Environmental club fosters inclusivity

Joey Waldinger, Assistant News Editor

A group on campus is aiming to make environmental studies more inclusive.

The People of Color Environmental Collective is a community offering support to students and faculty of color across campus, said senior Kunal Palawat, one of the collective’s founders.

“The role right now is to help people of color survive in the environmental field,” Palawat said.

When Nancy Mathews, dean of the Rubenstein School, attended a meeting around the time of the NoNames for Justice protests, she was struck by the collective’s positivity, she said.

“The day I visited, we talked about what season of the year made us happiest,” Mathews said. “That was a big signal to me, that the students there are trying hard to find a space where they can just be themselves.”

Mathews, as well as other deans and entities on campus, are willing to financially support the collective, she said.

However, it is important that the group remains student led, Mathews said.

“Once it becomes conflated with power … that will squash some of their creativity. And I want students to feel empowered,” Mathews said.

Now, to ensure the continuation of their collective, Palawat and other founders are looking to make the group an official organization in the environmental program, he said.

“What the club has to figure out in the next few weeks is how to make this club sustainable and how to make it resilient to students leaving every three, four, five years,” Palawat said.

Becoming an official organization will give the collective a greater reach across campus, as well as steady access to funding, Palawat said.

Though the club would have a place on campus in any political climate, it is especially needed in light of the racism and white supremacy prevalent at UVM, including in environmental studies and sciences, Palawat said.

“Recognizing each other’s faces was hard, let alone getting together,” Palawat said.

Senior Jennifer Gil, another founder of the club, was invigorated by the time spent with peers who shared her same interest in the intersection of racism and the environment, she said.

“I’ve definitely seen a change in just my overall energy this semester. It’s very recharging to be around,” Gil said.

Seeing the value of the collective, Gil intends to push it further, she said.

“I want it to do bigger things … like field trips and hosting events and really supporting students and bringing students and faculty together,” Gil said.