Iyanu Corniel was serving breakfast to student activists at 9 a.m. at last month’s Students for Zero Waste Conference hosted by the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) in Philadelphia. An hour later, the fourth-year New College student was on the main stage delivering the conference’s opening remarks alongside PLAN co-founder Alex Fried.
“The conference was a whirlwind,” recalled Corniel. “It was three days of barely sleeping and barely eating.”
“[Alex] talked about key concepts of environmental justice,” continued Corniel, “… and where PLAN fits into the bigger movement, the story of how PLAN started, how they founded it, and what its mission is. Then I talked about how students can get involved and gave them, basically, my story of how I got involved in this work,” she said. “We wrapped it up [talking about] how this movement is about students and for students, and empowering students to say, ‘Not everyone can do everything for the environment, but we can all do our little part and it actually has a bigger impact than we think.’ ”
Fried and Corniel didn’t begin work on the talk until she returned to Philadelphia for the conference in early November. They planned on working in the days leading up to the group’s annual meeting, but conference preparations got in the way and Corniel had just hours to get her speech ready.
Although Corniel did not think she had done well, but the positive feedback she received from fellow attendees has boosted her confidence in her public speaking abilities.
“A bunch of people were like, ‘Oh, you spoke so well!’ I didn’t think I spoke well at all,” said Corniel.
PLAN is a nonprofit organization that promotes and implements zero-waste policies on college campuses across the country. Corniel worked as PLAN’s partnerships and movement building intern in Philadelphia during the Summer 2018 term, and she now interns remotely for school credit.
PLAN’s tour coordinator, Ansley Pope, first encouraged Corniel to apply for an internship at the Philadelphia-based organization when he spoke to a group of New College students during a Black History Month event Corniel organized to highlight issues of environmental justice.
“As partnerships and movement building, I had kind of two different types of work,” recalled Corniel. “Under the director of partnerships, Audrey Kriva, I would be working in terms of connecting other organizations, whether those be nonprofits or for-profit companies, that are doing environmental and sustainable work, social justice work, and related work to PLAN.”
As the summer internship drew to a close, Corniel asked Fried if she could stay on remotely and intern during the fall term. Organizing the conference was one of her main responsibilities as a summer intern, and she wanted to see the project through.
“I really appreciate PLAN because we were interns, but they really had us working on meaningful projects,” said Corniel. She and her fellow interns, for instance, helped draft a plastic-free campus pledge for students to encourage their home institutions, especially dining service, to reduce the use of plastics on campus.
New College is a PLAN member school, thanks to former student vice president of green affairs, Orion Morton. As such, Corniel can also stay connected to the organization through consultations with a PLAN campus coordinator who can help her find more ways for New College to be eco-friendly.
Her work with PLAN gave Corniel the confidence to identify ways to make New College greener, propose changes and implement her plans.
“It gave me a sense of, ‘I know what I’m saying,’ you know? I actually know this stuff. I can own knowing this environmental information at this point,” proclaimed Corniel.
As she moves forward with her work, the intersection between people of color and environmentalism will be front and center. In February, Corniel plans to bring her work with PLAN full circle as she once again tackles issues of environmental justice during Black History Month.