Making Inclusion and Innovation a Way of Life

By Danica Fisher ’05, October 29, 2020
President Shirley M. Collado speaks at Planet Forward Virtual Summit.

Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado was the keynote speaker on Oct. 23 at the 2020 Planet Forward Virtual Summit. The focus of the Planet Forward Summit was on environmental equity, inclusion, institutional change — and the narratives around them. Frank Sesno, founder and host of Planet Forward, spoke with Collado on these topics and more. 

Sesno started by asking Collado about the topic of environmental equity and climate justice, and how they come together with institutional change. 

President Collado

President Collado speaking at Planet Forward Virtual Summit.

“I think that this moment demands that we not think of ourselves as individuals and individual institutions,” said Collado. “This has to be about a collective set of actions that we’re all committed to for the future of our planet, and [about] people from all walks of life participating in what we’re doing.”  

Collado talked about the idea of healthy disruption in higher education and the private sector.  

“It’s about not settling for the status quo,” said Collado. “It’s about really looking in the mirror and being willing to ask the hard questions, especially what young people are asking us to pay attention to right now.” 

Collado mentioned the importance of being able to pivot and change to evolve the conversation around institutional change. Sesno asked Collado what has been done at Ithaca College in respect to environmental equity and to change the institution. 

Collado stressed Ithaca College was already deeply committed to issues of sustainability when she arrived. “We happen to be in beautiful Ithaca, NY, where activism is vibrant and civic engagement is part of what this place is about,” said Collado.  “Currently, we’re developing a center for climate justice, which really has stemmed from faculty across disciplines coming together and addressing climate justice issues and also includes community stakeholders.”

“It’s inevitable when you’re talking about race, power and resistance in America that issues of climate justice need to be integrated into those things.”

President Shirley M. Collado

Collado also talked about the proposal of a new major made by a group of faculty members across disciplines at Ithaca College that is focused on race, power and resistance. Collado also sees this major as part of what is being done to address environmental equity at the college. “It’s inevitable when you’re talking about race, power and resistance in America that issues of climate justice need to be integrated into those things.” 

When asked what needs to be done to open up the conversation around the environment, sustainability and climate change movement, Collado stressed the importance of talking to the very people who are heavily impacted by these changes. 

“You start to redefine who the experts are and who gets to be a scholar, or a contributor, or who is valuable in the conversation,” said Collado. “You have to really meet people where they are and have access to knowledge and a community. The people in that community are assets, experts, knowledge creators and activators.” 

Collado talked about having genuine partnerships that allow someone to feel empowered to share parts of who they are, of their lived experience with you as a partner. 

Planet Forward Virtual Summit

“If you’re sitting at a table surrounded by people who are just like you, there’s no way that you’re going to understand the complexity and entirety of the situation.” 

Collado urged people to think about climate change and sustainability, along with the topic of social justice, and to integrate all these intersections of identity. 

“How we build those partnerships need to shift so that we’re not looking at individuals as if we’re studying them or [they are] doing us a favor,” said Collado. “But rather we are introducing ourselves to say ‘we are your partner.’” 

The Planet Forward Summit continued with a panel of students and a faculty member from Arizona State that used President Collado’s remarks as a backdrop for continued conversations around environmental storytelling. Since 2004, Arizona State University has become a global leader in sustainability efforts — creating the Global Institute of Sustainability, launching the first School of Sustainability in the U.S., and deploying the largest solar energy portfolio of any university in the U.S.   

“I found it very interesting how the follow up panel sessions used President Collado’s remarks and guidance to further dive into subjects and topics,” said Greg Lischke, director of energy management and sustainability at Ithaca College. “It was interesting to me how her ‘healthy disruption’ comments really resonated with the Arizona State team.” 

Additionally, the Planet Forward Summit featured a conversation with One Tree Planted founder and Chief Environmental Evangelist Matt Hill on global reforestation efforts and generating an environmental movement with impact. One Tree Planted is a 501c3 non-profit with a focus on global reforestation. As an environmental charity, One Tree Planted is dedicated to making it easier for individuals and businesses to give back to the environment, create a healthier climate, protect biodiversity and help reforestation efforts around the world. 

The Summit ended with a group of students from the Planet Forward Consortium talking about the storytelling process.