Meeting with Power

I know it has been a while since I posted, but that’s because this was an important and busy week. Tuesday was the day that Grace Bender (my fellow researcher) and I presented a list of recommendations to the administration.

Have you ever sat in a meeting that felt like nothing was really getting done?

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The meeting with the administration included a lot of opinions being shared, but it did not necessarily feel like progress was being made. Still, I left the meeting feeling fairly positive and I am trying to work out why I have been feeling that way. Let me start by detailing the agenda of the meeting:

1) Introduction of summer research

2) Grace and I introduce ourselves

3) Everyone else introduces themselves (VP of Finance, head of Facilities, and three professors including my summer research advisor.)

4) Lila and Grace make a 25 minute presentation of how the school can be more sustainable in the areas of water, transportation and administration. 3-5 recommendations were made for each of those topics.

5) Discussion of recommendations

Although I was invigorated by the presentation, the discussion (#5 above) was the most fascinating aspect of the meeting. First of all, everyone was passionately contributing feedback. The enthusiasm was impressive, but I also was confused by the fact that Grace and I were not invited into the discussion to share our opinions. We were technically the experts on the subject, but that was not acknowledged in the discussion.  At the end of the discussion, I managed to push my way in and make two final points. Speaking up felt like quite a victory.

Much of the disappointment about the overall meeting comes more from the recommendation that the VP of Finance (President Veitch’s right hand man) picked up on. He was invested in the water and landscape plan. Now you may say to yourself, “that doesn’t sound so bad!” And it’s not. Except that it’s not great either.

There are 2 reasons why this was a semi – disappointing response: (1) The VP of Finance informed us in the meeting that the president was already invested  in a water and landscaping plan. This means that advocating for the plan was advocating for something that was already going to happen. (2) The college has made a lot of plans. They don’t always result in action. We want to see the college making real change this year! Particularly on the water front, because the college has declared this year the water themed year.

The VP of finance also picked up on the recommendations to institutionalize a committee and develop a sustainability manager position. The professors that were present really helped to push these recommendations forward. Although I felt that their importance was acknowledged, the VP of finance also mentioned that he wasn’t sure he could get the president of the college to feel the same way.

So back to the original question…why did I leave the meeting feeling positive??

I believe that it is because I felt empowered in the situation. I am very proud of the set of recommendations that Grace and I presented. They were well thought out and clear.  The meeting also signified an end to research and a start to taking real actions. I’m excited to work in the coming year to make these recommendations a reality, with or without full administrative support. Mostly, when I reflect on the meeting, I feel lucky. I feel lucky that I go to a school where the advisor to the president takes the time to listen to my recommendations. I feel lucky to have an advisor and professors who passionately support my work. And I feel lucky to have the opportunity to spend this entire summer delved into challenges of pushing forward a sustainable agenda for Oxy. It’s been quite a summer!

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2:00 AM Adventures at the LA Produce Market

After going to the LA Produce Market with my friend and research partner, Grace Bender, I have invited her to guest blog! Read about our fantastic experience from her perspective:

At 1:45AM last Wednesday I shut my laptop to bed for the night. I, however, would not be going to bed for another four hours. I drove down the hill to collect my two partners in crime and we set off into the night. Only metro buses were putzing down Eagle Rock Blvd and eighteen wheelers ruled the freeways. Fifteen minutes later we found ourselves passing a topless dancers bar and a massive lot with six rows of what resembled raised storage units. The market was clearly just beginning as the headlights of an eighteen wheeler blazed in the rearview mirror when we pulled into the market to ask where was the best place to park. We were directed across the lot to another booth where we picked up our free permit and then returned to the entrance to park next to the only other two cars our size – every other vehicle could either crush us with the sheer mass of an eighteen wheeler or the velocity of the smaller forklifts that were whizzing around.
We hopped out of the car and cautiously worked our way back to the storage units. The term “busy bee” immediately popped into my mind as I watched men in the forklifts maneuver their machines back, forward, and in circles with the certainty and skill of a routine activity. They could change direction and avoid an oncoming eighteen wheeler within 15 yards of the vehicle and then get promptly back on course as soon as it was past the truck. Likewise, the trucks displayed a remarkable grace when backing into the storage unit marked with the same logo that the truck wore. Logos from each of the companies were hung above the doors of their storage units. Depending on the size of the company some logos would extend for up to six storage units while others only claimed one or two doors. The doors to each unit were opened and the produce set up outside on the platform.
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The first vendor we passed was selling dates, nuts, and dried fruit. I eyed the dried blueberries – a treat I am fond of and asked for the price. It was $5 for 5lbs. That may seem steep, but consider how Trader Joe’s sells 8oz bags for around $10. You’d have to shell out $20 to get a lb from Joe’s. We continued down the platform unsure of whether to look to the left or right – there was too much to take in! We passed a collage of green foods that went from green peppers in one corner to kale in another and cucumbers and basil somewhere in between. The next vendor had a wall of 25lb bags of carrots on the left and crates of blueberries and raspberries on the edge of the platform to the right. I bought a crate of blueberries and raspberries which had twelve store-size plastic cartons of each of the berries. Thankfully I split the raspberries with one of my friends. The blueberries went for $10 for the twelve cartons and the raspberries were priced at $20 for the batch. Further down the aisle I purchased eight pineapples for a grand total of $7, fifteen mangos for $6, 10lbs (!) of spinach for $12, and 25lbs of carrots for $7. The stands started displaying more exotic fruits as we continued. One stand had dragonfruit and lychee, both of which are often found in Thailand. Far more interesting were the sheer number of fruits and vegetables that came from this lovely state of California. From my purchases alone the carrots, blueberries and spinach were all from California. The pineapples were from Costa Rica and the mangoes hailed from Mexico. Jamaica was also well represented in the selection. Note that there were not a noticeable number of organic vendors.
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The people working at the market seemed to share a certain camaraderie that is reserved for those who live the 2AM to 8AM graveyard shift at a wholesale produce market. Vendors greeted each other as well known acquaintances. Yet, they were not gruff to the outsiders such as the three of us walking down the platform slack-jawed in awe of just how much fresh food was presented before us. The vendors joked with us about our sanity at being awake at such wee hours in the morning.
With a trunk full of fruits and veggies we headed back to school to juice some of our loot. Spinach and pineapple has become one of my favorite juices to make and the carrots have ended up in carrot cake and on many salads. After some juice and talking, the sky started getting brighter. What a fantastic way to end the day by watching the start of a new one with the sunrise. We hiked up to Fiji hill at the top of campus to watch the sunrise before squeezing in a few hours of sleep as others just began to wake up.
I have read that it is best to go to the market on a weekday night as early as possible. I would also suggest bringing friends to share any purchases with. Even if you’re juicing it’s just too much food to eat by oneself. If you are able to make the commitment to staying up very late or waking up very early, this experience is one of the best in Los Angeles – just drink some coffee or tea and be prepared to be groggy the next day and you’ll be fine! The market drives home the fact that the world is not lacking in food, we are just lacking in the distribution of produce and the education to teach people how to cook great food.
Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market
1601 E Olympic Blvd  Los Angeles, CA 90021
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Real Food, Real Thought

On Sunday, I was lucky enough to go to the pre-conference for the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference: http://cahigheredusustainability.org/

It was at the beautiful UC Santa Barbara which is just about under a two hour drive from Oxy.  The drive was full of views like this :Image

It reminds me of how nothing feels more like California than when you are driving down the freeway. Isn’t that CRAZY? The entire culture of Los Angeles, which Oxy tries so hard to allow it’s students understand, is connected to driving and cars. It makes me sad because I, like many students, yearn to drive the freeways( you know…when they’re free of traffic) and explore the city. Yet, at the same time, I am expending SO much energy this summer looking into the possibility of disallowing first year students to have cars and discouraging student and staff driving. Sitting in the car on the freeway and looking at the beautiful ocean views, I was feeling pensive and conflicted, an increasingly common feeling about my research these days.

After a tad bit of traffic on the PCH, we were there! We joined a group of about 20 students, sustainability coordinators, campus dining staff and professors. The pre-conference was called “Food to Fork” and was put on by the regional Real Food Challenge Coordinator. The real food challenge is super great! Colleges and Universities across the country commit to purchase at least 20% of food fair trade, local and organic by 2020. Here is a cool video about it http:http://http://vimeo.com/41824217.

Oxy has been doing a great job with the challenge. In 2011-2012 fiscal year, we were at 19.4%! Yet, we haven’t actually signed the real commitment. Campus dining staff hires a student intern who is in charge of the real food challenge and will be working towards implementing their new food calculator and signing the commitment this year.

A real cool part of the conference was seeing UCSB’s garden. Here are a few pictures:

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A sign at the entrance to the garden

A sign at the entrance to the garden

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Compost, recycle, and trash bins that are in many  locations on campus.

Although I don’t tend to focus on food as a defined part of my research this summer, the conference made me think about (1) how interconnected all sustainability work is and (2) sustainability as a social justice issue. There were some campus dining workers at the pre-conference who talked about what it is like to work for a college’s dining hall while the college is implementing new sustainability practices. The workers felt unprepared for the changes. I had never put much thought into the labor issues related to campus greening.

Sustainability is a collaborative goal. It is local and global. It must transcend class and racial divides. It involves everyone.

At Oxy, I hope we can collaborate across all disciplines and departments towards the creation of an environmentally sustainable campus. It’s really the only way.

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The arch of the moral universe is long

If you were to write the timeline of your life, what would it look like? When were your turning points? Where were your major successes?

This week I got to start constructing a timeline of sustainability work on the Oxy campus. Now, maybe this doesn’t sound like the most interesting research, but to me, it’s fascinating! I get to identify the important transformations that have happened in the process of greening this campus.

In order to create a timeline of the work that’s been done at oxy, I needed to read over many sources of information. Last weekend, while laying outside enjoying the beautiful L.A. weather, I started reading some of the oldest documents on Oxy’s sustainability. The first document that I opened was called “Greening Occidental: A Preliminary Assessment of Campus Environmental Practices.” It detailed three student’s research in the summer of 1998 who were assessing the campuses sustainability under the advising of Professor Gottlieb (who is also my research advisor this summer!) I just couldn’t believe that (1) the project was so similar to what I am doing now and (2) that this work has been going on for that long!

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Reading their account of the school’s sustainability status, and their recommendations for what needed to be done, made me  energized and irritated. The fact that in 1998 students were devoting their summers to the same issues that I am working on in 2013 made me feel really excited! I could so easily empathize with their passion. But, it also made me frustrated that some of their concerns and recommendations are still  challenges that we are dealing with today, 15 years later!

For example, a big effort that sustainability minded students have been focusing on this year is the need for a sustainability coordinator. Here are some examples of what that job looks like at other schools: http://www.aashe.org/resources/example-job-descriptions.

In order to make the case that hiring someone for this position is important, students met with a few administrations. Miranda, the past president of the sustainability fund, and Grace Bender, a green tour guide, met with President Veitch. They left the meeting feeling very upset because they were told, from my understanding, that there was no possibility of having this position at Oxy. Despite having fellow student’s support on this campaign, you can imagine the frustration they felt.

In one of the oldest documents  I have from 1998, the students wrote about the absence of an “Environmental/Recycling Coordinator.” Why is this still not a priority? It is absurd to me that the conversation about centralizing sustianability work at Oxy, specifically through a coordinator position,  has such a history.  As part of my research,  I just keep looking for what there is to be learned from this history.

By focusing on one of  my research topics of student/staff sustainability networks, I hope to further understand the difficulties and benefits of having a sustainability coordinator position. Reading through these old documents, many tackling the same environmental problems that I see on campus everyday, I am reminded how important it is to understand the history here. I am SO happy to be documenting the history through a timeline and make sure to look for it on the Oxy sustainability website by the end of the summer!

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The clash of the bikers and drivers!

Yesterday, I had such an inspiring day and I thought to myself, “I have to blog about this!” I guess I’m really getting into this blogging thing! My excitement came from multiple events that included contacting professors for interviews, hearing Professor Snowden-Ifft and a partner tell the story of the solar array, working in the FEAST garden, and finally attending an Eagle Rock community meeting about the proposed bike lanes on Eagle Rock and Colorado Blvd. In this post, I’m going to tell you about the clash between drivers and bicyclists that played out at the community meeting last night.

Although I had never watched the show, my roommate said it sounded like the town hall meetings in Parks and Recreation. I looked it up, and yep, the community meeting was pretty similar to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgXgRKVdT2s

There were a couple aspects of the meeting that were  really great! The first, was that it was just like the video, SUPER DRAMATIC. The second was that it helped me, as a student investigating transportation possibilities at Oxy, to understand different perspectives and where they come from.

The community meeting was held to present updates on the plan to create bike lanes on Eagle Rock Blvd. and Colorado Blvd., two major streets that border Oxy. This is particularly exciting for me because it will increase Oxy student bikers and allow them to be more safe. It helps supports the argument to expand ridership at Oxy. Yet, the plan is particularly controversial because the creation of bike lanes on Colorado also involves taking away a driving lane on each side of the boulevard. Below, I have detailed the arguments for and against the bike lanes(from my perspective.)

WOOOHOO! Bike lanes!

  1. Increased safety of the bikers

  2. Traffic will slow down

  3. Streets will be more walkable and pedestrian friendly

  4. Improve local businesses

  5. Increase bike use as alternative transportation method/ The lanes will create new riders

  6. Public health benefits

HELL NO! You aren’t putting bike lanes in here!

  1. Increased traffic

  2. Harder for emergency vehicles to travel on the boulevards

  3. More accidents and costs to the drivers because bikers don’t need insurance

  4. The engineering needs to be revisited/ the plan will not be effective at achieving it’s goals

I had never been to a community meeting before, so I really didn’t know what to expect. When I got to the Eagle Rock Art Center, I went to the back of a long line of people waiting out the door of the building. I pulled out my book expecting a long wait. I  was quickly distracted by the riled up people waiting alongside me already making their cases for and against the bike lanes.

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When I got inside, there was only standing room so I got a good spot in front of most people because I’m short and I wanted to be able to see what was going on. The meeting began with an introduction from councilmember José Huizar and a presentation focusing on details of the plan from city planners. Then, questions and comments were collected and entertained.

Although I am really excited about the new bike lanes and pedestrian friendly features, I couldn’t believe how absent discourse around climate change was from the conversation. I only heard the environmental benefits of biking as opposed to driving specifically mentioned maybe twice! Isn’t it important to encourage biking so that we can became less reliant on cars, their pollution and their contribution to the major climate change crisis?!

Another part of my day yesterday was spent reviewing a survey sent to students about introducing a parking fee at Oxy. An overwhelming majority of students reported that they would not be willing to pay for parking on campus. This is a topic I will tackle with in the next few weeks and I am glad to have a better understanding of how community voices can be heard to create an effective solution. The meeting will help inform my further research on transportation to and from Oxy and the variety of perspectives on the topic!

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Visiting the sustainable recycle closet!

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Week 1: I’m back and ready to dive in!

Hi there!

This week is my very first of three weeks of research assessing Oxy’s sustainability, step 1 of my research process. I have been studying public health in the northeast of Thailand for the past four months so I am so excited to be back at Oxy  and see the gorgeous campus and the wonderful people. I can’t believe how easy it is to forget what a beautiful place Oxy is! Like really, it is an amazing place. Yet, I quickly thought about what it takes to make this campus as beautiful as it is.

One of the topics that I am researching this summer is water use at Oxy. An important aspect of that research is landscaping and irrigation. Oxy is partially so beautiful because of the bright green, picturesque lawns on campus. Yet, landscaping accounts for ~70% of water use on campus. What are the environmental costs to maintaining our campus greens? I will be finding out all about that this summer! Can’t wait!

During my first day of research, while still in awe of how lucky I am to be at Oxy, I did one of my favorite activities of the week. Grace is an Oxy green tour guide, a member of the sustainability fund, involved with res-ed and will be co-teaching a 2-credit campus greening class with me next fall. We met on my first day here so she could tell me all about a program she and a couple other students started called Oxy Sustainable ReCycle (I even got to see the closet with all of the donated items!) This is how the program works:

1) Current students donate unwanted items at the end of the year

2) Clothing and books are given to a local hospital

3) Other items are priced and sorted

4) In the fall, the priced items are sold to incoming Freshmen during orientation

5) The proceeds go towards future sustainable recycles or programs

So I’m not necessarily looking at waste or recycling in my summer research, but this was a really important moment. When working on Oxy sustainability issues independently through research, it is easy to feel uninspired. Grace reinvigorated my sense of why sustainability work on campus is SO important. I can’t wait to continue to tackle the issues of water use, transportation and make the case for a sustainability coordinator at Oxy. I’m excited and ready to help Oxy join the national conversation around campus sustainability!

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