Students' efforts lead Sun Devils in a healthier, tobacco-free direction

July 18, 2013

Transforming one of the largest public universities in the country into a tobacco-free institution is no easy task, but a group of Arizona State University students took on the challenge and have become the exemplars of how student advocacy can lead to the creation of a healthier learning environment.

Justin Zeien, a biochemistry junior from Tempe, and Megan Wittenberg, a kinesiology senior from Rio Rico, Ariz., have played a key role in pushing the tobacco-free initiative forward at ASU, along with their predecessors, ASU alumni Chad Williams and Courtney Roake. Download Full Image

Zeien and Wittenberg are members of the Health and Counseling Student Action Committee (HCSAC), a student advocacy group that acts as a liaison between the ASU student body and administration. They took over the reins of the tobacco-free campaign in 2011 after former HCSAC office bearers Williams and Roake – the first ones to set the wheels in motion for a healthier, tobacco-free university – graduated.

“We collected more than 3,300 signatures from students, faculty and staff members who supported the petition,” said Williams who now lives in Texas. “Many of those came from smokers who welcomed the move to make ASU a healthier place.”

Under the mentorship of director of ASU Health Services and HCSAC advisor Allan Markus, from 2009 through 2011 Williams and Roake toiled to bring the goal of a tobacco-free university to fruition, working with the student government and administrative leaders to raise awareness regarding the harmful effects of tobacco use. They passed the baton to Zeien and Wittenberg who continued to push for a tobacco-free university.

During a meeting in September 2012, the University Senate proposed Motion 2012-58 to discuss the adoption of a university-wide, tobacco-free policy. ASU’s Undergraduate Student Government Council of Presidents and the Staff Council had already expressed support for the policy.

Finally, the students’ efforts paid off. The University Senate approved the motion and in November 2012, ASU announced its plans of becoming a tobacco-free university beginning Aug. 1, 2013, joining more than 600 higher education institutions nationwide that are 100 percent tobacco-free.

“Rarely have I seen student initiatives that span as long as our tobacco-free university initiative,” Williams said. “This campaign speaks volumes as an example of how powerful a focused student organization can be and how ambitiously their leaders need to be thinking.”

Zeien and Wittenberg, the current president and president emeritus of HCSAC, respectively, have since concentrated their efforts on educating the Sun Devil community on the policy in the form of focus groups about the effects of tobacco on health, advocacy workshops and lectures by prominent speakers such as Assistant Surgeon General Nadine Simons of the U.S. Department of Public Health Services.

“ASU is focused on providing its community a healthier learning environment,” Zeien said. “Having a tobacco-free university not only reaffirms that goal by eliminating second-hand smoke and waste, but is also economically advantageous in terms of trash cleanup and health costs.”

Wittenberg added that being part of the student advocacy group and supporting Zeien in his efforts to lead the tobacco-free campaign has been an exceptional learning opportunity.

“The process has taught me about teamwork, leadership and working in sync with other groups within a system,” she said.

Wittenberg is now developing a project that brings together student health advocates from higher-education institutions nationwide to share ideas and best practices. She recently presented the concept at an American College Health Association conference. Additionally, she is working on creating a women's health and wellness group for ASU students.

Zeien said leading the tobacco-free campaign on behalf of HCSAC has helped him develop leadership skills and mold himself as a better candidate for medical school.

“I’ve learned how to advocate for better health which, in turn, has helped me gain internship and volunteer opportunities outside of school,” he explained. “This campaign and my time at HCSAC has helped open my mind to a bigger picture when it comes to promoting health and wellness among larger populations. Next, I hope to turn my attention to promoting mental health awareness and suicide prevention programs at ASU.”

Markus said that in addition to advocating for the policy, the students, especially Zeien, have also worked with ASU pharmacist Eric Anger to develop resources to support students who wish to quit tobacco. According to him, the work is just beginning on making the campus tobacco-free.

“We are excited about the impact this program will have on prevention of tobacco-related illnesses,” he said. “The tobacco-free campaign demonstrates our efforts to provide the healthiest environment for our students, faculty and staff members to live and learn.”

Media projects manager, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development

Old becomes new: Traditional knowledge shapes sustainability thinking

July 19, 2013

Simon Ortiz stood in the soft light of the museum library and began speaking in his native Keres language. 

Srah-dzeh-nee maah meh gah-dzee’putee, eh maah meh khaimah-tse skuh-waa-tsee’puuh. Our language is very necessary and essential, and very truly we need it.  A desert canyon with green shrubs under a bright, cloudy sky Download Full Image

Keres is the indigenous language of the Acoma and six other Pueblo communities in New Mexico. It is a cultural tradition that bonds these seven Pueblos to their place, to their land. 

Dai-sthee-stuutah-ah. Dai-stuh stuudeh-muuh. Dzah dzee-guwaah-eeskah-steeyuukai-eetyah. From here, we are. From here, we emerge. We do not have any other way of belief.  

For Pueblo peoples and other indigenous cultures, life emerges from the land. Western culture might interpret this symbolically – Mother Earth provides. But Ortiz makes the point, amidst a roomful of scholars and practitioners, that his people regard this belief as literal. Land – earth – is the material origin of people and all forms of life. 

Tsaiyah weh-meh uuyuugai’yee dzah. This is the first knowledge or understanding to have. 

Ortiz, a Regents' Professor in the Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is an indigenous poet and writer of Acoma Pueblo heritage. 

He was one of a dozen experts gathered at the Amerind Museum in Dragoon, Ariz. for a New Directions in Sustainability and Society seminar. The event was one of a series of related events focused on how knowledge can lead to understanding and action; each seminar will result in a book, featuring contributions from the invited speakers.
Traditional ecological knowledge

The April event focused on Traditional Ecological Knowledge. What can indigenous cultures teach us that adds to our body of sustainability knowledge, and how can we appropriately translate that knowledge to action?

For Ortiz, the answer lies with the generations upon generations of indigenous peoples whose first understanding is of land as the originator of life. 

Indigenous people, he says, have grown to understand that they can only live beneficially if they interact closely and intimately – collaboratively – with the land. There must be reciprocity. Humans must give, not just take. 

But the conversation did not end there. Seminar participants discussed indigenous knowledge of nation-building, of consensus-building, and of how traditional knowledge can help negotiate relations with a dominant culture that often does not intrinsically value nature and the interconnectedness of ecological systems. 

The participants also discussed food as a metaphor for many sustainability problems. They circled around ideas of food sovereignty, food security, food diversity, globalization and international trade agreements.

Conversations also touched on ecology and humans’ place in the ecosystem, from ecological changes, to controlled burns, wildfires, animals, biomimicry, preservation of water, pesticides, land grabbing, slavery, eco-feminism, ethics and extinct tribes.

Ethics of relating to the world

Ultimately, the seminar focused on finding a new way of relating to the world using old ways of thinking and knowing. It was an inspiring gathering, and each participant contributed a unique and valuable perspective to the conversation. 

The seminar, with contributions from the experts who participated in the event, will be part of a book series, to be published by Cambridge University Press. The series’ editors include Norman Yoffee of the Amerind Museum and Chris Boone, interim dean of ASU’s School of Sustainability

“We really want this book to set the tone for the rest of the series,” says Boone. “For this seminar, we invited scholars and practitioners from the U.S. and Canada, with a focus on solutions, and the resulting dialogue was inspiring. The goal of this book – of the entire series – is translating knowledge to sustainability action.” 

“It was an amazing conversation, with wonderful contributions,” says Dan Shilling, former executive director of the Arizona Humanities Council and co-director of the traditional knowledge seminar, along with American Indian Studies professor Melissa Nelson of San Francisco State University.

“One thing that was common to all the participants,” Nelson says, “was an understanding that sustainability is closely related to people’s relationship to the land. At root, it is a moral issue. This will be the path forward.”

Ehmee tse haatse nee-yah heh-yah stuh-deh-eh. Because of land, it is possible to live.

Michelle Schwartz

Manager of Marketing and Communications, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability