Through a grant awarded by the Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF), an exciting new student-led initiative for a campus wide sustainability action network (UW-SAN) is ready to launch its first year operations.
Described as a resource center intended to create “solutions for economy, environment and democracy,” UW-SAN aims to provide online and in-person support for coalition-building projects between student organizations. “One of our primary goals is to bring about systematic growth and change,” explains COM student and Network Ambassador, Sky Stahl. “Studies have shown that when people come together and apply themselves to a challenge, growth isn’t linear, it is exponential.”
The project was conceived as a student led campus initiative affiliated with the Rethinking Prosperity Project at the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement (CCCE). “This was a student initiative all the way,” said CCCE Director Lance Bennett. “The initial groundwork was done by Nathaniel Matthews-Trigg, a graduate student in the School of Public Health. Emily Tasaka, a dual Political Science and Communication major, who will continue working on the project as a manager for the resource center and an outreach coordinator, made the formal presentation to the Campus Sustainability Fund.”
According to UW-SAN organizers, the network will utilize both on-line and in-person components. The online component consists of 1) a blog and website that shares relevant articles and resources, lists events, provides updates on student projects, and archives the work of student organizations, and 2) a social engine that maps and connects student groups and resources for building collaborations and serves as a cybernetic space for project development. The in-person component will include student staff, volunteers, and faculty, coordinated by the CCCE. The UW-SAN team will provide support throughout the development and implementation process of student projects.
“Our vision is to create a campus-wide community that actively works together to realize collective prosperity through connected localized movements,” Stahl said. According to the UW-SAN team, “the rich diversity of UW activism around issues of sustainability, environmentalism, democracy, and the economy” means that there is a multitude of opportunities to interact with the student population at large on a deeper, more interconnected level.
As stated in the original grant application, there are over 50 sustainability-focused groups and over 50 social justice-focused groups currently at UW. The intent of UW-SAN will be to bring together the traditionally siloed spheres of environment, economy and democracy to broaden the understanding of sustainability.
“Over the course of going to UW, I have gotten really interested in the possibilities of collaboration,” Stahl explained. “When I first learned in COM 202 how to map a network, it was very exciting because you can just see the possibilities that are there. This then became one of my primary focuses of study. In COM 306, taught by Lance Bennett, we discussed many aspects of society and explored how they all interlace. I was impressed by Lance’s knowledge and enthusiasm, so I reached out to him about doing an independent study, and he introduced me to this project.”
According to the UW-SAN team, the development and maintenance of the network will rely on the continued involvement of and outreach to campus groups, students leaders, and faculty, and will grow as campus coalitions gain momentum. “What we have found is that there is currently not a lot of communication that happens between these 100+ student organizations, even though they share similar, interdependent interests,” Stahl noted. “We want to make connections between currently isolated groups. Every student at UW is learning skills that will affect society. When you talk to other people, you learn about how your work impacts someone else and vice versa; then we can start looking at things systematically and find solutions.”
As defined in the UW-SAN proposal, student involvement will consist of three overlapping types of engagement: cross group and campus networking, project collaboration and development, and project launches.
“UW-SAN would be a great resource for student groups seeking to expand their reach and develop long-lasting coalitions on campus, particularly for those groups led by students new to Seattle activism,” stated Jerzy Eisenberg-Guyot, a Pre-Doctoral Research Assistant at the UW School of Public Health.
When asked what UW-SAN hopes to accomplish within its first year of operation, Stahl said that he would hope his team has a good grasp of the state of the campus student organizations network. “I want us to be able to answer any questions about environmental and social justice efforts taking place at UW. We do not want to reinvent the wheel, so we want to know what people are currently doing and what challenges they have faced. My hope is that we could then take this information and get a few collaborative projects underway.”
Additional outreach goals for the UW-SAN team include having the link to the organization’s portal published on official University of Washington pages, in order to attract the attention of those looking for ways to get involved. They also plan to publicize UW-SAN with brief information sessions at courses of faculty affiliated with various student groups.
“Right now we’re trying to start a conversation,” Stahl said. “Our first step is to have meetings with as many groups as we can and see what is going on. We have more planned for the fall and winter of 2017, and we are very excited about getting people connected and launching our technology components. We are moving from micro to macro. Eventually we aspire to move from campus to city, and then to other campuses, other cities, and perhaps one day national and then international.”