Environment

SOUL discusses the role of social justice in sustainability

Photo courtesy Black Hour via Flickr.
Written by Rob Casavant

How do we define sustainability? How do we define social justice? Why is focusing on social sustainability important, and how does that affect Ohio University?

These questions were just a few of the many discussed at Wednesday afternoon’s Sustainable Ohio University Leader’s meeting on social justice benchmarks.

The meeting was an open discussion regarding the implementation of social justice benchmarks in the university’s 35-point Sustainability Plan. Of the 35 benchmarks the plan outlined, justice is overtly identified with nine. The meeting discussed how important it is to recognize the connection between poverty and risks to environmental health.

The nation is currently experiencing an example of this connection in Flint, Michigan.

While the discussion covered a wide range of ideas from philosophy to action, conversation focused on the relationship between environmental justice and social justice, both falling under the category of sustainability.

“(Environmentalism and social justice) are motivated by common core values,” Rev. Evan Young of the United Campus Ministry said. “We think our lives are worthy and meaningful, we want to have them, but we also think other people are as deserving of those gifts as we are.”

Young does not believe that social justice and environmental justice have to be separated but rather should come together to spur more change.

“We tend to think in either/or terms,” Young continued, “we use that as an excuse to divide ourselves, and we are a lot better when we work together.”

Hallie Zarbakhsh, a senior studying environmental studies and an Office of Sustainability student employee, brought up motivation as a key factor in sustainability.

“Some people only care about money,” she said. “How can we brand sustainability to their interests as well as others who are genuinely interested in protecting our world?”

One of the more practical issues discussed was the disconnect between Ohio University and the Athens community, felt more heavily by Athens community members than by students, Young said. The possibility of slight resentment from Athens citizens toward the university for not providing enough benefits to the community was discussed.

One of the ways participants discussed addressing the issue included shifting the “Zero Waste Initiative,” currently restricted to campus, to involve the community more. A joint public bus system for the members of the university and community to share also came up.

Conversation covered the general understanding of social justice across campus. Many felt that the average student may not have a comprehensive understanding of what social justice really means.

“When you say ‘social justice’ to your peers or maybe your peers’ peers’ peers, do they understand what it means?” Annie Laurie Cadmus, director of sustainability, said. “Do we talk about it enough and openly enough so that it’s not scary, so that you don’t want to just run away? Because it’s easy to run away.”

“I feel like students just should be more involved in social justice,” another student said. “I don’t think a lot of people actually pay mind to it at all, and that’s why it’s such a big problem and where there’s such a big gap between the community and the university.”

The conversation eventually ended, but participants felt it could have lasted longer.

“This is something we can continue,” Cadmus said when wrapping up the discussion. “I feel that we have just scratched the surface.”

 

Note: Olivia Miltner, the SOUL manager, also works as the editor in chief for The New Political.

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Rob Casavant

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