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Image by Jacob Ingram

Nurturing Mother: Steering the Beach toward a Future we can be Proud of

By Jacob Ingram

I was scared to sit down and try to write 2,000 words on ‘community’ here at the Beach. I have been affiliated with Long Beach State for over a decade, having arrived from the High Desert for undergrad in 2010. To sit and reflect on the full extent of my experience is a difficult thing. Undeniably, I would not be the person I am today without LBSU, but it certainly has not been easy to endure. In writing this piece, I hope to provide commentary for those who do not have the context of the university that I do. Community is a nebulous concept, and the university administration would have you believe that we are all one big, happy campus community when in reality, it is anything but that. Let’s use this piece to dig into a few dimensions of the campus community that I believe everyone should be aware of: Sustainability, Campus Food Systems, and Puvungna.

Sustainability is a loaded term, especially within my geography department. It comes with so many competing definitions and ideas that no one really bothers with it explicitly, thinking it is someone else’s job. It is not, it is all our job. Having been back on campus for the first ten weeks of fall term and having just had Sustainability Month in October, I gotta say, we are failing in our job. Let’s start with two campus facilities that are currently offline and to my knowledge received zero discussion in Sustainability Month programming: the closed ASI Recycling Center and Grow Beach Community Garden that lost its spot for the new dorms.

Students coming onto campus today are as cynical as ever; they know their generation has been sold a plate of lies and no one with any job security on campus is doing enough to facilitate the needed change. There are no communications about if they plan on bringing the recycling center back online or where the community gardens will be relocated too, but in the middle of a drought, we sure as hell keep the grass watered. This is where we can marry the ideas of campus sustainability and food systems. What are food systems? In brief, it is the entirety of what goes into growing and bringing food to you and what is done with the waste afterward. Every overwatered patch of grass that only serves decorative purposes needs to be ripped out and replaced with community garden space. The university’s dining facilities need to be reassessed as well. Nobody wants to eat Carl’s Jr. and Sbarro’s to a level of ad nauseum.

But to go even further, where the hell is a campus teaching kitchen? As the University Dining Plaza and the Nugget sit unused, is anyone with some power on campus considering the development of a Garden to Table to Recycle campus food system? If the university really wanted to actually evolve past the tired commuter campus stigma, this is the kind of resource people actually need. Administrators seem to forget what it is like to be an 18-year-old freshman, away from home for the first time or struggling to get across town and park in time for class. Some of them have never bought groceries or fed themselves before. Some of them don’t know their way around a kitchen. Panda Express, while tasty, doesn’t teach people these skills. Subway and El Pollo Loco do not contribute to a local economy the way hiring a local baker would. A teaching kitchen is an idea that works. University of California Los Angeles and Stanford University have them. We get Sbarro selling cardboard for $4.40 a slice. And the cherry on top is we don’t recycle very much, if any, of our waste. University of Southern California and Harvard University have on-campus composting. To recycle and compost even a portion of the waste generated on campus is to close the loop and have an entire food system on campus, so that people can learn about the processes while they are here.

Part of sustainability is self-awareness. You don’t have to be a vegan, but in 2021, you should certainly have a better understanding of how the food you consume finds its way to your hands. To offer a system on campus that would allow a student to grow and harvest food first hand, to take it to a teaching kitchen and cook something with it, to feed their fellow students, that is how you cultivate self-awareness. I cannot estimate how much food such a system could provide, but that largely doesn’t matter, it is a laboratory and learning experience first. Instead, we grow grass you can’t even sit on because it is always soaked. Remember, this is California, land of drought and wildfire. The water is scarce, but we don’t act like it, we just steal it from elsewhere.

Was anyone gonna turn off the Water Molecule fountain? Have you seen the drought map? Does the facilities department even care about water use like that? You could rip out grass by all the dorms, Brotman Hall, the Pyramid, College of Business, College of Health and Human Services, the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, the Outpost, the Bookstore. These can be your new community garden plots.

No, instead, we are planting more palm trees around the Pyramid, demonstrating that the university doesn’t really care about the endemic flora and natural ecology of the land LBSU sits on. In ripping out the old community gardens for the new dorms, it also led to another act of disrespect toward Puvungna and the local native communities. Look, I mean pull up the Google Maps satellite image of the campus and really look. Puvungna, on the west end of campus, is not a verdant green patch. It is much closer to what Southern California would look like if we hadn’t paved paradise and put up a parking lot. So if we are going to insist on using all this water to ‘green’ the campus, maybe it could be to grow greens we can actually eat?

This hasn’t even touched on energy use either. Where are the solar panels? I am serious. We need more. The parking structures don’t have rooftop solar? The new College of Professional and International Education building doesn’t have them. The Foundation Building and its parking lot, none. Seems like all the PR greenwashing associated with LEED-certified buildings, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, doesn’t care to consider the potential for greater energy production on campus. Maybe the campus community would care more about these things if you showed them the water and power bills, taught them about the infrastructure that goes into the university, and generally made them feel included. Which brings us to the Central Plant. What goes on in the Central Plant? The Central Plant doesn’t have a web page, but that’s the heart of the campus's air-conditioning. When something is deemed necessary, the University does take steps to teach about non-classroom topics. Title IX training is an annual requirement and addresses a massively important social issue. Beachboard modules are now in abundance. How about a program where the subtext is, “We want you to understand the campus spaces around you.”? That sounds a lot like geography, by the way.

The core of this issue boils down to land use. Since Los Angeles has been overwhelmed by urban sprawl, land use decisions are increasingly political. So the time is now for the student body to unify and begin demanding changes in how the university is built. These are decisions that students struggle to influence because of the structure of the university. They have too many things competing for your time and attention and the years-long planning processes that go into building decisions tend to outlast the typical student that just wants to get their degree and dip out before the Timely Graduation Policy kicks in and jacks up your tuition rates. Meanwhile, you get professional staff making six-figure salaries telling you “that’s not your job”, “the political will doesn’t exist”, or “we are all struggling”.

That’s where having 11 years around this campus is useful. I hold a different sort of tenure. It is a labor of love. I grew up on a dirt road in Victorville. Long Beach holds a special place in my heart. I am invested in what happens to this place at a level few care to understand. The solution to a lot of these issues, in my honest opinion, is a matter of communication with the student body. New students arriving on campus generally have birth years after 2000 now, they grew up on the internet. They have seen things that the old foggy administrators simply do not understand or even know about. As 18 to 22 year olds, there are plenty of things youthful minds don’t know that they don’t know. However, they are ready for someone to tell them what is up, what needs changing, and how to do it, all in a straightforward manner. The university does not do that. They just take the Prospector Pete statue down and hide him somewhere until the new Alumni Center is finished and then the sad old donors that insist on using the “49er” moniker won’t lose sleep. My personal opinion is that the Prospector statue should be melted down and recast as a Shark. I think there is a lot of power in that kind of a gesture. Let the art students sculpt and build the molds. Get film students to document it.

That's how you actually build and cultivate community. You give your community members a role that is more than just being another tuition paying NPC, ‘non-player character’ for the luddites. You reassess LBSU’s community involvement across the City of Long Beach and other Greater Long Beach cities. Community doesn’t stop at the edge of campus, it permeates every aspect of our lives. The absence of an LBSU football team leaves a community void when Long Beach Poly High School has produced dozens of NFL players over the years. Those Long Beach high school football players don’t even have the option to stay local! It is a squandered opportunity and sends talented local youth elsewhere. San Jose State, Fresno State, and San Diego State all have football and it serves them well in terms of boosting the school’s stature. Every time the Raiders play, Derek Carr’s Fresno State affiliation gets mentioned. Meanwhile, our Dirtbags baseball team has put the LB in MLB. The standard for Men’s Volleyball is to win more National Championships. Blair Field and Walter Pyramid can and should be used as community spaces. This stuff matters, it should matter to the administration. We have an Office of Strategic Communication after all. Instead we have a school that can’t agree on a name, a mascot, how to build a website, and so much more. It is a recipe for becoming culturally irrelevant.

The unused and/or misused university assets infuriate me, enough to write this piece. The Pyramid seats between 4,000 and 7,000 depending on the event and we don’t have it jam packed with events on non sports days that could both drive revenue and boost the stature of the university. Where are the music festivals? Where is Snoop Dogg? Where is Gabriel Iglesias? These are the kinds of mega stars that grew up in Long Beach, and we do nothing to develop rapport with them so that they might want to deepen the connection. The lack of imagination is staggering when you consider who has ties to Long Beach.

“No Barriers” is just a cute tag line for a broke ass state school that can’t even respect the sacred native land it is built on. Barriers exist all over campus:

  • Faculty demographics look nothing like the student demographics.
  • Parking fee increases until 2026 are already published. The UPass bus fare program is gone.
  • The campus police get a $3 million budget compared to Counseling and Psychological Services having a budget of just $1 million.
  • Time and resources wasted on busted initiatives like Everyone Home LB and Downtown LB campus housing.
  • The university’s investment portfolio is not readily available for critical review as divestment talks around fossil fuel proceed.
  • There is no easy and intuitive way to look into all the lawsuits brought against the university in the past.
  • Land and resources are used to build a new CPIE building that most of us will never step inside of.
  • Native Lands are routinely disrespected and while a settlement might have been reached, there are decades of institutional history and millions of dollars in wasted university resources they aren’t going to tell you about voluntarily.

Considering campus sustainability in our current moment, the history of Puvungna is an important thread to consider. So much of the work that needs to be done is essentially a reconnection to nature and the ecological processes that would play out had we not altered this land so dramatically, and the tribal leaders have talked about this for years in the context of Puvungna. This reconnection is not a spectator sport. It requires every individual to take stock in their own life and experience, how you came to be on this campus, what your goals are, and fundamentally what you consider to be important. There will be growing pains as we are confronting legacies of environmental racism and several hundred years of genocide, dispossession, abusive and inequal policies. These policies distill years of history into the moment in time we occupy now, leaving us to ask ourselves and those around us, what we will do to actually move toward environmental and social justice.

Indeed, environmental and social justice are one in the same. How much time does the College of Business spend talking about the history of labor movements, labor unrest, and how to form a union? Does the College of Engineering spend time reckoning with the fact that the aerospace industry is the one who contaminated our local groundwater basins here in Greater Los Angeles?

The thing that frightens me the most is that when you care about these issues and seek justice in the immediate local setting, you are met with stiff resistance as it challenges those who hold the power in the here and now. The time for change and accountability is now, and on an individual level, it is what drives me forward in the interest of the campus community that has both helped me grow and repeatedly crushed my dignity. Vox Veritas Vita.