Catawba earns international sustainability award

Published 12:01 am Friday, December 10, 2021

SALISBURY – Catawba College’s Equity, Diversity Justice and Inclusion Task Force has been selected to receive an international award out of a field of much larger institutions on Thursday.

The task force has been awarded the inaugural Racial Equity and Sustainability Collaborations Award by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The college was selected as a finalist in November out of a field of more than 360 applicants.

The other finalists are the University of Utah, Portland Community College,  the University of California-Santa Cruz and the entire California state system. All of these institutions are much larger than Catawba.

“It’s absolutely a dream,” task force co-chair and Catawba professor Mercedes Quesada-Embid said.

She said the task force is honored by the award and it is validating. The award is international, with finalists in other categories represented institutions outside of the United States. The winner of the Campus Sustainability Graduate Research Award is a student at a Swedish university.

Quesada-Embid said it was surprising for a small liberal arts college in the South to win, but it says something.

“This representation of the important nexus between social justice and ecological sustainability is amazing,” she said. “I mean, to think about the schools we’re in the running with, being in the same playing field is inspiring and it’s uplifting.”

Catawba was not the only North Carolina institution to win an award this year. North Carolina State University won a Campus Sustainability Achievement Award for its work on food and housing insecurity.

The long list of awards recognizes sustainability achievements in researched, published academic works, lifetime achievements and campus programs.

Quesada-Embid credited the association for giving Catawba a chance and closely reading through the material submitted for the award.

“To have an association globally based and as respected as AASHE see what EDJI has done, it’s beyond words and an incredible feeling,” she said.

The task force was started in the fall of 2019 in response to Catawba not having an office of diversity and inclusion. Quesada-Embid wanted to make a change and she got college leadership onboard. ChaMarra Saner, another Catawba professor, was interested as well and came on as co-chair.

The ultimate goal for the task force is for the college to open its own office of diversity and inclusion. It has also been cosponsoring events since its inception.

The college will receive a physical award made of “up-cycled” materials and get a nod in an AASHE publication as well.