Community Wellbeing is Environmental Wellbeing

By Brian Cohen, Office of Sustainability

Orange has long been my favorite color. To me, it represents sunshine, cheer, and happiness. Unfortunately, the hue has taken on a bit of a negative connotation at Wake Forest in recent months. Orange operating status—consisting of stringent yet necessary restrictions on campus activity—has been difficult for many, to say the least. I truly sympathize with students who have had to endure the isolation, loneliness, and anxiety brought about by the massive disruption to normal campus life, and I especially feel for those from marginalized groups whose already-threatened sense of belonging on campus has been made even more difficult by the pandemic.

If pandemic life at Wake Forest has revealed anything, it’s just how important community is to us. While some of us may be more social and outgoing than others, we all benefit from a sense of togetherness that pervades the university. Being with, working with, and working for one another enhances not only our emotional wellbeing, but also our ability to better each other, work more effectively, and tackle humanity’s biggest challenges. It’s important to remember that, even in these trying times, we’re not powerless.

Let’s seize this opportunity to bond over the great outdoors. The pandemic may have taken away our ability to gather in buildings, but we can still enjoy the outside world together (masked and socially distanced, of course). Take a trip out to the Campus Garden to cultivate new friendships and enjoy the mental health benefits of playing in the soil (seriously… look it up!). Gather a small group to explore the Lake Katherine Wetland and the trails around Reynolda House. Grab a new friend, download a plant identification app, and learn about the trees, flowers, and shrubs that make Wake Forest so beautiful. Get the adrenaline pumping with a round of disc golf or a group run through the woods on the cross country trails, enjoying the greenery and spring colors along the way.

Connecting with our outdoor environment—together—allows us to connect with one another. It helps us realize that, despite all of our differences, we’re all in this together as fellow Deacons, humans, and denizens of the Earth. Once we understand and accept that truth, it makes tackling our shared challenges—none bigger than climate change—a lot more manageable and a lot more enjoyable.

While individual action for climate change is necessary, it pales in comparison to us working together—a sort of Pro Humanitate meets Pro Communitate, if you will. Wake Forest’s Earth Month, running from mid-March to late April, is a great time to start. Join us and our campus partners in the pursuit of collective action for climate change and enjoy some fun experiences and a renewed sense of community along the way. Opportunities abound, from student-led Earth Talks, a renowned speaker on climate feminism, and ecological citizenship discussion groups to outdoor excitement like banner painting, “Meet the Trees,” wellbeing in the Campus Garden, and Forsyth Creek Week. You’ll be able find the full calendar of events and programs at sustainability.wfu.edu in the coming days (or now, depending on when you’re reading this). We can’t wait for you to join us!

When the world around us seems so cruel and its challenges so big, it’s easy to feel a sense of hopelessness and loneliness. But we must remember that we’re never alone. As activist and author Raj Patel so eloquently stated, “You have never been just one person; you have always been part of a community.” The only question is what we want that community to look like. We have the power to build a diverse community of people who look out for one another, who provide a helping hand when needed, and who push each other to be the best we can be. One that embraces its differences while celebrating its common humanity. A community that lifts up those who are marginalized and makes sure that no voice goes unheard, for we need everyone in the fight for a sustainable future.

We have the power to turn the wistful longing for a better world into the tangible action that makes it a reality. That’s the power of community. That’s what I’ll be taking with me long after the pandemic has ended. And that’s how we can make one global catastrophe the turning point in our fight to avoid another. At the heart of environmental wellbeing, at the heart of climate action, and at the very core of a better future are people who care about one another. So let’s get out there, let’s build connections, and let’s create a just and sustainable future—together.

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