The Bully Pulpit
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Meet Kelly Jackson, Student Leader and Difference Maker

Year: Junior

Major: Psychology and Sociology

Minor: Leadership Change and Social Responsibility

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What attracted you to Charleston?

I had no idea where I wanted to go to school. I don’t really excel in anything in particular, so it’s not really about the academic program, but I knew a couple of girls from high school who went to CofC, so I visited it over my spring break and fell in love with it. I fell in love with the city and it just so happened to be a happy accident that I loved the school, too.

You’re involved in a few student organizations; what are those organizations and how have they influenced your time in school?

I’m in Phi Mu, and so that was really good for me going into college because I didn’t know a single soul in South Carolina; it really helped me make some connections and get a stable source of friends freshman year. It also allowed me to grow as a person. I was a REACH mentor for a semester as well, which was a fun and growing experience for me. But, I am most involved with the Office of Sustainability.

Could you tell us a bit more about the Office of Sustainability?

A lot of people think that the word ‘sustainability’ really just means recycling. That’s what I first thought when I came to the school, and to be honest, I really had no interest in it. I thought “No, I’m not a tree hugger.” It was cool, but not something I was really passionate about. Then, I realized during my sophomore year that sustainability was way more than what I had originally thought; it’s not just about the environment, it has social and economic aspects as well. I thought it was really cool how the office had a holistic approach to sustainability, and it was something really unique that I hadn't really thought about before. The College is really good about incorporating sustainability in every part of the curriculum, so I particularly liked the social justice aspect of sustainability, which is what I ended up getting involved in.

How has your work with the Office of Sustainability encouraged you to be more engaged on campus?

Working at the office is an ever-evolving thing. We do something called Social Justice Coffee Hour, and so we host about three a semester where we get three facilitators who have lived experiences in the area of sustainability that we are talking about, and they discuss what’s going on with a current issue that we’re facing. A group of people may be underrepresented in Charleston or in our society, so we hear their voices by giving them a space to be heard, which I think is really cool. We then have a discussion from a campus perspective. 

For me, getting involved on campus has meant making the connections between different organizations. Since a lot of organizations are involved with the Office of Sustainability on campus, there’s a lot of teamwork involved. Several professors have served as facilitators, and they share stories about their experiences with a certain social justice issue that you wouldn’t normally hear in a classroom setting. Students in general, too, really just show up and have these meaningful discussions about social issues, and it’s really cool to see how an issue is affecting a certain group of people. It’s an evolving learning process.

In what other ways do you educate students about sustainability?

Everything is so interconnected that if you’re going to learn about social justice, you’re probably going to get involved in other areas of sustainability like the economy or the environment. Each area kind of just piggybacks off one another. We do waste audits and Weigh the Waste events, which is a really cool opportunity because I don’t usually involve myself with the environmental aspect. But if you want to solve one problem, such as an environmental problem with trash on Folly Beach, then you’re going to have to think about the social communities that are involved with it, and then you’ll have to think economically, such as why there may be more trash in the poor neighborhoods and why that is...so it’s really all interconnected. When you’re working on one aspect of sustainability, you’re really working on them all.

How do you think students can make a difference on our college campus?

We had a policy during sustainability week about governance, and I thought one of the speakers gave a really important note. She said, “If you really want to make a change, all you have to do is show up.” Find something you’re passionate about and show up to the events and meetings. Let your voice be heard. Don’t sit around and think, “Man, this sucks.” Just show up and be present because one body shows there’s at least one more person who cares. It can be discouraging sometimes when you’re working on these issues that you feel passionate about and not many people actually show up.

What do you think have been some of your most rewarding experiences at the College?

It’s rewarding to me when we put on a successful Social Justice Coffee Hour because people always walk away learning something they never knew. Chatter and awareness is a big step in the right direction, so it’s nice to hear when people are talking about these issues. It’s also rewarding to prove myself wrong, because when you work in the Office you walk away each day learning something you didn’t know before, and it can be humbling at times but it’s also a positive step forward because it’s a step towards change.

How can students get involved with the Office of Sustainability?

There’s always so much going on such as DIY workshops or Social Justice events. We also have zero waste events if you want to get more hands-on with campus sustainability. We’re actually helping the dorms move out; freshmen put things in bins they don’t want anymore and we sort through it and donate items to Goodwill and other needs-based organizations. You meet really cool people that help expand your mind. Check up with the website, we have a newsletter that comes out with events. You can also intern with the Office since they take interns every semester. My definition of sustainability is always changing, so the benefit of being involved is always learning something new and different.

To learn more about Kelly's work, visit sustainability.cofc.edu.

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