Call to Action: The Need for Intersectionality in Environmental Circles

I absolutely love the purpose of the sustainability movement.  It has fuelled my activism and honestly has enabled me to be the person I am right now.  It feels really humbling to be apart of a movement that is fighting for the long-term health and stability of our planet.  A fight that has any connection to our earth to me feels worthy and out of necessity.  As sea levels keep rising.  Animals are going extinct faster than we have ever seen before.  Fresh water is dwindling.  Air pollution cakes over cities so thickly, people have no choice but to wear masks as they walk outside their homes.  Food has become more and more industrialized, that we can’t even recognize half of the ingredients on packages.  We’re so up in our heads in waste, housing developments are being built on top of landfills.  Not to mention, prairies, wetlands, forests and other significant ecosystems are close to being eradicated.  When reflecting on this, huge, ambiguous, environmental crisis we are in right now, it often feels like there is nothing else for me to do but fight for the planet.

But what does that mean?  What does it mean to fight for a healthy planet?Mary's post

Those things listed above all pertain to our environment, but where are the people and where are their voices?  Whose voices are loud enough to be heard and whose are not being represented? What stories are being amplified while others are marginalized?

Throughout my heavy involvement and experience with sustainability groups in Cincinnati, I’ve come to realize white people are dominating environmental groups.  It’s the voices of mostly wealthy, white men that I am hearing. And while their stories, like my own and many others are important, they are not the only story.

In fact, there are thousands of stories that we never even hear because of how white people dominate environmental groups. For an example, black communities are more likely to have landfills put in their backyard than white communities. Or what about indigenous people and their land being colonized, stolen and exploited for oil drillers and corporate land grabbers?

This is why I believe intersectionality needs to be a primary focus for the environmental movement.  We need to move beyond what the environmental issues are and be more critical of who these environmental issues target and harm first.  We need a better understanding of white privilege in order to combat environmental racism and environmental injustices whole-heartedly and strongly.  intersectionality

This is why I am writing this, a call to action.  For white people to stand down in environmental issues, and create space for people of color, women, and queer, trans people to be heard.  We need to be incorporating more strict boundaries on how to be inclusive and welcome people from all different backgrounds in our circles, or their stories will only continue to be marginalized.  Otherwise, the rhetoric of the rich, white college student who got involved because they realized how violent industrial agriculture was for innocent animals will be the only story.

We need to be more critical. And we need to know our history, our roots in white supremacy and make sure we are not perpetuating this.  We need campaigns that tackle the roots of colonization, capitalism and exploitation of people inequitably, not more recycling bins.  We need to hold ourselves accountable, and our university.  mary's post 2

We need to acknowledge that white people are not the leaders of this movement and that indigenous people have been fighting for the planet since we (settlers) came onto this land.  We need to learn from them.  We need to understand their stories. Amplify their voices.  Not our own.

Without justice, there is no successful environmental movement.  People experience injustice in all different forms according to their own lived experience and identity.   Incorporating more intersectionality in environmental circles will be a beginning to an environmental movement that is full of justice.  And that’s the kind of movement I want to be in.

Mary Gorsek is a first year WILL member and graduating senior studying sociology and horticulture. She has her certificate in Urban Agriculture and is currently serving as the Interim Co-Director for the Office of Sustainability for UC. 


It was the Monday night after the Oscars and I can remember browsing through my Twitter feed to see what interesting information about the world I could learn about on this particular night.  I can vividly remember coming across a tweet of a video of Giuliana Rancic, a reporter from the television channel E! on the infamous style show Fashion Police. Now I love everything about fashion and try to keep as up to date as possible on the latest styles and trends. I used to be a loyal fan of the show Fashion Police as well, but the comments that Giuliana Rancic made about Zendaya Coleman, an 18-year-old actress who is known for her strong fashion sense, boiled my blood to say the least. In the tweeted out video, Rancic is seen making a comment about Zendaya’s outfit of choice and hair for the Oscars. Rancic makes the joke that Zendaya’s hair (which were faux locs) probably “smells like patchouli oil or weed.”  Dreadlocks is a hairstyle that can be worn as an expression of deep religious or spiritual conviction, ethnic pride or fashion preference. mica blog post photo 2The first example of dreadlocks has been dated back to North Africa and the North Africa. In America, this is one of the many hairstyles of the African American community and is normally not an acceptable style in a professional setting. So when I heard the comments uttered by Giuliana Rancic, I would be lying if I said I was shocked and surprised. However, I was still deeply offended, as was Zendaya. Oftentimes, Black people are told that our hair isn’t good enough and that in order for it to be good enough, we have to chemically modify it. It is rare that you see a Black celebrity wearing her natural hair. She often has some type of extensions in and her hair is always straight even though Black people’s hair is naturally curly.  Rancic’s comments were also completely ignorant. She made reference to weed and patchouli oil when critiquing Zendaya’s hair.  These two references are common stereotypes of Black people. The patchouli oil reference refers to the common notion that all Black people carry some type of odor. The weed reference refers to the stereotype that young Black people often smoke weed, particularly those with dreadlocks. I think the lesson from this incident that is to be learned is not only the importance of intent vs. impact but also on how uneducated public figures are about different cultures. Rancic had no idea how offensive and ignorant her statement was and even tried to defend it initially after it blew up on social media. I think this example shows just a small part of the struggle Black women have to go through in a public space.  There are so many things about a Black woman that are not seen as good enough. This is just one example of that. I think the best part of this whole incident is Zendaya’s response. She perfectly sums up the feelings of most Black women and the ridicule we face just for displaying our hair in all of its natural glory. And of course, this still isn’t good enough. Here is her statement:

Mica blog post photo 3There is a fine line between what is funny and disrespectful. Someone said something about my hair at the Oscars that left me in awe. Not because I was relishing in rave outfit reviews, but because I was hit with ignorant slurs and pure disrespect. To say that an 18 year old young woman with locs must smell of patchouli oil or “weed” is not only a large stereotype but outrageously offensive. I don’t usually feel the need to respond to negative things but certain remarks cannot go unchecked.  I’ll have you know my father, brother, best childhood friend and little cousins all have have locs. Do you want to know what Ava DuVernay (direct of the Oscar nominated film Selma), Ledisi (9t time Grammy nominated singer/songwriter and actress), Terry McMillan (author), Vincent Brown (Professor of African American studies at Harvard University), Heather Andrea Williams (Historian who also possesses a  JD from Harvard University, and an MA and PhD from Yale University) as well as many other men, women and children of all races have in common? Locs. None of which smell of marijuana. There is already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair.  My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.  To me locs are a symbol of strength and beauty, almost like a lion’s mane. I suggest some people should listen to India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” and contemplate a little before opening your mouth so quickly to judge.” If I was faced with the same criticism as Zendaya about my hair, I honestly couldn’t have said it more eloquently. She perfectly responds respectfully and graciously to such offensive comments. 

This post encouraged me to keep being proud of my hair and make no apologies of how different it is from society’s standard of beauty.  It definitely reminded me that “I Am Not My Hair.” This incident serves as an example as to the importance of intent vs. impact. Black Hair is beautiful.   mica blog post pgoto   Mica Cunningham is a 3rd year Chemistry/Pre major and a Medical Sciences Minor and a 2nd year WILL participant.

Going Solo

For the first time in about eight years I am truly experiencing single life. My partner and I ended our relationship a few weeks ago and being on my own has been enlightening thus far. Relationships are great—don’t get me wrong—but there is something about being solo that is just really special. I think this is the first time in my life that I am not worried about who I am going to date next or how I am going to meet someone new. I am finally turning the focus on myself. The following are some realizations/ goals that I have made in the past few weeks:pic3

I will learn to find happiness in myself. I think one of the biggest issues for me in relationships is that my wellbeing would rely too much on how my partner made me feel. I would expect them to create all the pleasure in my life and that is a grand expectation to ask of a person. I am now finding myself on this path to self-discovery. A path where I can learn about what truly makes me happy and fulfilled. One of the things that I have learned very quickly is how much I lacked close relationships with women. I had always spent so much of my time and energy on the guy I was seeing that I didn’t have much left for friendships. There are so many women in my life that I admire—especially women in WILL—that I am now able to devote my time toward.

I will now focus on my health and wellbeing. And I will be doing it for myself. Not to look better for someone else. I want to take this time to practice being more mindful of what I put in my body and how I treat it. I want to learn to love curves and dents instead of feeling shamed by them. My body is capable of so much and so am I.

I will devote more time to self-care. Very recently I have experienced a lot of stressors in my personal life but I also believe that it is “just that time of the semester”. Everything that I was putting off is starting to pile up and due dates are coming quickly. It feels like there are never enough hours in the day. I have come to realize that putting off self-care for when “I will have more time” is not helpful. It is the days that I feel like there is no time that I need self-care (meditation, bubble baths, yoga, etc.) the most. I have a tendency to take on too much. A big part of taking care of myself is knowing when I need to slow down.pic2

I will focus on my goals and my future. I will now be able to really see what I want to do and where I want to go in life instead of worrying about integrating my future plans with someone else’s. This has been extremely important for me. In the past few weeks I have been more in tune with my desires, which has helped me reshape my long-term goals.

All in all I feel that being solo will also help be grow as a leader. It will finally be taking the time to get to know my values, my goals, and myself. In my opinion all of the best leaders are very self-aware. And I hope that all of these goals will follow me into all my future relationships.  pic


Heidi Palmer is a second year WILL member.





Congruency has also forced me to reconcile my past. I hold a lot of shame about my past, in terms of my lack of and poorly constructed ideas of feminism. In high school two students raped a student from another high school. There were different versions of what happened circulating, however that shouldn’t have mattered. I should have believed her. But I didn’t, I thought that “if two people are drinking then no one is at fault”, “they didn’t know how drunk she was”, etc. Those ideas do not represent who I am or what I believe today. They didn’t represent who I was or what I believed nine months after I thought them. I’ve struggled with this for a long time because I’ve always felt that because I once felt this way my feminism is less than, it’s not good enough, it’s an easier target for anyone who wants to belittle feminism as a phase or “something for sluts”. However, while I still feel a lot of shame for those ideas, my current congruency has little to do with my past. It’s about recognizing what I believe now, and carrying out my life and daily actions in such a way that mirrors those beliefs.

The activity that we did a few weeks ago not only sparked a new fire in me to be more congruent in my future but it allowed me to visual that those thoughts I once I had are not going to stop me from achieving what or changing the world. I did have to recognize the hurt and pain that I caused. The shame and guilt that I casted on her, even if she didn’t know my name or who I was specifically by not standing with her I was standing against her. However those thoughts did not make me ideas on feminism any less important or valuable. It forced me to realize that in order to be more congruent I don’t have be more accepting of ideas that promote an unsafe environment for oppressed people but I have to more conscious to hate the idea not the person; because I was once that person.

WILL has allowed me to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the fact that people are not created perfect; that as humans, we have to go through the pain of self-discovery in order to realize where we need to change or continuing developing.  I’m so grateful to be surrounded by a group of individuals who come together to create an open and loving environment for one another as we navigate who we are and who we want to become.

Cierra Carter is a first year WILL member.

Struggling with Consciousness of Self

During the first couple WILL meetings this year we have focused on the Social Change Model. While I feel that I have heard about the social change model before this time it seemed to really strike a chord. So far, we have focused on the individual components of the social change model, consciousness of self, congruence, and commitment. I have learned that these key individual components are essential to the progressing with the group values as well as the societal values. Here lately, I have realized that I have been struggling with my consciousness of self.

Consciousness of self basically means being aware of your values, emotions, dreams, and ideas. I view this component of the individual part of the social change model as the most important, and the component that leads someone to the other two, congruence and commitment. Without a consciousness of self, someone cannot know if they are congruent to their beliefs and that makes it really hard to commit yourself to something bigger.

Lately, I realized I have been allowing what I do to become who I am. I found that I have been pushing back the need to discover myself and instead replace that with the things that I need to get done; whether it being work, school work, volunteer work, really anything to make me not have to think about myself. Many times I use being too busy as an excuse for things. I am tired of doing that. WILL has helped me realize that who I am and what I believe in really does matter and is actually incredibly important to the impact I will eventually (hopefully) make on the world.

The activity that was facilitated by two of our wonderful WILL members is what made me realize that I really need to wake up. In the activity we needed to draw a picture that represents our dreams, values, beliefs, and goals. While I didn’t have a hard time coming up with my dreams and goals, I seemed to always have known sort of what I want to do with my life, I struggled coming up with my values and beliefs. While I have some core beliefs, I do not really know what is really important to me outside of those. What do I value in myself and in others? What do I want to be like as a person and what traits do I want to have? This activity got me thinking and realizing that I have been putting this discovery off for way to long. Without WILL, I would have never realized all the growing I still have to do.

I haven’t quite figured out my next step from here, but it definitely entails taking a step back from life. It entails allowing me some time for personal growth and discovery. I also believe that WILL, and the members of WILL, will be a huge part in this growth.  This community is someplace where personal stories and personal growth is valued and I am so honored and pleased to be a part of such a loving and supportive community.

Stephanie Sollanek is a second year member of WILL.