The gallery was packed with environmental students at this week’s Associated Students Inc. meeting as the senate discussed their new resolution to remove the commissioner for environmental justice.
Yasmin Elasmar, co-author of the resolution and chief of diversity officer, emphasized that environmental sustainability organization Sustain U does the same work as the commissioner for environmental justice and the two entities overlap.
Elasmar said the commissioner for environmental justice is limited in their power.
“I don’t think the position is being used to the best of its ability,” Elasmar said. “That disrupts the effectiveness of the entire board.”
The motion failed to pass the resolution for its third reading 2-11-7.
The meeting kicked off with the current commissioner for environmental justice affairs, Lamiya Hoque, who claimed that she was not made aware of the resolution. She also is an assistant on the Sustain U team.
“My position at Sustain U is completely different from the environment justice commissioner,” said Hoque. “We all each individually do work together, but we all have our own mission.”
Her colleagues in the organization also spoke against the resolution in hopes of changing the senate’s mind.
“President Jane Conoley just finished approving the new presidential commission,” said Adeline Morley, president of the student sustainability coalition. “They have the environmental justice commissioner as a voting member, so if you take that role away, who is going to represent ASI on that commission?”
After listening to the students’ concerns, the senators held a second reading of the resolution.
ASI president Joe Nino was asked if the commissioner for environmental justice did less work than the other commissioners. He quickly shut the argument down, emphasizing that the resolution had nothing to do with the commissioner, but only the position.
“This is just a reorganizational reevaluation,” Nino said. “The duties in that position are being done by other entities that also report to me. We are all being funded by student fees, so are we being fiscally responsible?”
ASI Executive Director Richard Haller pitched in with the argument that environmental justice is different than environmental sustainability.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. Sustainability, according to the agency, isn’t a part of their mission, but is a guiding influence for the environmental movement.
Haller added that Hoque is the commissioner of environmental justice, but was doing sustainability work.
“I’m not advocating one or the other, but if we have a commissioner for environmental justice, isn’t that where the commissioner’s focus should be?” Haller said.
Hoque argued that the environmental progress in student government would be hindered with the removal of her position.
“We can’t run around having a bunch of generalists in government, we need a specialist,” Hoque said. “It’s just one less voice advocating for the environment.”