By Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator
An Unexpected Journey
When I signed up to present at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference, I had no idea what was in store. Then October rolled around and I found myself on a 140 mile bike ride from Olympia to Portland, in the name of sustainability.
I wasn’t alone. Along the way, I had encouragement and support from a small group of my fellow environmental studies graduate students, including Lindsey Hamilton, the SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator. When we signed up to present at the conference and committed ourselves to the bike ride, it was summer and we imagined a lovely jaunt. Unfortunately, October weather in the Pacific Northwest isn’t quite as favorable for a long bike trek, and our trip was cut short only 20 miles outside of Portland by 45 mph wind gusts and steady rain. Lindsey made a valiant effort to stick it out to the very end. She laughed as a headwind made even the down hills a struggle and gusted leaves into her face, but finally relented that conditions had become too scary. We made it to Portland feeling exhausted but accomplished, and—most of all—motivated!
Lindsey and Tiffany enthusiastically on their way to Portland. Photo by Nick Wooten.
Spreading the Word
We immediately immersed ourselves in the conference. Lindsey and I participated in the poster session and shared SPP’s model with many interested students, faculty, and staff from international universities and colleges. We presented on our experiences of being both graduate students at Evergreen and program coordinators with SPP. Many people who attended our presentation had never heard of anyone doing work quite like SPP, and they took ideas back to their campuses to share.
Lindsey and Tiffany arrive at the conference, bikes and SPP gear in hand.
The Way Home
I left the conference and Portland with a new state of mind. My own legs and willpower had gotten me so far, further than I ever thought possible, and in the process I had reduced travel emissions in a real way. On the train back to Olympia, I jotted this down in my journal, hoping to always have a reminder of this wonderful trip:
I’ve never felt such an attachment to an inanimate object like I do with my bike now. We’ve seen so much together, struggled together, explored Portland and the WA roads together. It has been an interesting 6 days of traveling without a car, from Olympia to Portland, finding my way around the city and public transit, and now back home. I’ve realized that we are capable of far more than we usually give ourselves credit for, and sometimes it just takes being in a situation where the most convenient option isn’t an option to push our choices in the right direction.
I feel refreshed and somehow stronger in myself and I’m done with those excuses for not living life by example as a true environmentalist. I’m done talking the talk but not pushing myself to lessen my impact on this planet as much as I can. I won’t be perfect, because we all have our vices, and it is a continuous process of learning and growing. But I am definitely approaching things from a different mindset now. Let’s change the world together and live in a way that makes us feel good about our choices and empowers us to recognize how much we can actually change in the world and in ourselves.
Something Annie Leonard said at the conference really hit me. She talked about how we make decisions based on our identities- how we view ourselves and how we want others to see us. We are often trapped in the identity of “powerless consumer” in our current society and that often influences the choices we make and the options we see ourselves as having. Instead, if we switch our identity and work towards recognizing when we are making decisions with that mindset and change it, we feel more empowered and start viewing our actions as self-possessed based on personal identity and not society-pressured identity. Instead of feeling powerless, we can start seeing ourselves as change-makers, movers, and citizens, and that will ultimately change the way we view our options and the way we make decisions. It is never an easy thing to recognize and shift these things in ourselves but I’m so pumped to work on this self-transformation until it becomes so typical that my mindset and actions automatically encompass this.
It is changes in myself like this one that makes me so thankful to work with the Sustainability in Prisons Project. The work I’m involved with as the SPP Lecture Series Coordinator constantly inspires growth and realizations that weren’t present in me before.
I wonder how Annie Leonard’s message relates to the inmates in SPP programs. Does being involved bring about a new identity for incarcerated people? Do they see themselves as stewards, environmentalists, scientists, and students instead of “just prisoners”? I’m excited to bring this new perspective to the SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series and hear what it means to the incarcerated students that attend our lectures and workshops!
If you’re interested in learning more about the bike ride, check out this blog from another student who was on the trip and the intentionally dorky picture show of highlights from the trek.