In the Mind of a Student at AASHE 2017 By Serena Carmona-Hester
Saturday 10/14: Travel Day
8:00 PM: Touchdown — San Antonio, Texas. First thoughts stepping off the airplane: Sticky. Everything is so sticky, but yay AASHE!
10:00 PM: One thing you should know: I love Mexican food. With that being said, the Mexican food was definitely one of the things I was looking forward to most when coming to Texas and oh my sweet enchiladas, tacos, sopes, and conchas did the food live up to my expectations. Our restaurant for dinner was about the size of 4 separate restaurants combined. I guess everything’s bigger in Texas, right?
Sunday 10/15: AASHE Student Summit
6:00 AM: *BEEP BEEP BEEP* Gosh, alarms have to be one of the best and worst inventions. The shrill of an alarm is bitterly painful, but at least today it was able to wake us up for a fun-filled day! As we’re getting ready for the first day of AASHE, I’m feeling a combination of excitement and anxiety because I know my first presentation at a conference loomed ahead in the upcoming hours. However, right now all I can focus on is the intensifying desperation for caffeine.
8:00 AM: It’s 8 AM and somehow there still is not a coffee in my hand…*sigh*
8:30 AM: Lydia Avila is the opening keynote speaker for the Student Summit. She’s the Executive Director of the Power Shift Network that connects student climate-justice organizations across the country because she believes in the importance of empowering youth. Personally, I’m definitely doing a happy dance in my head to see a woman of color chosen to speak to us on such a large platform. Historically and culturally speaking, women of color have been silenced within our social, economic, and political spheres and it’s vital that we only move to give them a greater voice in action for positive change. AASHE definitely is making massive steps from last year in living up to their theme of “Stronger in Solidarity” and embracing the importance of diversity, justice, and inclusion within the field of sustainability.
12:00 PM: Lunch time. More Mexican food. A very happy me.
1:30 PM: Holy crap my presentation is an hour away. Don’t freak out. Stay calm. Hold it together, Serena. Why are my palms so sweaty? Omg I can’t breathe. Okay, deep breaths.
3:00 PM: At this point in time, I can finally say that I finished my presentation, which brings a feeling of great relief and happiness. I presented on the Intersectionality Coalition that myself and fellow GU students began after being inspired by a few AASHE 2016 sessions. It focused on taking a lens that acknowledged the interconnected nature of social identities and systems of oppression to more effectively address the integral role that social justice plays in providing a more sustainable future. I also want to shout out all of the GU students and staff that attended and gave such amazing support. It definitely was the cherry on top of my day.
6:00 PM: Katharine Hayhoe is the opening keynote speaker. She addresses our current political situation and the giant question of how we can get more people to care about climate change. She gives an interesting perspective by stating how most people already have the values they need to care about climate change, meaning it’s not that we need to instill certain values in people, but rather that we just have to connect the dots.
9:00 PM: I’m given control of picking a dinner location, and with that kind of power you can already guess where I’m taking my fellow Zags to eat at: a taqueria. And yes, it was delicious.
Monday 10/16: AASHE Continues
6:00 AM: *BEEP BEEP BEE — * Ugh. I so wish I was a morning person.
8:30 AM: I have my caffeine. I have my breakfast. I’m fully awake and ready to rock and roll. My first session today is on NYU’s Office of Sustainability utilizing a year-long theme of women in sustainability as a response to student interests. I think it’s awesome to bring attention to the connection between the patriarchy and the environment by highlighting the monumental contributions that women have made to the climate movement. It’s a way to empower women, increase awareness around environmental issues, and have a dialogue about how the two work together.
10:00 AM: Let me just start out by saying that Heather Hackman is a hilarious, intelligent, no-B.S. rock star. I like the term ‘rock star’ because she completely rocked my world last year at AASHE when her session served as one of the main inspirations for the Intersectionality Coalition. When I saw her name on the schedule for this year I almost passed out from happiness. In her session, she reminds us that it is impossible to live sustainable lives so long as systems of oppression still exist, e.g. white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, etc.
1:00 PM: After lunch, we are free to explore the expo hall and posters. One of the most interesting posters I come across is the deconstruction of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic from an ecofeminist perspective. While Leopold set the foundations for why we should care about our land, it’s also important to include the perspectives of indigenous peoples and women.
5:00 PM: Peacock spotting! Yes, our hotel in San Antonio has a peacock and it is indeed very random. In the process, we were oh-so-lucky to experience dozens of Texas bugs that swarmed our ankles and left some glorious bug bites. Joy!
8:00 PM: Now that it’s dinner time, we decide to do the beautiful river walk and find a place to eat along the way. The humidity has died down, the temperature is at a steady low 70’s, and the air is alive with the bustling of both tourists and locals exploring the shops and restaurants. It’s definitely been an above average Monday.
Tuesday 10/17: Last day of AASHE
9:15 AM: One of the first sessions that I decide to begin my morning with is led by Gonzaga’s very own Real Food Challenge! They teamed up with some other Real Food Challengers from Colorado College to talk about how real food cares for producers, consumers, communities, and the earth. In their presentation, they express the difficulties of working with Sodexo and stress the importance of student support and voice when working towards change.
11:00 AM: Time to check out of the hotel. This is the moment when you know it’s real and AASHE is actually coming to an end. *sheds tear*
1:00 PM: One of the last sessions I attend addresses how to overcome the hurdles of political polarization and find common ground within the environmental movement in a way that’s appealing to both liberals and conservatives. Turning our attention to faith communities is a more neutral area to approach conversations about sustainability. Religion rather than political views is the main motive for charitable behaviors, which can be used as a vehicle to create dialogue around environmentally conscious actions.
4:00 PM: My hero or shall I say my “shero”, Heather Hackman, is making a second appearance as the closing keynote speaker, and yes, I’m definitely holding back real tears. She explores the topic of whiteness and what it means to be someone with racial, economic, or gender privilege within society, but more specifically within the sustainability movement. As someone who possesses my own share of privilege, I really connect with her when she talks about how you can’t get caught up in the guilt or shame and instead focus on curiosity and empathy. If you don’t educate yourself, you will unconsciously contribute to the problem. It’s not just about being an ally, but rather about being a deep advocate, a true partner that extends your responsibility beyond just being an ally.
5:30 PM: None of us really want it to be over. Although, I must say we are all very excited to catch up on some sleep. We’re standing outside as our uber is just one minute away, and an incredibly adorable and sweet woman named Judy Walton asks if she can share our uber with us to the airport. It turns out she was one of the founders and served as the first executive director of AASHE! We end up transforming the typical, awkward uber small talk into a delightful conversation that made the 15 minute ride feel all too short. I don’t think I could have asked for a better ending to my AASHE 2017 experience.
Lastly, I want to thank the Green Fund, the Office of Sustainability, the Payne Center for Leadership, the Environmental Studies Department, and RHA for funding our trip and making this memorable experience possible for myself and the other students I had the privilege of traveling with.