Sustainability outreach programs see color

Aleah Green

There are various sustainability programs in Flagstaff that cater to improving environmental issues. Clubs on NAU’s campus or within the community serve different areas of eco-friendliness and diversity, however, some individuals think the people who tend to be within these sustainability groups are not diverse enough.

Nikki Cooley has oriented her life around being environmentally friendly. She’s an NAU alumna with a bachelor’s and master’s of science in forestry with an emphasis on traditional ecological knowledge and has previously worked in sustainability programs on the Colorado Plateau and in Cherokee, North Carolina. Now, Cooley works as the project manager in the Tribal Climate Change Program for the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) at NAU.

“All along the way, I’ve just always noticed that there’s been a lack of diversity during these workshops, conferences and trainings,” Cooley said. “Often the Native voice, the indigenous voice or even people of color aren’t included.”

Beyond her professional background in sustainability, Cooley resonates with environmental issues on a more personal level.

“I’ve always been doing it,” Cooley said. “I come from the Navajo Nation, so my upbringing was spent outdoors, herding sheep, riding horses, growing and harvesting crops and listening to my elders about the significance of including everybody. We all should have a voice in how the lands are managed.”

Cooley identifies as Diné and added that elders have a lot to contribute to the conversation of sustainability, which they don’t need degrees or professional certificates to do so.

Being Earth-conscious also extends beyond a strictly professional perspective for senior Adrienne Traylor. Traylor studies environmental sustainability and works for the NAU Office of Sustainability.

Traylor was in pursuit of an internship within the university for her area of study, however, the available positions did not interest her or allow her to do what she wanted to accomplish: bridge the gap between sustainability and diversity.

“People deserve to know what’s going on, outreach opportunities and what they can do on campus,” Traylor said. “Some people don’t even know that there’s glass recycling on campus. We do need people of color here, these groups shouldn’t have to be all white and we should reach out.”

After expressing her passion to her adviser, the Office of Sustainability created a new position for Traylor, diversity and inclusion coordinator. One of her responsibilities is student outreach and building a better relationship with ethnic groups on campus such as the Filipino American Student Association, the Black Student Union, The Ladies of Truth, Queer Trans People of Color and many more.

In addition to adding more diversity to the sustainability programming, Traylor is an event coordinator and provides guidance and resources to students who want to get involved. She recently created a sustainability group for people of color, the Environmental Justice Action Team, that meets once a month.

Senior environmental sustainability major Erika Bert has been involved with sustainability programs from a young age. Bert said her parents always encouraged her to recycle. Being eco-friendly has always been a part of her life.

Bert is an aid for the waste minimization team for the Office of Sustainability. Her role includes recycling and waste minimization but also figuring out how to get others involved in sustainability programs.

“I think a big problem is reaching an entire campus of people,” Bert said. “One of the issues with getting a more diverse group of students to be involved is accessibility, outreach and awareness.”

Bert said tailgating efforts at events has helped broaden a diverse audience and explained other ways beyond tailgating that a student could get involved. She said the Applied Research Development (ARD) center on campus holds office hours between Monday and Thursday from noon until 4 p.m. During this time, students can explore their options within different volunteer and job opportunities.

There’s also a Green NAU page on NAU’s website that people with the urge to be eco-friendly can check out. Visitors can learn more about the Green Jacks, NAU’s Green Fund and other sustainability programs.

Earth Jam will be hosted April 26 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on NAU’s Central Quad. It is on Earth Day and will feature various activities, performers and opportunities to become involved with sustainability programs.

“When students come out to this and see all the different ways that people can be sustainable and all the different sectors of that, I’m hoping that it will increase the momentum of people wanting to get involved,” Bert said.

While events like this help with student outreach, Cooley believes other areas of diversity within sustainability need to be improved, especially in terms of training and public forum coordinators.

“If you have a tribal panel without a tribal person or person of color who’s managing their own land on every other panel, then they’re surely missing the point of diversity,“ Cooley said.

Cooley said there are not enough women in leadership roles and organizations who coordinate events or programs need to ensure that there are multiple leadership spots for women, in addition to roles that people of color fill.

“People of color can see that there are opportunities,” Cooley said. “They’re seeing people speaking and being involved, so they’re more likely to become involved because they have an example to look to.”

Attendees to ITEP events will learn about adaptation planning, land restoration, drought, wildfires, precipitation and more.

The root of Traylor’s ambition for sustainability and diversity did not stem from Flagstaff. Instead, it grew from Compton, California, where she wants to make a greater impact.

“There’s not a lot of healthy options in Compton, basically we have a lot of fast-food restaurants and liquor stores around the corner,” Traylor said. “It’s convenient for people. We have a community garden and there’s a food bank across the street from it, but [people] don’t utilize it.”

She also said she wants to encourage the Compton community to restore the garden. Traylor reasons it will provide value to an area that’s known for sex workers and homelessness and help those around the area as well.

“I hope I can bring awareness to that and tell the food bank that they can use that plot of land to grow the garden,” Traylor said. “We have to take the freeway to another city to get to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods for our produce.”

Traylor was encouraged and motivated to continue these aspirations elsewhere like Flagstaff, but she wants to also go volunteer in Flint, Michigan to help with the water crisis. Traylor’s dream job involves working for the United Nations.

If students are interested in helping bridge the gap between sustainability and diversity, Traylor is graduating in May and her position will be available.

“I didn’t have prior work experience to do this,” Traylor said. “I got to talk to President Cheng, people from the University of Arkansas and UC Santa Cruz because they want to do the same thing that we’re doing here.”