Student activism, service learning and community-based work

Student activism

My colleague Dr. Melissa Forbes and I, as graduate students at the University of Michigan, co-founded the Student Sustainability Initiative (SSI), a strategically placed student group in the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute with institutional memory, guaranteed long-term funding, and the ability and buy-in to interact directly with university administrators, facilities and operations staff, and faculty.  Board members of the SSI have done a tremendous job at transforming the university living and educational experience for students and instituting university-level policies that are environmentally and socially sensitive.  

SSI has been integral in, among other things:

the Campus Integrated Assessment in which the University committed $14 million to sustainability efforts

setting green building standards for large (>$10 million) construction projects

instituting zero-waste varsity sporting events

the creation of an office of sustainability and a sustainability position at the administrative level

educating faculty on how to incorporate sustainability issues into curricula

building a corps of residence hall advisors that engage freshmen in sustainable behavior

creating a student-led and student-run $150,000 green revolving fund

Service learning and community-based work

As a Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute Doctoral Fellow, my colleagues Dr. Laura Sherman, Dr. Laura Cole, Dr. Paul Coseo, Dr. Krista Badiane, and Professor Larissa Larsen and I developed and taught an interdisciplinary class on service and community-based learning on environmental sustainability and social justice in Delray in Southwest Detroit, one of the most highly polluted areas in the state of Michigan.

Delray has been chosen as the site of the landing of a state-owned international bridge between the US and Canada.  While the State of Michigan can make significant economic gains with the construction of the bridge, there is a strong potential that the bridge will significantly degrading air quality and quality of life of an already polluted and impoverished neighborhood because of increased truck traffic and the physical splitting of the neighborhood caused by the landing of the bridge.  

In our class, students worked with community groups to develop plans--which included barriers, green spaces, and transit ways--that could be incorporated into a community-benefits agreement if the bridge ended up being built.  Below are pictures of Delray, students conducting neighborhood block assessments, running community meetings, and developing neighborhood plans (all photo credits to myself).