As an Environmental Studies major and someone who’s generally nervous about climate change, sustainability is really important to me. I came to Swarthmore with a vague interest in the environment and three and a half years later, I’m more of an environmentalist than ever. There are countless ways to be involved in sustainable initiatives at Swat, from majoring in something environmentally-focused or joining a student group that puts solar panels on top of nonprofits, like Serenity Soular. But Swarthmore offers a unique way to be involved in campus sustainability through the President’s Research Sustainability Fellowship, or PSRF.
PSRF allows students to create research and action-based yearlong projects to make some aspect of the College more sustainable. This can take many shapes – some projects focus on making transportation on campus (like the shuttles that go back and forth from off-campus dorms and campus) greener. Other projects may focus on conserving the beautiful Crum Woods next to the College. Some projects even go slightly beyond the borders of the College, like my ChesterSemester PSRF project.
ChesterSemester is an engaged scholarship course at Swarthmore, which means that students are expected to be learning inside and outside of the classroom. The out-of-classroom time is usually an 8-10 hour internship with a partner organization in Chester, PA, a neighboring town. Chester has faced environmental injustice and challenges rooted in systemic racism for decades. The ChesterSemester program aims to support education, housing, and other community-based programs while allowing Swat students to leave the “Swarthmore bubble” of academia. More than anything, the ChesterSemester program aims to provide mutually beneficial experiences for Swat students and the organizations where they work.
How does sustainability factor in? Using the guidance from the PSRF teaching team, project mentors, and peers, I’ll be working on making the ChesterSemester course more sustainable in a non-traditional sense. While “green” sustainability like composting, recycling, and reducing energy consumption is really important, there are also important notions of “just sustainability” that relate to social justice and equity. For example, I’ll be working to ensure that there are sustainable relationships between Swarthmore students and their supervisors in Chester; that the ChesterSemester program is a strong part of Swarthmore’s curriculum; and that partner organizations in Chester are truly benefitting from working with Swarthmore students.
It’s important to acknowledge that “sustainability” goes beyond the traditional sense of the word, and that justice-based sustainability is perhaps the most important kind. At Swarthmore, through the PSRF program, students can have a chance to work toward that “just sustainability.”