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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Spreading collective action through community

Multiple Davis students attended the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) fall convergence, hosted by Humboldt State University from Nov. 8 to 10. Attendees worked toward environmental collaboration through discussion, food and music.

Made up of current students and recent alumni representing UC, CSU and community college campuses across California, the CSSC holds a convergence twice a year in the fall and spring with different themes and workshops for students to discuss the economic, social and ecological roles of sustainability.

“If you want change, you have to think global but act local,” said Jianna Robinson, a third-year sustainable agriculture and food systems major and external convergence coordinator for the CSSC. “Convergence is a way to pull all of our resources together and support each other. We put on workshops and it’s a way for people to become educated in general about things relating to sustainability.”

The theme of the convergence this fall was Building Sustainable Communities with subtopics concerning infrastructure, community-based food production, action and social justice.

One UC Davis attendee, Benett Hannan, a third-year sustainable agriculture and food systems major, described the event as informative as well as fun and constructive for students.

“I was so stoked on getting to hear the realities of our sustainability movement from like-minded students and graduates,” Hannan said in an email. “We discussed the issues of declining environmental health in impoverished communities … analyzed current GMO laws and discussed how to shape our local legislation to serve the people … and learned a lot about the growing market for alternative energy sources.”

Though the CSSC has three branches of leadership made up of the advising Board of Directors and two voting bodies including the Council of Representatives and the Operating Team, all interns and volunteers practice horizontal leadership so all operating bodies and campus chapters have equal value and function under the similar core values of sustainability.

“Having more than just one campus involved increases awareness and provides an outlet and some capacities for different social and environmental movements,” Robinson said. “Being able to connect with partners in other parts of California, learn from them and work together is really empowering and helpful.”

The CSSC has been represented on the UC Davis campus since 2004, sprouting from members’ affiliation and involvement with the Campus Center for the Environment (CCE), which has been on campus since 2003.

Emili Abdel-Ghany, a fourth-year community and regional development major, holds positions within both organizations as external affairs coordinator for the CCE and Operating Team co-chair for the statewide CSSC organization. She also presented workshops on fossil fuel divestment and social justice during the convergence and hopes to see a broader definition of “sustainability” on campus.

“A lot more people know about the [CSSC] in a broader sense than just convergence and are thinking about ways we could enhance holistic sustainability on campus because there is a lot of emphasis on environmental aspects,” Abdel-Ghany said. “Our organization is growing to vocalize more about social justice and striving towards making it the underlying theme of everything we do. Without a discussion of these complex systems of oppression in which we live there is no way of moving forward because economic, social and environmental issues are so intertwined.”

Abdel-Ghany also hopes that the convergence brings individual as well as collaborative change for the students and their campuses.

“In our intellectual advancement and sharing interpersonal stories, I hope this convergence will bring people to a greater understanding of each other’s struggles and where new parts of our coalition can collaborate to use their resources to help each other through social and economic capital,” Abdel-Ghany said.

The Fossil Free UC campaign is one way through which the CSSC is looking to integrate a more interdisciplinary collaboration among student movements on campuses throughout the state.

“We’re pushing to have the University of California to divest their current investments in fossil fuel industries and [transfer them] to alternative investments,” Robinson said. “We have a reinvestment strategy and campaign directors who work and have meetings with different organizations while on campus we try to do a lot of outreach and explain to people what it is.”

Members have already spoken their plea to the Board of Regents through Public Comment during open sessions. However both Abdel-Ghany and Robinson agree that the process of dismantling parts of institutions like higher education or the food system will take time and effort.

“It’s hard to be an activist and a student [at the same time] because in this world we are trying to change we have to conform to other social institutional ideas that are already in place,” Robinson said. “Something we plan on doing with pushing the Fossil Free UC movement on campus is creating dialogue with other groups, having them understand how it relates to them and building a stronger presence on the Davis campus.”


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