By Tobi Ewing '15
“My family has always recycled old containers, we’re sustainable… but it’s out of need, not for show.”
Monday, September 8, 2014 not only kicked off the first full week of school, but also the first session of OSDP’s “I Speak What I Like” Brown Bag Lunch Series!! The series is a new initiative with the goal to provide space to consider academics, art, hot topics, forms of resistance, or just as an open space for dialogue. The series was inspired by Jared Ball’s groundbreaking manifesto “I Mix What I Like”. OSDP provides the lunch and participants provide insightful dialogue.
Monday’s lunch topic was Social Justice and Sustainability, co-hosted with Sustainable Skidmore as a part of the JUSTSustainability series. The facilitators hoped to "discuss what it means to be sustainable in American culture: how does it impact communities of color or marginalized groups that have indirectly been a part of the sustainability movement?"
The brown bag was facilitated by Gerolly Lorenzo ‘15, a senior Sociology major and OSDP Student Assistant, and Zia O'Neill '17, a sophomore Environmental Studies major and a Sustainable Skidmore S-Rep. The conversation started with an icebreaker asking attendees what brought people to the event. There were a myriad of reasons from wanting to learn about perspectives on sustainability and social justice to seeking ways to apply sustainable practices to honoring sustainable practices of indigenous people of color. With these many points of interest, we were in for a treat!
Gerolly and Zia started the conversation with a clever and very telling question: Describe what comes to mind when you picture a sustainable, environmentally friendly individual. Completely acknowledging stereotypes, people answered, “white” “friendly” “vegan or vegetarian” “rich” “strict” “mason jars”. We were then asked why we thought of these particular narratives and images, which led to a bigger conversation on whose stories and practices of sustainability are praised and whose are criticized. Very shortly, we realized that sustainability work was not exempt from racism and privilege.
The conversation highlighted the relationships between race, class and resources. A couple of students shared that they promoted sustainability by reusing old food containers and plastic bags, using an alternative instead of buying branded food containers. A student posed the question, “Why wasn’t using extra sheets from home not as acceptable and respected as buying ‘eco-friendly,’ ‘organic’ sheets that were imported from another country”?
The group noticed that if your sustainable lifestyle wasn’t a luxurious and a choice, then your story wasn’t worth sharing and weren't considered sustainable. Those who chose sustainable options out of need and/or culture are marked as primitive, usually people of color, while those who are wealthier and choose sustainable options are the face of the movement. For example early practices of farming and composting were implemented by indigenous people of color, but as a society we rarely hear these stories.
$20 glass water bottles and expensive organic juices aren’t practical for all individuals, but the group suggested many other ways to contribute to sustainable causes: One suggestion was community building, creating a mentally and emotionally sustainable living environment to promote positivity and collaboration. Two, learning from each other; respectfully giving and adopting sustainable practices from other cultures and communities.
The event ended will delicious pizza, last comments and a group photo!
Join us for the next “I Speak What I Like” JUSTSustainability Brown Bag Lunch Series on October 8th, 2014 12:30pm-1:30 in the ICC, co-hosted with QLIC (Queer Lives in Color) and Skidmore Pride Alliance!