By Serena Dressel, Coordinator, Student Sustainability Center
At a meaningful moment in time, we see interest in climate justice and initiatives across PSU growing into campus-wide conversations about the imperative of climate action. As someone who has been involved in sustainability initiatives on campus since 2014, I am excited about the potential of this moment to be pivotal in creating greater collective impact towards collaborative climate action.
Student-led and youth-led movements are at the forefront of local climate action.
One opportunity to listen to and support the work of our students and our local communities is the upcoming Creating a Just Climate Future: Community Dialogue & Sustainability Awards event at PSU. This event will be held on May 12 from 1:30 to 5 p.m. in the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom.
This event is a platform for multiple voices across the local climate action landscape to be listened to and learned from, and for the PSU community to consider what opportunities our region holds for PSU to contribute to collective climate justice impacts. This space for listening and reflection allows for links between separate efforts on campus to build better, together, finding opportunities for interconnected efforts in the way that community based learning, research, and other efforts are approached in and outside of the classroom. PSU is uniquely positioned to help make lasting change in this arena and I am excited to see the work that is already occurring highlighted at the upcoming event as the start to an ongoing conversation about improvements that can be made and growth that can be achieved together.
Every day I have the opportunity to learn from inspiring student leaders on campus who are invested in working toward a livable, just and sustainable future at the Student Sustainability Center (SSC). Engaging students in experiential learning outside of the classroom, SSC students design and facilitate their own initiatives, programs and events on campus: working collaboratively to manage campus gardens, the campus apiary, and to highlight the intersections between social justice and climate action through initiatives such as Social Sustainability Month.
I was also engaged in a recent community collaboration with the Portland Youth Climate Summit supported by PSU that centered high school, college and recent graduate youth voices in planning a community oriented environmental and climate justice event. As a member of the planning committee, I was inspired by the representation of PSU students and their leadership in helping to create and facilitate the inspirational event. The intentions of the Summit and potential for social change were shared in the opening of the event, with youth member reflections, including this one read by J.J. Klein-Wolf, a high school student.
“Moving through a world where, most of the time, the negative is so much easier to identify than the positive can be exhausting,” she read. “As youth, we are often told what we can’t do because of our age and at times it can be difficult to feel validated in our efforts to fight for our future and the future of our planet. Our goal as youth is to cultivate a space built for ourselves, by ourselves where each of our consolidated efforts can merge to create more powerful change.”
During the event, young people and other community speakers highlighted local environmental and climate justice issues while rooting opportunities for action in a foundation of tools for self and collective care. The national spotlight on local environmental issues was highlighted by young activists from Sunrise Rural Oregon and Youth V. ODOT. References were also made by leadership from other inspiring youth movements in Oregon including the Portland Youth Climate Strike and Youth v. Gov.
In closing the event, Melanie Meija, a PSU alum and speaker at the summit, framed the importance of this moment with an invitation for participants to: “Spend more time listening; listening to the Earth, listening to your heart and listening to the heart of others. We as youth are more than capable of making waves and radiating change. Making change in our own community first will plant the resilient seed that will grow into larger change in our world. Our hope is that after today, you all feel at least a little bit more equipped to do so.”
This advice resonated with me as I reflect on the climate justice opportunities available at PSU. As we look forward to next week’s Climate Justice Event event, I think about the eight years of climate action and sustainability work that I have engaged in on campus both as a student and staff member. Many of the projects that are starting to bud and blossom now were seeded years ago with the efforts of PSU community members and students who were passionate about climate action and determined to make a difference. I have hope that this moment will translate into lasting institutional engagement in climate justice, and that listening to PSU students, faculty, staff, and community members will be at the center of this work. We can recognize the urgency for action and the energy of invested PSU community members as a catalyst for positive and necessary change.
About Serena: Serena Dressel (she/her) is the Coordinator of the Student Sustainability Center at Portland State University. Serena is a Master’s student in PSU’s Public Administration program with a specalization in Global Leadership and Management. A PSU alumni, Serena studied Environmental Studies with a minor in Indigenous Nations Studies for her undergraduate degree when she was actively involved in sustainability and student leadership programs on campus from 2014-2018. Serena is also the co-lead of the Portland Youth Climate Collective that hosted the recent Portland Youth Climate Summit event.