Kutztown University community comes together around a vision for local climate action
KUTZTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA — University students, staff, and community members gathered Tuesday evening to hear a presentation on the global climate movement from keynote speaker Shana Rose, a Berks County climate advocate and 2016 Kutztown graduate. Afterwards, a panel of Kutztown students and staff, local activists and sustainability professionals, and community and faith leaders led a discussion about how the university and the greater Berks County community can act on climate change.
The event was hosted by a coalition of Berks County change organizations including Sunrise Movement Berks, Trinity Lutheran Church, Kutztown, and Reading for 100, an advocacy group based out of Reading and part of the National Sierra Club Ready for 100 campaign, which works to empower local communities to advocate for climate justice and put pressure on their local officials to commit to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050.
Sunrise Movement Berks, the local hub of a nation-wide and youth-led climate advocacy organization, is building a movement in Berks County around climate justice solutions like the Green New Deal. This April on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, youth leaders will strike, leaving classes and work to draw attention to the climate crisis and demand local, state, and federal policies that will address the intersectional realities of climate change and create a just and livable future for all. At Kutztown University, a band of Sunrise student leaders are planning their own climate strike on April 22nd to make their voices heard on campus.
Meanwhile, a group of students and staff are organizing around a holistic vision for the future of the university, creating a “Bill of Rights” to demand action from the administration on a number of health and safety concerns, including the climate crisis, that the campus community faces. Kevin Mahoney, an English professor and the leader of the group, “Healthy Campus Bill of Rights,” describes the document as “a framework for collaborative organizing and offering a different vision for what the university can be – a place that puts people, not spreadsheets, first.”
At the event, these on-campus organizations partnered with Reading for 100 and Trinity Lutheran, Kutztown to raise awareness and discuss community-wide solutions. Trinity is part of a network of local churches that are starting conversations about climate change within their congregations and launching a climate justice devotional for the season of Lent. Trinity is also part of an interfaith group in Kutztown, which will host a community climate vigil on April 21st, the night before the Earth Day climate strike on campus.
These groups have joined together to create a petition calling for Kutztown University’s President Hawkinson and the university administration to create a climate action plan in collaboration with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members by March 2021. It references the work of nearby West Chester University and Gettysburg College, which are among the 600 institutions across the country that have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which pledges them to a series of actions that will ultimately reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero and to incorporate sustainability further into the university’s curriculum.
In response, Shana Rose issued the following statement:
“Kutztown University (K.U.) is at a pivotal point in it’s 154 year existence. K.U. is an institution of higher learning and is designed to educate and serve the broader community by providing quality and affordable education. And that quality education must include bold and progressive action towards climate change and sustainability. How are we going to teach tomorrow’s leaders if we don’t teach them the skills to prepare them for their future? That is why I am deeply humbled and amazed to walk alongside my fellow K.U. alumni, students, faculty, staff, and community members calling on the leaders of Kutztown University to address climate change for the sake of future students and community leaders.”
Matthew Cohen and Addison Kuhns, student leaders of Sunrise Movement Berks’ at Kutztown University, issued the following:
“We cannot hope to create a brighter future if we do not stand united. We must come together as a caring community to forge a liveable future one with clean water, fresh air, and guaranteed jobs for our children, and our children’s children. We can no longer sit idly by and watch as our planet wastes away; it’s time for Kutztown to take action. It’s time to make a lasting and sustainable change. Please, join us on Wednesday April 22 for the campus-wide climate strike and take the first steps towards a Green New Deal.”
Kevin Mahoney, professor of English and one of the organizers of the Healthy Campus Bill of Rights at Kutztown University, issued the following:
“Over the years, faculty, students, and staff have worked tirelessly to address problems at the university ranging from moldy buildings, to a lack of access to mental health services, to toxic work and learning spaces on campus. While our individual efforts have won some victories, the underlying problems seem to persist. The Healthy Campus Bill of Rights demands a campus free of toxic working and learning environments; an investment in the financial health of our communities; and, aggressive action to transition off fossil fuels. We are all excited to be part of the call for KU, Time for Action.”
Bradley Flamm, Director of the Office of Sustainability at West Chester University, issued the following:
“The commitment and drive of the Kutztown community to address the climate crisis and create healthy environments for all is inspiring. At West Chester University, our efforts to reduce carbon emissions and motivate action for environmental, social, and economic sustainability have succeeded with the support of, and close collaboration with, our neighboring municipalities, county officials, and local advocacy organizations. The sustainability community in West Chester and at WCU is glad to be connected to the good work being done in Kutztown and we’re ready to share our experiences and learn from yours.”