Engaging Yale Cultural Centers in a Diverse and Inclusive Sustainability Movement

September 28, 2017

The second Ambition of the Yale Sustainability Plan 2025 is Empowerment. Through this Ambition, the University will work to support diversity and inclusion through education and collaboration in Yale and New Haven more broadly. The Office of Sustainability has been working with Yale’s cultural centers to try to make the University’s sustainability endeavors more inclusive and diverse. We have met with various assistant directors of the cultural centers, student organizations within the centers, professors working on environmental justice, as well as several New Haven groups working on these issues. The project has been highly interdisciplinary and collaborative; the goal is to think about different ways that ideas of identity and sustainability intersect. Importantly, this is not a one-way conversation as Maclovia Quintana, former Assistant Director of La Casa mentioned, “we should be equal partners in the conversation.”

Within this larger framework, we are working on three specific goals: improving the operational sustainability of Yale’s cultural centers, by improving energy use and waste disposal; developing collaboration between the Office of Sustainability and groups within the cultural centers; and, enhancing collaboration between the University and New Haven groups working on issues relating to diversity and sustainability.

There have been many successes since this project began in September 2016. The Asian American Cultural Center conducted an energy survey and found that the building used energy twice as efficiently compared to similar Yale buildings. Similar surveys have been conducted at the Afro-American Cultural Center. In addition, many student groups operating under the cultural centers have filled out Green Certification surveys, ensuring that events are organized in a more environmentally responsible way. Most organizations that applied for Green Certification received a ‘Gold’ classification, meaning that these events successfully integrated the balance of people, planet, and prosperity into planning and implementation.

Additionally, we are currently working with the Black Students Alliance at Yale (BSAY) and the Yale Student Environmental Coalition (YSEC) to organize an event for BSAY’s 50th Anniversary celebration taking place on October 7th. This event will combine ideas of sustainability, justice, and inclusivity in a conversation around environmental and food justice. This is a true representation of the work we are trying to do: collaborate with other groups to try and bring inclusivity and diversity into the sustainability conversation.

“There is a long history of people of color involved in environmental justice and activism; however, this history tends to be erased or overlooked,” said Mykaela Johnson, Vice President of BSAY “The partnership between BSAY, YSEC, and the Office of Sustainability is a great opportunity to honor this legacy and the numerous people and organizations who work to address the intersections between race, class, gender, and the environment.”

Indeed, events like this hope to broaden the concept of sustainability, and bring to light stories and struggles that have been erased.

In the future, the University hopes to bring sustainability into different conversations, and show that everyone has a stake in this movement. Dr. Laura Barraclough, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration, said that it is important that we broaden our definition of sustainability; we need to bring the conversation into cities, into our institutions, and into our daily lives. The Yale Sustainability Plan 2025 seeks to make this issue one that all people, regardless of race, gender, nationality or socio-economic status, feel like they have a stake in. This is not only about the environment, this is about ingraining a culture of inclusivity and justice into Yale.

Lekha Tlhotlhalemaje, Cultural Center Liaison, Office of Sustainability