VCSIA Winner — Clarissa Salmon
When I joined the University of Cambridge in 2020, I was really keen to get involved in the environmental movement in Cambridge. During the 2020 lockdown, the urgency of the climate crisis had become painfully apparent to me, particularly in relation to intersectionality (to use Kimberlé Crenshaw’s terminology). However, I was initially really unsure about how to get into climate justice spaces in Cambridge, and spent hours trawling society websites. This difficulty formed in me a strong desire to make climate spaces genuinely well advertised and accessible to all students in Cambridge; a belief which has become central to all my social action work.
One of the first projects I got involved with in was the Engage for Change scheme, a sustainable change-making training course led by Cambridge Hub. I received training on project management and research, stakeholder analysis and impact evaluation, among various other sessions.
My Engage for Change project aimed to improve the student understanding of the recycling system at my college, Gonville and Caius, which I noticed was often so misused that almost all waste (even that in the recycling bins) was put into landfill to prevent contamination.
I presented a motion arguing for a new signage system at the Gonville and Caius JCR open meeting (02/12/21), which was passed unanimously. I then made the posters in partnership with the Green Co-Opt at my college and we presented them to the Environmental Sub Committee together (senior staff from college who meet termly to discuss environmental issues and progress).
I organised a Recycling Formal to boost awareness, which had menus themed around reusing food, and linked booking to completing a recycling survey. I was invited to a meeting by the college Environmental Sub Committee meeting, where I presented the data I collected from the survey.
Following on from my project and the inspiration I felt working with key college officials on the Environmental Sub Committee, I successfully ran for Green Officer in my JCR. I was honestly quite surprised by the receptiveness to change I found within college throughout the course of my project, and I wanted to capitalise upon key allies among the staff and fellows to push Caius to become a more sustainable institution.
In my two months tenure as Green Officer, I have concentrated mainly on student engagement. Recently, I have organised a week of events for Gonville and Caius students as part of Green Week (2nd-8th May), including a Green Working Group which encourages students to voice their opinions on the college’s sustainability policy. I have also set up, with the help of CCS and Cambridge Zero, a Facebook group, ‘Greenbridge’, where all students, societies, staff and other organisations in Cambridge can publicise green events and initiatives! I felt that the community was lacking a space through which to grow a large and engaged audience.
Another role I am working in (since December 2021) is my position as Coordinator of the 2022 Cambridge Climate and Sustainability Forum.
The Forum is a two-day annual event aimed at increasing awareness of climate change and sustainability, entirely organised by students with the financial support of Cambridge Hub. It hosts panels which feature a diverse range of speakers at the cutting edge of climate research and policy, among other events and showcases.
Our theme for the Forum this year, which will be held in June, is ‘A Climate Reset’. Through centring intersectionality and understanding how the climate crisis fits into a wider network of inequalities, we plan to spark new conversations in our student audience.
As Coordinator, I manage and lead the 10 person committee. My responsibilities include chairing committee meetings, organising the work of individual officers and subteams, maintaining communications with our partners, managing the budget and making long term deadlines. From the get-go, I had to take on a lot of responsibility by interviewing and recruiting the other committee members, a task that would typically fall to Cambridge Hub but which I undertook due to staff absences. I am so proud of what we have achieved: recruiting an amazing set of speakers, obtaining a beautiful venue (the Cambridge Union), and recently launching ticketing. Please do check out the event in more detail.
Although at times overwhelming alongside university work, I have loved every minute of my work in these roles. Getting engaged in social causes is such a rewarding experience as a student; not only do you get the joy of campaigning about the issues you care about, but you develop as an individual. I have grown so much: through overcoming the challenges of my various positions, and through learning from the wonderful people I have met. I am so grateful to have been nominated for this award, and look forward to using this recognition to secure more experience in the sustainability sector over the summer.