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Bentley Student Sustainability Leaders at the Planet for People Festival
Bentley student sustainability leaders at the People for the Planet festival. Photos by Maddie Schroeder.

What’s your relationship with sustainability policies and practices related to climate change? During the People for the Planet Festival held at Bentley University in March, student sustainability leaders encouraged people to ask themselves that question — while also understanding that the answer will differ depending on aspects of their identity such as race, gender and social class. The student-led event, which drew a crowd of about 200 community members, aimed to raise awareness of intersectional sustainability with a focus on climate change. 

Intersectional sustainability acknowledges the complex interconnectedness of sustainability topics such as climate change, waste management, renewable energy and environmental policy with various aspects of identity — and recognizes how these factors intersect to disproportionately impact marginalized communities.  

During the festival, attendees engaged with student-generated art and creative work to spark conversations on the intersection of identity and the climate crisis. Through interactive activities, performances and exhibits, the student sustainability leaders sought to foster an inclusive environment where diverse perspectives and experiences were valued and shared. The event was hosted by Bentley’s Office of Sustainability with campus-wide sponsors, including from the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Badavas Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, the Bentley Library, the Academic Technology Center and the Center for Health and Business 

Here, student sustainability leaders Parth Deshmukh ’27, Jenna Kompare ’25 and Kelsey Logan ’25 share their inspiration for the festival. 

The People for the Planet Festival was heavily inspired by our conversation with environmentalist Leah Thomas, founder of Intersectional Environmentalist, when we hosted her at the Sustainability Student Leaders Symposium held at Bentley in October 2023. Leah spoke about how approaching conversations about climate change can be difficult, and using art and music to connect with people makes it easier to have those difficult conversations. Her Earth Sessions program brought together people from different universities, and we wanted to emulate that during the festival by bringing together different student groups and offices on campus to work together toward a common goal. By incorporating Bentley student artwork that showcased different talents and passions, we were able to create a sense of community while talking about sustainability issues in a way that is digestible to students.  

Planning for the event began early in the semester. We knew we wanted a theme that was focused yet open to discussion, and decided on intersectional sustainability tied to climate change, something that many people can relate to and learn more about. An often-unspoken element of these kinds of discussions is how different identities have unique experiences with climate change. Everyone, for example, talks about how polar bears are affected, but not how certain marginalized communities deal with climate change more harshly. Both topics are important, so it is crucial that both are given space to be discussed. 

An often-unspoken element of these kinds of discussions is how different identities have unique experiences with climate change.

Identity was crucial to our event, as we wanted everyone to learn about their own relationship to climate change and then hear from others in order to gain perspective on how everyone deals with environmental issues differently. It was also very important to stress how marginalized communities are more impacted by climate change issues. For example, since low-income communities live in denser areas, they experience a higher temperature rise. These topics are often not widely communicated — but conversations like these can open a whole new world of understanding. 

To help facilitate meaningful self-reflection, we integrated guided and interactive activities. To familiarize participants with environmental justice, for example, we had them explore an EJ atlas — a digital globe that showcases environmental justice issues around the world — and had participants identify which issue was closest to their home. We then had a physical map on display where participants took a pin that corresponded to that environmental justice issue and placed it on the map so that at the end of the event, the map showcased the different types of environmental justice issues impacting our Bentley community. We also used a virtual reality (VR) experience where participants could interact with the carbon emissions caused by their decisions. This brought people face-to-face with their impact on the climate crisis. 

Another key aspect of the event centered on solutions and how to approach the climate crisis, since it is often an issue that leaves people feeling ‘climate doom.’ One of the ways we did this was through showing climate-positive news displayed throughout the festival to get people inspired by current initiatives. The student organization Fashion Association at Bentley held a thrift flip where people could upcycle their clothes and turn it into something new. We also held an activity with the Jenga stacking block game that we had developed over the previous few weeks. Leading up to the event, we brought wooden Jenga blocks to classes related to sustainability and asked students to write something that they saw contributing to the climate crisis or a reason for its disproportional impact. During the festival, we created towers to represent climate change roadblocks then had participants remove a block out of the tower then paint over it and write a solution. The blocks were then added to a sculpture of the globe to represent how we must start by addressing these causes, and how we can come together to take down barriers and find solutions to create a more sustainable world. 

 As participants left the event, they brought with them a better understanding of their identities’ intersection with sustainability — which will cause a transformative change in our Bentley community and beyond.

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