Listen! Student Activists Leading Staff for Sustainability

The Sustainability in Learning & Teaching Community of Practice aims to bring together colleagues from across the University to advance the understanding and implementation of good practice in sustainability.

This month, the group hosted student activist leaders, who led a Pecha Kucha event – the “Listen! Students Leading Staff for Sustainability” Practice Workshop – which showcased and amplified student voices and action with an aim to motivate, inform and propel our own commitments to sustainability. 

Demonstrating Community Engagement Principles within our University

This knowledge exchange event provides a fantastic example from within our university community of embodying community engagement principles of equality and social justice, whilst focusing on environmental sustainability.


1.Through the Event Ethos and Format

The event organisers took a facilitative approach and highlighted from the onset that conversations may be challenging and that this was welcomed. This set the tone for students to actively challenge staff, who traditionally hold more power within our university context. The event very explicitly valued both the passion and expertise of students, which disrupted the norm of students being learners rather than experts in their own right.

The purpose of the event was to provide a platform to showcase the student’s expertise and amplify their voices rather than be leading or directive. The event also facilitated a space for discussions around shared concerns so that shared priorities could be identified:

Dr. Mia Perry

It’s really thanks to a large community of practice growing bigger every day [and its infrastructure] that this event is possible […] it is about platforming and giving a space to amplify the voices and the work of inspiring students or recent graduates of the University of Glasgow […] What I would like to invite you to do is […] to acknowledge and listen and witness these voices and the work that you’re about to hear across different colleges and schools of the university. But secondly, to recognize that we’ve invited students to come and speak from a space of expertise, but also a space of passion, and that verges on the perimeters of activism. We’ve invited them and encouraged them to be brave with their passion and their activism, and that may in some cases make both the student presenters but also ourselves feel uncomfortable. Feel positioned in a way that we may not be used to as being the staff and the teachers typically in our day-to-day work. But I would like to acknowledge that, and I’d like to ask you to acknowledge how this might make you feel and recognize that at the moment in our current climate crisis and context that we’re facing that these repositioning’s and moments and feelings of discomfort are perhaps what’s actually necessary for us to continue to promote and facilitate the behaviour change that’s required of us in the immediate future.

2. Through the content of the students’ presentations in relation to ethical and moral considerations, critical reflection, how the research was conducted, and the public and community engagement that was carried out alongside.There were discussions about collective action and movement building alongside research.

Vidya Nanthakumar

I’m a fourth-year medical student […] and I’ve been involved with the Extinction Rebellion […] And my colleague Sam and I set up an interdisciplinary course on climate change and sustainability which is running for his second semester. Then this year, which is really exciting, I was also involved in the Green New Deal.

Activism is also about imagining an alternative worldview and working towards that. And it doesn’t just have to be taken to the streets and it can be about doing something which you care about and imagining an alternative […]. So as much as activism is also protesting, this is the less seen side, and this is the side that isn’t shown in the media. It’s people sat around in a circle talking about these hard emotions and ideas that they have and things that they want to change and coming together as a group and finding community and solidarity and support. And I think all of us speaking today, we can say that like nothing we’ve achieved, we’ve done alone. It’s always been with other people. It’s always been having support from other people.

I feel like protesting is one of kind of the best way to kind of get your voice heard.

Samuel Marot

Another thing that we can all do in our daily lives is either to donate or volunteer at local wildlife rescue centres.

Geraldine Cheung
Extinction Rebellion Scotland

Students shared their motivations for the work they do in terms of research and related activism. This helps those further from the research to connect with the researcher and their work on a more human level.

Gabor Danos

I’m someone who used to struggle from climate change anxiety where I would get really anxious about the future of our planet. I wanted to do everything on a personal level to combat climate change. In doing so, I felt extremely small and powerless and felt that what I’m doing is meaningless. So I approached a good friend of mine who gave me the following advice. Make minor sacrifices in your everyday life to lead the more sustainable lifestyle. But aim for achieving far more substantial change by impacting the organizations you work for throughout your career. Following his advice, I came up with a proposal to reduce the carbon footprint of the company I work for by planting 1000 trees. I managed to get it approved by the Board of Directors and it will be set in motion in 2022.

Kirsty Craig

I’m Kirsty a Scottish Canadian. I’m a medical student here at Glasgow. I’m a traveller, a chef, a teacher, piano player, but I suppose for the purpose of this talk I’m an environmentalist. Why is sustainability important to me and the university? It’s important to me for many reasons. But put simply, it directly concerns my future and my friends and family’s future and my future kids future. But beyond this, it impacts all aspects of every person’s life.

Samuel Marot

The main reason why I care is because the climate change is affecting everyone […] first of all the indigenous communities. I feel like, as someone that is privileged enough to have had in good education […] I want to kind of sensitize people on that matter and act on it.

Education was highlighted as a tool for inspiring collective action – when we have the knowledge we need, it is easier for communities to take action on our own concerns and priorities.

Fiona Kuo

During this past summer I conducted a project that focused on developing visuals [that] showcased the biodiversity on Garscube Estate and my intention of this project is to use these guides as environmental education materials for visitors of the estate and also for the local community, and by doing so, I’m hoping to encourage other communities to do the same and to encourage more people to take part in conservation efforts. Environmental education plays a very significant role in encouraging communities to participate in such efforts and to bring about major social changes.

A range of tools for raising awareness amongst a range of communities were showcased, such as websites, posters, tools for sparking conversations, and social media.

Cassandra Chiang

I’ve designed this nature trail map to better help visitors navigate around the estate, and these illustrations presented here are all accessible online.

I Naturalist is a platform that anyone can use to upload their wildlife observations onto this online database that researchers and even local scientists can utilize the information to help them better understand the biodiversity in the area […] we hope that by integrating this into our project, we can encourage the public to spend more time outdoors. And while they’re outdoors, to pay closer attention to the biodiversity surrounding them and with all these educational materials, not only are we hoping to deepen local communities understanding of the biodiversity on the estate, we also wish to encourage other communities to do the same by spreading knowledge about biodiversity within their own community.

Fundamental considerations and critical reflection around structural and systemic inequality where raised – in this example the student talks about the parallels between oppression of women by the patriarchy and the exploitation of nature – ‘Mother Earth’.

Marina Politis

I’m Marina, a medical student in global health and I’ll be talking about the male norm in our medical curricula. We learn medicine which is meant to serve all of the population, and the centrism refers to how our society centres around men and men’s needs, priorities and values, and relegates women to the periphery. But it also positions men as a gender-neutral standard while making women gender specific. Evidently this also applies to sustainability. In conversations surrounding climate justice, the climate crisis is often presented as gender neutral, but it is not. Gender inequality means that women and girls are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and experience worse outcomes despite men producing more greenhouse gases. Regardless of this, women are side-lined in discussions. Indeed, at COP 26, almost all of the most senior public facing roles are taken by men […] Consider where you perpetuate a male norm […] Who are you citing? Who is your research being performed on and who does it serve? […] And do you talk about your subject’s history of misogyny for there will be one.

Both women and nature, oppressed by the same dominant patriarchal structures, and we must act to dismantle these.

Alongside research, students explained that they set up small collectives and organisations to collaborate with communities and adopted methods such as gardening, talks and photo exhibitions to learn together.

Nicole Dikshteyn

Along with my project, I also helped run an organization on Garscube known as Gecho. We’re committed to getting students and staff more involved in conservation and ecological health, and we do this through gardening through holding talks about different species, running wildlife, first aid courses, and by creating a calendar that’s completely composed of photos taken by students.

Hayley Clark

If you have any sort of platform, spread the word about rewilding and educate those around you. Because to many it will look just like weeds. But if we give it that context as to what we’re trying to accomplish, we can make rewilding the next gardening trend.

Ethical and moral considerations around social inequality were central to some of the presentations. These considerations are key underpinning concepts in community engagement.

Marina Herriges

My name is Marina Herriges. I am a textile conservator. I come from Brazil, where the authorities ignore the climate crisis. It’s sad to see natural areas and communities such as the Amazon and Indigenous peoples being destroyed, and as such I feel it’s my duty to contribute to the change towards a more sustainable planet. For everyone. We are adapting our practice to address climate change issues now. It’s important to create space for people to discuss the subject, present possible solutions, or even say I am not completely sure, but we can find out together. Therefore, I strongly believe that education is key for change […] I believe we are all together in this call-to-action. Community effort is what will help us to evolve and reverse climate change.

Variations in cultural understandings of similar issues, as well as norms and values were raised through one project – it is always fundamental to gain a contextual understanding of the communities within which we hope to work.

What sparked my interest, was actually a difference in cultural background. So in Thailand, no one really cares about the environment. Now it’s definitely more trendy to care. You know, like there are lots of second-hand stores now, but you know, growing up it wasn’t really a thing. So when I went to Glasgow it was definitely a bit of a culture shock […]. I felt like oh wow, people are very, you know, intense about recycling […] Another reason I became interested in the environment was because when I came to Glasgow there were lots of charity shops, you know which are again not really a thing there [in Thailand].

The event highlighted the need for collaboration across hierarchies in order to tackle the climate crisis.

Geraldine Cheung

[From lawmakers to campaigners] we can all do something that will with our combined effort make a difference in this world.

“There is clear demand from students for action. 

As staff we need to respond.” 

Event Participant

Watch the session

Access the slides 

Read about our inspirational speakers 

Improve your sustainability skills through our professional networks and training

Join our Sustainability in L&T Community of Practice

Join our Sustainability in Learning & Teaching Community to access support and resources, including our bi-monthly Practice Workshop series.  You can also read more about the Sustainability in Learning & Teaching Community of Practice on their webpages. Contact Mia Perry, Senior Lecturer in Literacies and Arts Education for Sustainability for further information:


2 thoughts on “Listen! Student Activists Leading Staff for Sustainability

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s