Local Goal Getter Charlotte Lenhard KAN Party University Council representative, “education is one of the small wheels for a fair and smooth transition”

We interviewed Charlotte Lenhard for this week’s Local Goal Getter. A second-year European studies student, going into 3rd year, at FASOS, and an active KAN Party representative in the University Council with a vision for Maastricht University.

Climate Action Network

Precious Plastics, KAN Party, Fossil Free, Love Foundation, Foodcoop, Litter of Light, and Maastricht for Climate combined form the umbrella network, known as KAN Maastricht. The organizations work towards climate action in one way or another, sharing thoughts and ideas through KAN is an intersectional way of dealing with this societal issue. Taking a format that includes labor unions, NGOs, and grassroots, enables KAN Maastricht to mobilize a larger group of people, leaving no one behind when the structures are built. Cooperation between these various organizations is key when you want a fair and social transition to a sustainable society. 

Before entering KAN Maastricht, Charlotte was involved in the Friday’s for future protests, because she stood behind the idea of bringing justice to the climate and the inequality issues that come with it, a shared thought you could easily find among KAN members. She eventually got in contact with KAN through a friend, and stayed in the Maastricht for Climate UM Team, because she enjoyed the sincere motivation people had to contribute to a sustainable world. 

“One of the appealing components of KAN Maastricht is that people can be involved in a multitude of organizations that facilitate making the necessary connections to work on climate justice efficiently.”

While being a member of the UM Team it became clear it was difficult to form formal relations with Maastricht University, which developed into an interest in the capacity universities have to make a durable transition. After learning about KAN Party, the body within KAN Maastricht which brings the objectives of the organization to the university, she wanted to get involved in translating abstract ideas behind sustainability into actual commitment through policy at UM. Last year she ran for Faculty Council, the results of which for KAN Party were unexpectedly successful, they even got more seats than they had Faculty Council runners to fill.

KAN Party representative 

Charlotte Lenhard wanted to take on the role of Faculty Council representative because there is potential for change while being aware of the urgency behind it. After being elected a seat at the University Council for KAN Party, she now only focuses on this organization of the umbrella network and no longer on Maastricht for Climate. She wants the overlap of climate action, SDG 13, and quality education, SDG 4, to be transparent in the Curricula in Maastricht University by building a curriculum that teaches us to make informed decisions based on our current society. It would be good to see everyone partaking in sustainable action as a normalized part of someone’s day, instead of it being seen as an extravagant activity.

“The potential to bring about change at Maastricht University grows exponentially if people are educated with a sustainable basis, they make decisions in an informed way”.

For example, in an economic course she has had, climate change was only approached as a trade opportunity, which came as a shock not only because it contradicts scientific evidence, but also the fact she was learning about it till last year. Fortunately, this course has already been adapted for the coming year, however, it became clear that UM needs a modernized curriculum to address the challenges of the 21st century. 

Not learning about various topics is harmful, which is visual in not just climate justice but also racial justice. One of KAN Maastricht’s initiatives is decolonizing the UM curricula, recognizing the intersectionality of these issues, and act accordingly. Across disciplines, recommended and mandatory literature is not up to date and imbalanced. Old scholars are not irrelevant, nonetheless, most sources we consult are rich old white guys, an imbalanced perspective that comes with many problems. Just diversifying sources could already help in this instance.

 

Tangible commitment

Establishing working relations with UM is one of the primary challenges she has faced in KAN Party, because they work together with an institution that structurally does not yet allow the urgent changes we need to sustainably teach students. For instance, after handing in a petition signed by over 1000 members of Maastricht University, the vice president said “he would look into defining what a sustainable UM is, but it would take time”.

“UM has not said no, but they have not said yes, we want UM to show their commitment in evidence-based tangible ways instead of a rather discouraging response”

Sustainable growth

On the other hand, some developments were rather encouraging. For example, the fact that KAN Party has been elected for council positions for two consecutive academic years. They more than doubled their seats during last year’s faculty elections at FASOS, and became the second-largest party, despite being a young UM party, demonstrating the urgency students feel when it comes to climate justice.

Another notable outcome happened due to Fossil Free Maastricht, which started a campaign to get UM to write to their pension fund ABP, pushing for a divestment in fossil fuels in a public statement. The campaign was initially received as an out-of-reach request, however, they made it happen. 

“A proud moment for both KAN Maastricht, Fossil Free and Maastricht University in general, a success I did not expect to happen already”.

A last symbolic but essential success, was the change of the default search engine UM uses in a couple of their faculties, to a sustainable one, Ecosia. Students from other faculties can manually change the engine already.

Faculty Sustainability Network

Beyond KAN she works together with a staff member to build a Faculty Sustainability Network, a bottom-up initiative that involves the community of each faculty and on a central level as well. Each faculty has a group of motivated students that want to work on sustainability issues, as well as a pool of people that want to work on them from a central level, but do not yet have the space to connect. The Faculty Sustainability Network will leave space for a community at UM to work on these issues and share ideas.

Although it is a separate initiative she works on outside of KAN Party, she sees it as part of her work for KAN Party in the University Council, to make UM more sustainable.

Curious about their commitment

Take a look at the website of KAN Maastricht: website 

Author: Jo-Anne Jaegermann

Pictures: Jo-Anne Jaegermann