as a limiting factor for students of color across the country. The green ceiling is the report compiled by the Green 2.0 — formerly the Green Diversity Initiative — that despite increasing racial diversity in the United States, the racial composition in environmental organizations and agencies has not broken 12 to 16 percent.
“Getting past a type of green ceiling that is affecting these sentiments and creating an un-inclusive space [is important],” Lebeau said. “Maybe that isn’t ill-intentioned, but getting past the green ceiling is important to improve upon the [student of color] movement across campus.”