Ashley Cheung is a Conservation Biology and Community & Environmental Sociology major graduating in spring 2024. She is also Campaign Coordinator for ASM Sustainability, a Posse Scholar and member of the BIPOC Coalition.
This past April, I was a panelist at the Wisconsin Energy Institute’s 2023 Climate Teach-In. Students, faculty and community members joined at Memorial Union to learn from each other about climate solutions. We taught each other about everything from campus food recovery efforts to global temperature monitoring programs. I contributed what I knew from 2 years of experience organizing the statewide fossil fuel divestment campaign as the former Sustainability Chair of the Associated Students of Madison, our student government.
I found myself in a position of responsibility because of my desire to be part of building a sustainable future starting with my immediate environment, UW-Madison. I quickly learned that sustainability involves cultural and systemic change as much as environmental change. I chose to focus on advocating for fossil fuel divestment at UW-Madison because I wanted my place of education to demonstrate how institutions can use their power and positionality for the good of people and the planet.
The term “fossil fuel divestment” isn’t as familiar as “reduce, reuse, recycle” or “conservation” in the public realm of environmental solutions, so a lot of my advocacy work centered on educating my peers on what fossil fuel divestment looks like. I’ve been invited by professors in Educational Policy and Life Science Communications to teach their students about fossil fuel divestment at their institution, and hosted sit-ins at Faculty Senate meetings and Board of Regents meetings. Examining the structural resources that allow students like me to attend university on scholarship, take classes, and conduct research has enabled me to see the invisible ways we are connected to the environment that sustains us. I hope to continue helping others see this too. After graduating in spring 2024 with a Bachelor’s of science in Conservation Biology and Community & Environmental Sociology, I plan to complete a postdoctorate in Agroecology. In 25 years, my goal is to co-own an agricultural land trust, where people can learn to connect with land and food systems and one another.