Social Sustainability Month wraps up

Student groups collaborate on events

The events were varied but the motto was simple: “Toward community wellness.”

The last day of November will mark the end of Portland State’s Social Sustainability Month, an annual event now in its third year.

Student groups collaborate on events

The events were varied but the motto was simple: “Toward community wellness.”

The last day of November will mark the end of Portland State’s Social Sustainability Month, an annual event now in its third year.

The month was sponsored by the Women’s Resource Center and made possible by the collaboration of several PSU student groups including the Environmental Club, the Sustainability Leadership Center and the Food Action Collective.

The lead organizer was Madeline Browning, an anthropology major and chair of the WRC’s Eco-Femmes (formerly the Sustainability Action Team).

Browning said the goal was to bring together different groups and overcome the notion that sustainability is just about being “green.”

“The movement is the symbolic bridging of gaps between the environmental and social justice movements,” Browning said. “We’re all looking for similar things and finding a way to get there.”

Each group was responsible for planning several events. Highlights included workshops on indigenous foods, natural paint making, emotional sustainability, creative ways of dealing with oppression and green-washing.

Organizers estimated that between 150 and 200 people attended the events.

Kirk Rea, an art practice major, helped organize the ECPSU-led events. He cofacilitated the workshop on natural paint making.

“We hired a [professional] to lead and to share her knowledge, but I helped lead the workshop with her,” he said.

Rea’s favorite event was one called “Interrupting Oppression: Transformative Theater for Social Change,” put on by the SLC. With Theater of the Oppressed techniques, participants used acting exercises to discuss racism, homophobia and sexism, he explained.

“It’s a playful way to open discussion and to build skills to deal with oppression when you come across it,” he said.

Browning was pleased with the events the Eco-Femmes hosted. In particular she found the “Emotional Sustainability Workshop” beneficial to the community.

“I saw a lot of light bulb moments,” she said. The workshop discussed personal sustainability and ethics and values within self-care.

Nevertheless, she saw room for improvement.

“The food panel was awesome, but we didn’t plan enough time,” Browning said.

Rob Duren, a graduate student in sustainability and cochair of the Food Action
Collective, said the panel, called “Indigenous Nations People and Food Systems,” was their most successful event in terms of turnout.

“Judy Bluehorse Skelton and Grace Dillon were our panelists, and I moderated the event,” Duren said in an email. “The event was a potluck and [FAC] also ordered salmon through Nawitka Catering, an arm of the North American Youth Association.”

Topics of discussion included: food as it related to the panelists’ communities and identities; the biggest political, economic and legal barriers to accessing food and
cultural food systems; and what kinds of issues people living in urban areas face that people on reservations do not and vice versa.

Duren explained that the FAC began as an outgrowth of a 2011 event called the “100-Mile Luncheon,” a food movement that encourages people to eat local foods grown within a 100-mile radius.

One of the panelists, Carolyn White, was teaching a class on food systems; several of her students had already begun a dialogue on food advocacy. Duren, who was president of the Anthropology Student

Association at the time, joined forces with them, and the collective was born.

Rea mentioned that the Academic and Student Rec Center staff stepped in late into this year’s organizing process in hopes of becoming more involved in next year’s Social Sustainability Month. They hope to explore sustainable practices as they apply to their own goals, he explained.

“It’s definitely growing,” Browning said.

She explained that there were several changes in this year’s planning. Fewer events were held, and for each event a representative from the host group had to sit on the organizing panel.

For the future, Browning hopes to institutionalize an event planning manual that outlines the core philosophy, values and processes. This includes consensus-based decisions and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard.

“Social sustainability is a social and cultural movement that is meaningful to everyone and where everyone’s needs are being met,” Browning said.

She has faith that future planning committees will juggle the diverse interests each group brings with the common goals they all share.

According to both Browning and Rea, accessibility is essential to maintaining that balance. That is why the event’s motto is what it is.

“Toward community wellness” is broad without being bogged down by academic abstraction, like many other definitions of social sustainability.

Rea believes that the motto implies constant reevaluation in the sense that it can be expanded upon and interpreted in multiple ways.

Community is a cycle, and changing environments demand an open and shared definition, he explained.

As part of Friday’s closing ceremony, participants are encouraged to come and reflect upon this year’s events. Part of this will be an open discussion about the motto and whether it works or needs to be redefined.