From Then to Now: Traveling Through a Brief History of the California Student Sustainability Coalition with Julia Clark

By. Emily Ochoa

Julia Clark, CSSC’s newest board member.

Rooted in an environmentally-friendly family who opts for recycling and energy-efficient measures, it’s no surprise that Julia Clark has dedicated so many years to the California Student Sustainability Coalition. Beginning in 2011, Clark has contributed almost 6 years to the organization – with a two-year pause back in 2014 when she opted out of the CSSC temporarily due to responsibilities stemming from a sustainable living demonstration house at Humboldt State University called CCAT (Campus Center for Appropriate Technology). She admits that it was hard to leave the CSSC, even briefly, but has fully reinvested herself in the CSSC since returning. Now serving as a Board Member, Clark works tirelessly to better the program for its participants.

Glancing back, Clark notes the progress that she and her fellow colleagues have made in developing the CSSC since returning. She says that it has grown in a way, “I can’t explain.” “It’s much more successful, but it’s hard to define success.” For example, the program has become ‘more open’ about the personal life of collaborators and people can share their comments, concerns, and questions without fear of persecution or ridicule – there’s a more prevalent closeness among members that helps prevent conflict avoidance since her return. Clark says there has also been an increased “professional level of acceptance and openness” added to the group dynamic of CSSC.

At a CSSC Restructuring Retreat last year, Julia, among other facilitators, discussed the theory of personal change.

Prior to her leave CSSC was spread to thin and trying to do too much Clark said, whereas now CSSC programs are more focused on direct goals. According to Clark this transition involved recognizing that there are three main theories of change, and that an organization is most effective when it focuses on only one. The theories state that change comes from three places: personal change, developing alternative institutions, and correcting current dominant institutional systems.

Personal change is any change we make to our person or our habits. Personal change can come from switching plastic bags for reusable canvas totes, or taking shorter showers.  Alternative institutional change is creating an alternative system outside of the dominant institutions, such as capitalism.  An example of an alternative institution operating outside of a dominant institution like capitalism would be switching from a major bank like Chase to a credit union, which eliminates the bank’s practice of using consumer money for their own purposes which may not align with consumer values.  Dominant change is defined as a change in current world systems. Dominant institutional change can include lobbying for the restructuring of current policies, speaking to government officials about new government regulations, and collective action (such as protests).

Julia and other CSSC facilitators discuss the theory of alternative institutional change.

Making change in any form is difficult, but worth the effort – something that Clark and her board peers can attest to in their construction of the present day CSSC. For CSSC, the three theories of change is a system they are attempting to teach incoming members.

Dominant Institutional Change.

CSSC is as strong as ever, but there are still some nitty, gritty details that Clark and the rest of the Board Members have left to resolve, for now though “We’re working on restructuring,” she states.  Details such as what CSSC membership is, the structure of the internal staff, and what convergences will look like are at the top of Clark’s list for CSSC remodeling. Ideally, the CSSC will be completely, “Focused on creating change,” by working with eager students ready to, “make the world better,” concludes Clark.

From 2011 to 2017, CSSC has made grand steps into becoming a program that not only resolves issues of sustainability, but also internal fallacies. With board members like Julia Clark, who see beyond themselves and push forth new, innovative ideas, the CSSC has grown from a less personal, overly-broad program to a close-knit and effective program.  Its viable membership attests to its evolution, and while it’s future remains untold, the CSSC is aiding students in their ability to create grander waves of change for a better tomorrow.

The following video goes in depth into the three theories of change presented in this piece:

Posted in _Featured, Board of Directors, CSSC Blog.