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Nursing Students Work Toward Divestment and Sustainability

Students say they finally see momentum for sustainability building

Students from the Nursing Undergraduate Society (NUS) have written an open letter calling for McGill’s immediate and full divestment from the fossil fuel industry. The letter focuses on the unique perspective nursing students have on climate change as future health care professionals. It states: “We recognize the profound links between planetary and human health, and the urgent need to address the climate crisis that is already disrupting health and health care, deeping inequities, and causing unbearable suffering particularly to already marginalized populations around the globe.” 

The Daily had the opportunity to discuss the letter with two of the students who spearheaded the project: Naomi Pastrana Mankovitz, VP Sustainability of NUS, and Sophie Zheng, Planetary Health Representative of NUS. Mankovitz and Zheng explained that nursing students are so driven to take action against climate change because they can clearly see the negative effects on health. The two told the Daily about a health care concept called “Whole Person Care,” which states that when treating a patient, you must consider the entirety of this person. For example, health care professionals consider questions such as “are they a refugee?,” “are they living in a flood-prone area?,” and “how is this affecting their health?” Mankovitz and Zheng emphasized that everything is interconnected and that in order to provide adequate care, health care professionals must understand what is impacting the patient. Mankovitz explained, “you can’t have health without the environment, and you can’t maintain the environment without health.” She added that working toward divestment and sustainability is important not just from the climate change angle but also as a way to improve one of the many factors impacting health. 

After over ten years of work by Divest McGill, the nursing students say it seems like the Board of Governors is finally taking notice, but they still have not taken concrete action. Mankovitz said she is uncertain if the university will divest soon but that, as nursing students, “we want the pressure to keep building.” Many students have begun to take a stronger stance on divestment: the letter has now been endorsed by AUS and SSMU, who have called for their executives to work toward divestment. 

Nursing students at McGill are working on more than just advocating for divestment. There are a number of projects that have been undertaken in recent years to make the Ingram School of Nursing (ISoN) more sustainable while considering the intersections of social and environmental justice. One focus for the students has been food insecurity and unsustainability. To counter this, NUS applied for funding from the Office of Sustainability’s Sustainability Projects Fund. The funds allowed the NUS kitchenette to be equipped with a refrigerator and to be stocked with reusable dishes and utensils. This is more sustainable for students and staff, especially those with a busy schedule. 

The McGill Nurses for Planetary Health also held an event in collaboration with the Canadian Black Nurses Alliance to raise awareness about food insecurity in Montreal. Free meals were offered from Black- and Indigenous-owned restaurants to help educate professors and students. The focus of these events has been working toward intersectional sustainability. The students told the Daily that sustainability is not just about having recycling bins, for example: there are many layers, and it is crucial to work toward a community that truly understands these goals. They added that it is also important to take social responsibility and accountability and to acknowledge that everything affects health, including the environment and politics. One important goal ISoN worked to achieve was implementing Joyce’s Principle, honouring the late Joyce Echaquan, who died due to the health care system’s systemic discrimination against Indigenous peoples. 

In order to institutionally ingrain sustainability, a task force has been created to achieve Sustainable Workplace Certification from the Office of Sustainability. Mankovitz and Zheng said this project was very encouraging to them, and seeing the professors and staff undertake this project encouraged them to continue with their own. 

As to advice for other students, Zheng says: “Please don’t be cynical. Have hope.” She said it’s important to surround yourself with others who are also working toward something bigger than themselves. The students also discussed having “eco-anxiety” and acknowledged the best way to combat this is to take action. Nursing students have been working hard to build a culture of hope and advocacy for various causes they are passionate about.