My name is Katie Shewfelt. I’m from California. I go to Wesleyan University where I am a BA in Government candidate.
What sustainability, energy, and community issues are important to you?
My passion is the relationship between sustainability, democracy, and equality. When power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of the few, it’s almost impossible to make progress on issues like sustainable development and environmental injustice. I saw this play out at the community scale near my university in Connecticut, and at the national scale in Colombia, where I studied and worked abroad. In Connecticut, state legislators with business backgrounds chose to serve their own private interests by pushing against environmental regulation. So I developed an initiative to provide services and support to progressive women running for office – community leaders with a genuine interest in protecting the environment – in order to challenge these legislators. Voter registration and mobilization was another huge part of this process, and needs to be a priority nationwide. Meanwhile, in Colombia, I researched how the influence of elites in the agroindustry and extractive industries has penetrated the democratic system, paralyzing progress on environmental issues. Leaders from indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and rural communities are on the front lines fighting for their environmental rights, but they face the challenges of unfair representation and threats to their life. (According to a 2017 UN report, a social leader is killed every four days in Colombia.) In Colombia and around the world, including here in the U.S., we need to improve our democratic system to empower marginalized voices, guarantee them basic rights, and hold our elected officials accountable for their environmental policies.
What exciting projects/research are you working on now?
As Wesleyan University’s Sustainability Coordinator, I will spend the following year trying to reduce our carbon output and increase environmental engagement. That means, for example, changing how we source our food and implementing plans to work towards zero-carbon. It also means engaging students in environmental activism and teaching them about the greater power structures that inhibit progress. Meanwhile, I’ll also be working on thesis research on women’s political empowerment in Latin America. This goes back to the connection between democracy and sustainability. Women are disproportionately affected by environmental issues, and research shows that women legislators have tended to be more proactive on environmental legislation. My hope is to learn what barriers there are to women’s political participation in Latin America, and how we can ensure they have a fair opportunity to influence the political agenda.
What are your plans for the next five years?
Over the next five years, I hope to work in the world of politics or policy, focusing on the issues of sustainable development and women’s empowerment. I also hope to travel a lot. I love learning about other cultures and political landscapes, and I think it’s essential to tackling global issues like sustainability.
What made you want to apply to SISE?
I wanted to learn as many diverse perspectives from my peers about sustainability as possible! I also wanted to improve my practical skills in implementation. In the sustainability world, there are a lot of ideas, but ideas aren’t anything without an effective strategy to make them a reality.
What are you most looking forward to doing in Chicago?
Art, live comedy, jazz and blues, deep dish pizza, dog spotting.
Do you like Cats? If not, are you willing to learn to like cats?
Huge cat person!