By Natalie Roadarmel
This past week, eighteen Willamette students had the opportunity to attend a regional sustainability conference in Portland. WOHESC (Washingtion Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference) is a conference dedicated to inspiring change, facilitating action and promoting collaboration among students and faculty in the region’s higher education institutions. WOHESC is particularly focused on allowing students to get involved in sustainability efforts on their campuses. The event did this by means of conferences, workshops and networking opportunities for guests.
With over 400 attendees and 100 speakers, the event had a wide reach and was of great benefit to all who came. Over half the guests were students, an integral part of the conference. Students who attended were given great opportunities to learn about implementing sustainability initiatives across their campuses and were presented with sought after networking opportunities in the sustainability field.
Multiple members of Willamette’s faculty and student body were involved in the creation and panels presented at the conference. Joe Abraham, who heads the Sustainability Institute at Willamette, was a strong force in the planning of the conference.
When asked about his involvement he commented, “I was part of an advisory committee for the conference made up of sustainability directors at colleges and universities in Oregon and Washington. We worked with the conference organizers, an event company in Portland called Social Enterprises, to develop the program. Several of us have worked with Social Enterprises in the past on similar conferences in Oregon and Washington, and this was the first time we held one conference for the region.”
In addition, Jade Aguilar, Emma Sharpe and Carol Long presented on panels during the two-day event.
This year, the theme of WOHESC was ‘Equity and Diversity,’ a subject close to the hearts of many guests. Although the traditional definition of sustainability encompases solely environmental issues, the conference worked to broaden that viewpoint and allow individuals involved in higher education institutions to learn about the equity, social justice and diversity implications of sustainability.
This was organized through sessions on issues such as examining privilege in sustainability, intersectional environmental justice education, and incorporating social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education Green Fund programs. For sophomore Claire Pockell Wilson, the theme was one of the strongest aspects of the conference.
“Especially with the theme of equity and diversity this year, the panelists touched on a lot of important conversations and issues that are often left out in sustainability discourse. For me, it is so important to think about sustainability as an intersectional topic that includes the environment, as in the spaces we occupy, as well as equity and social justice.”
Students who attended have the Green Fund to thank for financial sponsorship. Last year’s Green Fund committee decided to become a sponsor and financial support of WOHESC 2018. In addition, the Green Fund covered financial costs for 15 Willamette students to attend the conference. This opportunity was greatly appreciated and beneficial to the sustainability education of all the students who attended. Pockell-Wilson, who is a member of the Green Fund Committee, spoke about the relevance of this conference to the Green Fund.
“Last year’s Green Fund Committee decided it would be a good idea to sponsor WOHESC as the conference can serve as an inspiration for students hoping to submit a grant in the future. We were so thrilled to see students so excited and engaged in the material. I think everyone got a lot out of it, and I’m planning on moving forward with some projects with other students who attended.”
WOHESC was an inspiring and constructive event, which completed its vision and gave students and faculty of higher education institutions wonderful access to information and resources. “It was really inspiring and motivating to see all the great work schools in Washington and Oregon are doing. I loved one of the opening keynote speakers, Pandora Thomas, who talked about her work in sustainability and equity. That was the most impactful moment for me,” commented first year Olive Murdoch Meyer. First year Kristin Jradi also shared her appreciation for the conference.
“I think the conference was really impactful because it allowed us to learn about how other schools implemented their sustainable measures that we can learn from. I think it also served as a good opportunity for schools to network and communicate. I am excited to implement some of these measures at Willamette.”