SA candidates talk food insecurity, fossil fuel divestment at sustainability town hall

Media Credit: Connor Witschonke | Hatchet Photographer

Student Association Executive Vice Presidential candidates Ojani Walthrust (left) and Brady Forrest (right) discussed their sustainability platform points at a town hall Thursday.

Student Association candidates talked about their plans for sustainability in a two-hour town hall in the Elliott School of International Affairs Thursday night.

The event was organized by the Green Student Coalition, comprised of environmental student organizations including Green GW, Fossil Fuel GW, the GroW Community and GW Animal Advocates. Members of the organizations and students in the audience questioned candidates about sustainability including fossil fuel divestment, composting and food insecurity.

Candidates were asked how they would hold the University accountable for its sustainable practices especially after officials launched a $2 million sustainable investment fund last month.

Ashley Le, the SA’s vice president for public affairs and a candidate for SA president, said if elected she would propose to expand the $2 million fund to $22 million over five years.

“The reason why this is feasible is because right now more than $20 million in the endowment has already been invested in sustainability investments,” Le said. “We know that it is possible, the sustainability office has said that it is possible, and we want to move on with what we already have.”

Candidates also discussed food insecurity, an issue that all contenders agreed pervades campus and was recently highlighted in an SA report on affordability. The report found students face challenges in finding affordable dining options on campus and that 87 percent of undergraduate students surveyed spend more than $11 on food each day.

Sen. Imani Ross, U-at-Large, and a presidential candidate, described GW as a food desert because of its distance from more affordable grocery stores like Safeway. She added that the University sees students as a commodity because it takes a percentage of all purchases made on GWorld.

“The administration cares more about making profit off of us than actual students, so we need to shift the culture in the sense that we need to stop looking at us as commodities and start looking at us as students,” Ross said.

Candidates were also asked about whether or not they would advocate for the University to completely divest from fossil fuel companies in its endowment, a measure that students have supported, but officials rejected in the past.

Sen. Brady Forrest, G-at-Large, a candidate for executive vice president, said the University is “compromising out academic integrity” by accepting research funding from large fossil fuel companies including Exxon Mobil.

“As a PhD student the idea that Exxon Mobil would be funding research and being involved in a research center makes GW look bad academically,” Forrest said. “I think that’s a larger conversation that I actually think I’m very well positioned to have.”

To increase transparency and continue the conversation of sustainability, Sen. Ojani Walthrust, ESIA-U, and a candidate for executive vice president candidate said he would push to hold more town halls similar to the one being held Thursday.

“I think that town halls are extremely effective because not only do students express how they feel about the status quo and what’s going on, but afterwards we take initiative and action points of how we can fix these problems instead of just talking about it and not addressing it again,” he said.

After the contenders for president and executive vice president finished their discussion, a panel of five senate candidates took the stage to talk about promoting alternative food sources on campus including community supported agriculture, farmers markets and Hungry Harvest, a produce delivery service that the SA partnered with this semester.

Claire Bechtel, a freshman running for ESIA-U said it’s important not only to make students aware of how to access alternative food sources, but also how to use them, especially because under next year’s dining plan, students who have a residence hall kitchen will have significantly less to spend on dining than those without a kitchen.

“I think there should be better resources since we’re already focusing on cooking in the kitchen and eating in the kitchen for your meal plan, there should be a counterbalance to help support that, not just ‘hey use your kitchen. Oh, you don’t know how to use a kitchen? Well, that sucks,’” Bechtel said.

Amy Martin, a freshman candidate for ESIA-U said the campus has not yet fully embraced sustainability as a key priority. Martin said she would push for sustainable practices to be discussed more in-depth at freshman orientation.

“I think that the step that we need to make is just really a shift on campus to make sure that that is something that we advocate for,” Martin said. “Sustainability should be on the list of things that’s talked about and I don’t think it is yet.”

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