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‘Change can’t wait’: Sunrise Movement demands Green New Deal at campus rally

Sunrise Movement calls on administration to hear student body concerns over University’s environmental impacts

Editor's note: This story was updated since the time of publication to include a response the University.

Dozens of students across environmental, sustainability and community-led organizations gathered together on the quad April 5 to advocate for an AU Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal for AU, an initiative started and founded by the Sunrise Movement at American University, calls on the administration “for complete decarbonization, transparency around campus sustainability, food justice, environmental justice education, and fair compensation for workers” according to a Sunrise tweet from January. 

At the rally, the deal was officially launched as a referendum to the student body. Leaders from several student organizations spoke at the rally. Among them were Rohin Ghosh, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and ANC 3E08 commissioner. 

“If we have black mold in dorms that is an environmental disaster,” Ghosh said. “When we have failing plumbing fixtures, when we have students who cannot find housing near campus because this University has not built housing for all of its students … that is an environmental crisis.”

Ghosh, who ran for the ANC seat in November, champions “tenant, worker, and student power and green cities for people” according to his Twitter. 

“This also means that as a community, as people who live in this city, … together we are going to step up and demand this neighborhood and other upper Northwest neighborhoods step up to the plate, build their fair share of deeply affordable housing … And that needs to change now, that needs to change yesterday,” Ghosh said.

Chants, led by John Paul Mejia, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and a national spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, followed Ghosh’s remarks. 

“What do we want?” Mejia asked. “Green New Deal,” the crowd responded. “When do we want it?” “Now.”

Mejia, a participant and leader in the Sunrise Movement on the national level for over three years, is no stranger to dialogue with University administration.

“We will not win this by asking nicely. I hate to say it. Asking nicely is a whole lot easier, but that’s frankly not the moment that we’re at,” Mejia said.

According to the deal’s policy platform, “[the deal] would position American University to be a leader in combatting the climate crisis both in its operations and in the students and research it produces. Like the [federal] Green New Deal policy, it also targets economic inequality and centers social justice values.” 

“When workers on the campus, whether it be the Staff Union or the dining workers … want a fair wage, want dignified conditions, they've asked nicely and they’ve been denied,” Meija said. 

TreVaughn Ellis, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, called on the administration to change. 

“The cost of attending and living at AU has only increased. Basic considerations to the marginalized, the silenced, have been ignored,” Ellis said. “I’ve heard many times, many times, that administration wants to build a relationship with us. If you guys remember Dr. Aw, she understood. If you want to build a relationship, show up to our events, get to know us. Who is AU admin? We don’t know.”

The first step to build trust between the administration and the student body, , Ellis said, is that not only should the administration listen but “hear what we have to say.” His second demand is for dialogues to end and for action to begin.

"AU is a leader in sustainability, and we are deeply committed to working with our entire campus community to advance our efforts in sustainability. The claim that was made is incorrect," Elizabeth Deal, AU's assistant vice president of community and internal communications said. 

Deal added that since Sunrise AU's Green New Deal was proposed in January, the Office of Sustainability met with and had numerous discussions with members of Sunrise AU. She said that during these meetings, there has been information sharing from both AU Sunrise and the Office of Sustainability to discuss "AU’s active sustainability efforts."

Despite the demands and issues Ellis has with the University, he said people who care about making a difference are what makes the institution great. 

“Amidst all of the problems of AU, I still have love for this university. The people here make it fine, when AU is at its brightest, it is a community of care, compassionate collaboration,” Ellis said. “But at its worst we see the ugly realities of capitalism impacting the way that we learn. AU itself recognizes that change can’t wait, and neither will we.”

This article was edited by Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis.

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