“A Framework for Resilience”: The Center for Sustainability at Agnes Scott
A commitment to innovative and equitable solutions for sustainability- on and off our campus.
The Center for Sustainability at Agnes Scott is a fundamental leader in the college’s goals to be a leader on issues related to climate and environmental justice. Housed in the Office of the President, The Center for Sustainability works on numerous projects, including the college’s Climate Resilience Plan, planning for new buildings and renovations and campus activities.
In this article, two members of the Center for Sustainability, Grace Payne ’23 (Sustainability Assistant) and Fayola Waithe ’22 (Environmental & Climate Justice and Sustainability Fellow) discuss their own projects and experiences as a part of the center and highlight how the Center for Sustainability is a part of everyday life for Agnes Scott students.
Making the Connections- Grace Payne '23
At the tail end of high school, I wasn’t sure what I would want to do in college, and I definitely wasn’t sure what I would want to do after graduation. I had some interest in sustainability and environmentalism in high school, and going into college in the fall of 2019, I knew I wanted to continue to learn about sustainability, but I didn’t think too much about its role in my life beyond that. Now as a senior, I am a Sustainability Assistant at the Center for Sustainability, Co-Lead for the Environmental Residents Program, on the executive board of the student organization People for Pollinators, and I am interested in pursuing a career in sustainability post-graduation. Beyond that, I am invested in practicing sustainability in my daily life, and I try to engage different facets of sustainability in all of what I do both on and off campus.
Knowing I was interested in learning more about sustainability and the environment, my first semester of college I took ESS-101 (Introduction to Environmental and Sustainability Studies) and began to work towards a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies (ESS). It felt good that from the very beginning I had multiple paths through which I could pursue sustainability, and that there’s paths for people who are head over heels for hard sciences, for those who feel allergic to STEM, and for everyone else in between. Through taking ESS-101, and through becoming aware of other sustainability-related initiatives on campus, I began to see sustainability as systems-related, with a need to be multiple levels of involvement from individual to global.
My second semester, I took Religion and Ecology (REL-210), which included a practicum that could either be a self-designed project or volunteer hours with a local organization. In that class we went on a campus sustainability tour, where I was introduced to Agnes Scott’s Center for Sustainability and found out about the Environmental Residents Program. Even though half of that semester ended up being virtual, those experiences and connections led to me getting more involved in sustainability on campus.
_At the end of my first year at Agnes, I knew that I wanted to apply to the Environmental Residents Program. The Environmental Residents are student ambassadors for sustainability on campus. The ER Program is focused on sustainable living on campus and promoting education and awareness about sustainability and environmental issues. Environmental Residents have bi-weekly meetings that focus on anything from waste in the dorms, to event planning, to passion projects on sustainability-related topics. When I applied to be an ER, it was unclear if we would be coming back to campus in the fall, and the program ended up being virtual for the year. This means that my first year as an Environmental Resident looked a little different than most years, and the focus was turned to sustainability habits Scotties could have while living at home, virtual programming and events, and working on a passion project. I participated in bi-weekly meetings over Zoom, helped run virtual Kahoot! trivia events, and turned the self-designed practicum project that my friend and I began in Religion and Ecology into a longer-term passion project.
Though that virtual year was hard, and I had what felt like a million and two Zoom meetings, I still looked forward to hopping on the bi-weekly Environmental Residents Zooms and participating from home. At the end of my sophomore year, I was asked by the Center for Sustainability to be the Lead Environmental Resident for the next year while using my work-study grant to work in the Center continuing my passion project. I was so excited that I would be able to work on a project that I was excited about, and I feel very lucky that I go to a college where this type of opportunity can happen.
As the Lead ER (and now, Co-Lead) I organize and run the ER meetings, help the ERs plan and run our events, and a whole lot more. I’m able to do some of this during my scheduled work hours at the Center for Sustainability, and the rest I do as a volunteer position. Being the Lead ER means that my involvement in the program is more administrative, but it has also given me a lot of skills that I will carry over into my post-graduate professional plans. Outside of ER responsibilities, my day-to-day work as a Sustainability Assistant in the Center for Sustainability varies a lot. Some days I might be helping sort through our CHaRM recycling or organizing our greenhouse, and other days I might be sending emails and setting up meetings with other departments on campus (or writing a blog post!). Most days I work on my ongoing project: the Raised Bed Program. The Raised Bed Program works to increase access to gardening spaces on campus for Agnes Scott students through loanable raised garden beds at no cost to students. Through participating in the Raised Bed Program, students are able to learn how to start a garden, plant, grow, and harvest to their liking, and increase their connection with the environment and sustainability. Currently, there are three raised beds on the first floor outdoor terrace of McCain Library and there are plans to expand both within the library terrace and around campus. When the library agreed to partner with me for this project, I was over the moon–it was finally happening! It still took some time and effort to get things off the ground, but I officially launched the Raised Bed Program on January 25, 2023. The project has been funded in large part through a grant from Agnes Scott’s Student Green Fee Fund (SGFF). The SGFF is led by a group of students in partnership with the Student Government Association who guide decisions about funding sustainability-related student projects on campus.
_The Raised Bed Program has gone through many iterations as a project, and started way back when I was doing my practicum for Religion and Ecology with a friend in the class. Though the project has changed and adapted more than I ever thought it would, the reasoning and purpose behind it has always stayed the same: creating more sustainable landscapes on campus while increasing native and edible plants and educating students about their importance. Working on the project has taught me a lot about working within the systems of an institution while introducing different ideas and bringing new projects to fruition.
Through my work on the Raised Bed Program and through working at the Center for Sustainability, I have also been able to make a lot of connections that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to. Now, nearing the end of my senior year, I know that I want to stay involved in sustainability once I graduate and I want to continue both learning about and practicing sustainability in my daily life.
Grace Payne (they/them) is a Class of 2023 senior majoring in Sociology/Anthropology and double minoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Grace is a Sustainability Assistant at the Center for Sustainability, they are the Co-Lead for the Environmental Residents Program, they are the Secretary for the student organization People for Pollinators, and they are the Furnishing Coordinator for the student organization Every Campus a Refuge. When they’re not involved in sustainability, they enjoy gardening, reading, crochet, and other crafts (though they admit to trying to make all of these things more sustainable too!).
Making An Impact- Fayola Waithe '22
My name is Fayola Waithe, and I am the Sustainability, Environmental & Climate Justice (ECJ) Fellow at the Center for Sustainability. When I was an undergrad at Agnes Scott, I majored in anthropology and minored in literature and creative writing. I really appreciate having a foundation in anthropology because I feel like it gives me an interdisciplinary perspective on sustainability and climate action. Because I am approaching sustainability and climate action from a cultural perspective, I am able to have a diverse approach to these pressing issues. I also feel like I am able to engage with different perspectives about these topics. To me, in order to strive toward climate action, it is important to address the social issues and inequalities that impact how people are able to interact with their environment. I really appreciate that I am able to explore this perspective with my fellowship with the Center for Sustainability.
During my time at Agnes Scott, I was able to start developing this approach to sustainability. Through my internship and other volunteer work with the Center for Sustainability, I was able to explore ways I could incorporate more environmental justice principles on campus. Now as a fellow at the Center for Sustainability, part of my job is to make sure that the Center for Sustainability and Agnes Scott engage with environmental and climate justice in their sustainability initiatives. I also help students at Agnes Scott engage with their own ECJ related projects.
_While I was always interested in engaging with climate action, sustainability, and social justice, I never really put a name to my interest until the second semester of my first year. In 2019, I graduated from the Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) Environmental Justice Academy. It was at this same time that I also traveled to the Diné Nation, also known as the Navajo Nation, for my Journeys trip. During my trip, I learned a lot about the environmental injustices that the Diné people face. I really connected with their stories, as they were things that I experienced in my own community. This was further put into perspective from my time in the Environmental Justice Academy.
After my first year, I thought that the experience and the knowledge I gained from the EPA Environmental Justice Academy and from my Journeys trip would be something that I should not only highlight but bring to other Agnes Scott students. One thing that I saw missing on campus at the time was people making the connection that climate action and sustainability initiatives were very much a social issue. I thought that it was important for other students to explore and engage with these topics. During my internship with the Center for Sustainability, I started to draft an environmental justice-focused program for students. During my research on different programs on campus, I came across the Impact Leaders program. The Impact Leaders program helps students who are interested in advocating for social change engage with local communities as well as the Agnes Scott community. Throughout the semester students work on a project that deals with an aspect of social justice that they are passionate about and engage with that topic on a deeper level throughout their time in the program. I thought that this program would be a perfect way to introduce students to ECJ topics.Since a lot of students at Agnes Scott were already engaging with environmental justice on some level, I wanted to see how I could incorporate environmental justice in a structure that was already existing at Agnes Scott.
Once I became a Fellow, I was able to continue some of the work that I had started when I was a student at Agnes. I am working with Blayne McDonald from the Center for Leadership, Engagement and Service (CLES) to provide insight for environmental justice in their Impact Leaders Program. I started working with the CLES in my senior year, and now in the spring semester of 2023, I was able to see the program launch.
_By becoming an Impact Leader, students are able to learn about what it means to be a social advocate and actively engage with striving for justice. The program is rooted in the liberal arts,with students able to work from multiple disciplines and collaborate with other students who are working on similar projects. This collaboration encourages students to see how their topics are interdisciplinary and are connected on multiple levels. Another thing that I think is really special about the program is that students are able to gain experience collaborating with off-campus organizations as a first year.
By focusing on environmental and climate justice as an Impact Leader, students will be able to work with the Center for Sustainability and an off-campus organization of their choice. Students will be able to learn how they can become an activist for people and the environment. They will be able to broaden their perspectives on how they engage with issues and how they are able to utilize their leadership skills. Students will also gain real-time experience with working with different organizations on and off campus, giving them lived experiences with activism and working with organizations.
_I hope that more students at Agnes Scott continue to engage with environmental and climate justice through different academic focuses and are able to see how environmental and climate activism connects with social justice. I am excited to see what this year’s group of Impact Leaders will accomplish, and I look forward to Agnes Scott’s journey in ECJ in the future. I also hope that more students from all majors get involved with ECJ initiatives on campus. I am excited to see what new students can bring to the Impact Leader program and what they will accomplish in their time at Agnes Scott.
Fayola Waithe ’22 is the Environmental & Climate Justice and Sustainability fellow at the Center for Sustainability. She is very passionate about anthropology, the environment, and literature. When she is not thinking about how to engage with climate activism she enjoys reading with a cup of coffee in the morning. Fayola also enjoys spending time at the beach, hiking, cooking, and walking her cat.