Dawn breaks on Sunrise NU’s first year

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Daily file illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

Sunrise NU president Genevieve Kosciolek hopes to help foster personal connections to the environment.

Isabel Funk, Assistant Campus Editor

In winter 2020, about 10 students planned an Earth Day strike in tandem with the national youth-led Sunrise Movement, an organization focused on advocating for climate change reform and education. When Northwestern shut down that spring, the event was canceled, but the organization had put down roots on campus.

The group worked so well together that its members decided to register as a club and an official chapter of the Sunrise Movement. Communication senior and founding member Riva Akolawala said the group is excited to finally meet in-person and host events this year.

“A goal for me personally is to make sure we’re driving really impactful work and encouraging a lot of people on campus,” Akolawala said. “Even if they can’t join an organization like Sunrise or something that’s focused on environmental justice in some way, they’re able to engage with these kinds of topics because we make it palatable for students.”

Chicago and Evanston both already had Sunrise chapters, but Akolawala said an NU chapter would make the movement more accessible to students.

During its first year, Sunrise NU focused on gaining members, spreading awareness of its mission, hosting phone-banking events and calling legislators, Akolawala said. The organization is also looking to create a welcoming community space, McCormick junior and Sunrise NU President Genevieve Kosciolek said.

“Sunrise is really about environmental justice, which includes a lot, but it’s (representing) diversity in all its forms, so I want to make sure that the Northwestern hub is always being very representative of the community,” Kosciolek said.

Kosciolek said she also wants Sunrise NU to focus on fostering personal connections to nature, potentially collaborating with the student-run garden Wild Roots.

Medill sophomore Julianna Zitron was inspired to join the club when she heard about the national movement in a sociology class about the climate crisis. She said she enjoyed learning more about environmental activism in the club. In particular, Zitron remembers learning about the Red Deal, an Indigenous climate plan that builds on the Green New Deal. 

“I did a lot of research on that, even outside the club, because it was something I’d never heard of,” Zitron said. “I was happy that they brought it to my attention.”

Kosciolek said she hopes Sunrise NU, one of several environmental activism groups on campus, can collaborate more with other student organizations like Fossil Free NU, with whom they communicate regularly.

She added that one of her priorities is ensuring that the club is involved in local activism beyond NU’s campus.

“Chicago is historically a site of a lot of environmental justice violations, so (it’s important that we’re) making sure that whatever’s going on, we’re very on top of spreading awareness in the Northwestern community and also doing our own part,” Kosciolek said.

Moving forward, Zitron said the club is considering creating a Sunrise publication to raise awareness of climate issues and practice environmental reporting. Akolawala said she hopes Sunrise NU will also finally be able to host the Earth Day strike that originally inspired the club’s creation.

Kosciolek said she finds it inspiring to see what Sunrise has been able to accomplish as a youth-led movement.

“Imposter syndrome can be a big thing at Northwestern and that’s something I struggle with a lot,” Kosciolek said. “So it was really cool to see young people are able to create really huge impacts in a field I’m interested in going into.”

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Twitter: @isabeldfunk

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