By Zahra Saifee, Sustainability Office
For the past year, the Sustainability Office has committed to incorporating equity and wellness into its programs and policies. As part of that effort, staff and students completed a major overhaul of the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) bylaws to incorporate a more inclusive vision of sustainability.
When SCIF was created in 2008, there weren’t many tools for sustainability on campus. The bylaws were written by the ASUU Sustainability Board because SCIF is student-fee funded program. The original bylaws no longer reflect the state of sustainability on campus, says Emerson Andrews, SCIF program manager. He points out bylaws fail to reflect the university’s sustainability definition, which is “the integrated pursuit of social equity, environmental integrity, and economic security for current and future generations.”
The revision process began in the spring of 2020, and only with the dedication, passion, and hard work of many students, staff, and faculty are the bylaw revisions completed to express a more just, inclusive, and holistic view of sustainability, Andrews says.
The bylaws revision process involved Sustainability staff and interns, students in the Environmental Justice Community Engaged Learning Course, and staff from Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The bylaw update started with Andrews and intern Piper Christian, who spent the better portion of Spring 2020 scouring through the bylaws of other university sustainability grant funds to build the foundation of comparative data needed to start the revision process.
The following semester, Dr. Adrienne Cachelin, faculty member in Environmental & Sustainability Studies and Sustainability Education director, integrated the bylaw revision process in her environmental justice class, which is a designated Community Engaged Learning (CEL) course. The students applied concepts they were learning in class to critically analyze the bylaws from a justice lens. They asked: Who is being left out by the way the current bylaws are phrased? Who are we harming? What assumptions are we making? They identified points of exclusion and the subtle ways current power structures were being upheld through the language and structure of the bylaws.
“Usually green grants focus on technological responses to complex issues, but this revision expands what is possible in the realm of sustainability to tackle issues from an equity lens,” Cachelin says.
After the conclusion of their semester long bylaw review, the students made two major recommendations. First, remove the overuse of financial terms and jargon. This will remove the barriers and increase accessibility to the SCIF program. Second, SCIF should add a person from the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as a voting member of the SCIF Allocations Committee. This will ensure that equity considerations are reflected in the final decision-making process.
Izabella Bourland, one of the students who was a part of the process, says, “We want to be inclusive in our language and break away from the regular framework of environmentalism. We worked hard to not make assumptions that exclude people who have the knowledge to create a sustainable future.”
Both recommendations from the students were included in the revised bylaws. Additionally, Andrews and SCIF intern Zahra Saifee looked over the bylaws line by line to identify necessary revisions. Pronouns throughout the document were updated to be more inclusive, and in some cases, entire sections of the bylaws were removed.
To finalize the process, ASUU Sustainability director Alex Farley and the Sustainability Board created a new letter of intent that seamlessly combined the original vision with the new SCIF values. Lastly, the updated SCIF bylaws were unanimously approved by the SCIF Allocations Committee in April 2021, and established as the new framework of sustainable projects on campus. As the bylaw revision process concludes, it is important to note the critical role students took to make the new bylaws are more inclusive, just, and equitable—ultimately expanding what’s possible to accomplish here at the University of Utah.