More than one-third of Generation Z adults say climate change is a top personal concern, according to a 2021 poll from Pew Research Center. USF students are turning their concerns into organized efforts to promote sustainability and encourage climate activism on campus.
As a part of their tuition, USF students pay the Student Activity Fee, which funds various on-campus events. From that fee, $20,000 goes towards the Green Initiative for Tomorrow (GIFT) fund annually, which the Senate of the Associated Students of the University of San Francisco (ASUSF) Advocacy Committee allocates towards efforts furthering environmental justice and sustainability. The committee works closely with on- and off-campus partners to turn student concerns and ideas into action using the GIFT fund.
Due to a lack of use during the COVID pandemic, GIFT funds have accumulated. According to Forrest Cameron, who oversees investing the GIFT fund as vice president of the Advocacy Committee, there’s a “reserve” balance of $48,000. Including this year’s endowment, the total 2023-24 GIFT fund is $68,000. “My mission for this semester is to invest it all in a manner that is relevant, and that can help the student body now,” said Cameron.
The GIFT fund has previously supported projects like giving incoming first-years reusable water bottles and investing in the USF Community Garden. One project currently earmarked for a $20,000 investment is “greenifying” the patio space outside the UC’s third floor in a collaboration between Facilities, the Office of Sustainability, the architecture and design departments, and an off-campus partner called the California Native Plants Society. The funds will be used to install garden beds to make the space “more inviting for students” and to introduce native Californian plants to campus.
Aside from on-campus projects, ASUSF Senate also creates resolutions to address University-related climate issues. Last year, the late Ryan Mak passed a resolution to demand University transparency in disclosing investments in fossil fuels, so that money can be redirected towards more sustainable energy sources like solar and wind.
As the committee and other members of the Senate continue to work on this issue, they’ve found that student involvement is an integral part in furthering the progress made thus far. Cameron said, “This is a campus that has flaws — I don’t think there is a campus that’s perfect. And USF obviously is not perfect either, so we love, invite, and encourage anyone who wants to play a role in making this a better campus for everyone.”
Alongside Senate efforts, students have organized clubs and projects that are focused on similar issues, but are unique in the ways that they approach them. One student organization called Hive Minders focuses on educating students about the pollination process, and practices sustainability through caring for a few beehives in the USF Community Garden. Because of the club’s active care of the hives, USF is an official “Bee Campus,” as deemed by Bee City USA, an off-campus initiative that supports pollinator conservation efforts.
The club started as an idea in an urban agriculture class in spring 2022, according to Skye Nephew, a junior environmental science major, who was involved in its creation and serves as the current head of the club.
Hive Minders allows students of all majors to learn about environmental topics by engaging with the beehives in their routine care, and in regular club meetings and workshops. At their most recent workshop, students made lip balms from beeswax harvested from the hives. When asked about how she feels students could approach sustainability more effectively, Nephew said, “We’re too individualistic in the way that we approach the environment, and we need to be more communal.”
Beyond the garden, students are joining and forming community efforts by taking their lessons and ideas from inside the classroom and bringing them to life. Dr. Alfonso Aranda, a term professor of the environmental studies department, teaches Community Garden Outreach, a course that requires students to volunteer outside of the classroom. “Sustainability is the theory that drives everything,” Aranda said about the ways he teaches students about environmental issues in relation to USF’s campus and the greater Bay Area.
Previously, some of Aranda’s students volunteered with the USF Food Pantry, where they learned about food insecurity on campus. In response to this issue, the students are planning to set up weekly farm-stands outside Gleeson Library to provide students with food while addressing food waste reduction.
“My goal as a professor is to empower my students,” said Aranda. “I tell my students: I want you to run for office, I want you to start your own non-profit, I need you to join a student organization about the environment, I need you to go to graduate school, I need you to get a Ph.D. — so that we can protect the environment.”