Students unite in advocacy

With increased awareness in the media about living green and buying organic, it is no surprise that student advocacy groups are sprouting up all over campus.

Students Organizing for Sustainability and the Student Movement for Real Change (officers pictured above) are two of the most recent additions to student-led environmental organizations at Tech.

Both groups advocate environmental awareness by working with members of the surrounding community.

“Students Organizing for Sustainability (SOS) runs grassroots campaigns on a wide range of environmental, political and social issues in order to promote the greater goal of building a more sustainable campus, community and world,” said Carly Queen, SOS president and fourth-year Mechanical Engineering major.

SOS originally formed in response to a lack of environmental and sustainability initiatives at Tech.

The eco-friendly organization gives students the opportunity to advocate for sustainable practices and works with the administration and other governing bodies to implement positive change on campus.

In the past, members of SOS have worked to improve on-campus recycling, bring more nutritious, local, organic and vegetarian foods to the community, convert the shuttles to run on renewable fuel, and get new sources of clean, efficient energy to the institute. SOS creates an effective network of student activists by forming alliances with other like-minded organizations.

According to Queen, members of SOS develop leadership and organizational skills that will allow them to continue advocating sustainable practices long after graduation.

The Tech chapter of the Student Movement for Real Change (SMRC), is part of the national SMRC, a non-profit organization that was founded in 2001.

The Student Movement for Real Change seeks “to be a leadership development organization that provides students in the United States a vehicle to advocate for positive change in neglected regions of the world,” according to www.studentmovementusa.org.

“I found the Student Movement’s website and decided that as a college student, starting a chapter at Tech would be the best way I could help those rural citizens of South Africa and Kenya,” said Fengning Yu, president of SMRC at GT and first-year International Affairs major.

According to Yu, the chapter’s goal is to help the children of Kenya and South Africa who are at risk of being exposed to contaminated water.

“The majority of Kenyans who die annually from water contamination are children…we are cleaning up water in Atlanta to [parallel] the importance of water all around the world and making both Atlanta neighborhoods and ourselves aware of the Kenya Water Crisis,” Yu said.

To date, SMRC at Tech has completed its first project; a clean-up of the pond at Glen Emerald Park. Some of SMRC’s upcoming initiatives include pen pal and mentoring projects with students of Atlanta public schools and campus wide film screenings to raise campus awareness of the water crisis in Kenya and the AIDS epidemic in South Africa.

Fledgling student advocacy organizations often face unique problems; many as a result of their participation in the political arena. Queen cites political polarization as the largest difficulty she has faced as the leader of a student advocacy group.

“Some people are so focused on belonging to a certain political party that they forget to think for themselves. Anyone can be an environmentalist, regardless of political affiliation,” Queen said.

The most significant projects implemented by SOS include a free public lecture series on sustainability issues, a Campus Supported Agriculture program at Tech (www.gtsustainablefoodproject.org), and a water conservation display in the Library East Commons to educate students about the drought.

Both Queen and Yu cite finding committed members as an on-going challenge for their organizations.

“Many people today are about committing themselves to what will help them. They often put self-improvement activities as priorities, but I have found activists who are willing to work with me…[I] hope to find more in the future,” Yu said.

Readers who wish to learn more about Students for Sustainability may join their Facebook group or contact Queen directly at [email protected]

For further information on the Student Movement for Real Change, visit the GT chapter at www.prism.gatech.edu/~dcarreon6/index.htm.

SOS will hold its next lecture on Tuesday, March 11 from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. in DM Smith 105. Speaker Marcia Kinstler will discuss “Sustainability at Georgia Tech.” SOS will also host several events during Think Green Week (April 14-18), including a sustainable fashion show featuring organic cotton and recycled materials.