The Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition: A decade of intersectional sustainability


Questioning whether or not to stay in my home state of Kentucky has played a defining factor in my life. I have felt the pull to leave Kentucky in search of adventure, career opportunities, or just a community that better matches my values. But as I watched people who gave me hope for my home state leave, I grew a little bitter. And I became stubborn about staying put. When I got involved with the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition, I realized there were other young people out there who felt like me. I found myself in a community that provided the knowledge, skills, and motivation to create a Kentucky where young people are able to have the lives we want.

The Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition connects and empowers young Kentuckians to take action for a just, environmentally sustainable Kentucky through training, leadership development, and community engagement. In a state where many youth feel compelled to leave, KSEC helps young people envision and shape the Kentucky we need. We create inclusive, anti-oppressive, and accessible spaces where young people conduct peer-to-peer education, self-organize for a just transition to an economy that protects our workers, communities, and environment, and advocate for policies that put people over profit. We emphasize intersectionality and see our efforts as part of the larger movement for collective liberation.

KSEC has been working to empower young people since 2007. We know that realizing our vision for Kentucky will take long-term dedication, strong leadership development practices, and a unique approach to sharing accrued knowledge as our members continually age out of the youth demographic. In our 10 years of existence, we have learned what works, what doesn’t, and how to keep forging ahead in the face of challenges. KSEC members who attend Alice Lloyd College in eastern Kentucky recently won a year-long campaign for a campus-wide recycling program. Referring to the number of barriers the Alice Lloyd College Green Team faced during this campaign, group president Dakota Burnette said, “This may seem like a trivial victory to a lot of people, but I feel like we got a bill passed in Congress or something.”

University of Kentucky Greenthumb recently claimed a victory in their five-year campaign for a climate action plan when the president announced, citing student leadership, that UK would reduce its carbon emissions 25 percent below 2010 levels by 2025. UK Greenthumb’s Katherine Smith reflects on their hard-earned victory: “Because students took a stand, UK is finally taking some responsibility for its contribution to climate change. As Kentucky’s flagship school, it is important for UK be a leader in environmental stewardship. I hope that UK will make further reduction commitments in an effort to reach zero carbon emissions. Though I appreciate the current commitment, it is simply not enough to have an effective impact before the climate is irreparably damaged…. I hope that this victory will inspire even more students to get involved on their college campuses and make the change they want to see.”

We are resilient because we have learned how to use our collective knowledge and harness the power of youth to pursue real change on both the personal and community level. At our spring and fall KSEC Summits, we educate our peers about Kentucky-specific environmental issues and provide various trainings so members feel empowered to take action around those issues. Many of our members, like Caci Gibson of Eastern Kentucky University, are new to activism when they join: “In my mind, [activism] was a narrow path that was open only to those with encyclopedic knowledge of the legal system and a willingness to delve into politics. After reflecting on the Summit, I would express a more nuanced view that environmental activism and education are the same path – one that is broad enough for people with diverse histories, methods, and goals…. With this realization, I feel like I’m one step closer to concisely answering the question “What do you want to do?” I am excited to be more involved with KSEC and to learn skills that will prepare me for work, both as an activist and an educator.”

KSEC also helps youth see that working for a just and sustainable Kentucky is more than showing up to a protest now and again. Fighting for justice is a daily practice, as Robin Kunkel Code articulates: “I was once the activist who jumped from group to group and protest to protest, not knowing where I fit or what kind of work I should do…. Since committing myself to the work in between the protests, I’ve made learning about systemic racism part of my daily life through education, relationship-building, and A LOT of uncomfortable conversations. It’s the most difficult work I ever done, but also the most rewarding.”

Young Kentuckians are building grassroots power behind our vision of a just and environmentally sustainable Kentucky and we are gaining momentum. In the last four years, we have won 6 campaigns, participated in a coalition to stop an NGL pipeline in 2014, earned more than 148 media hits, inspired over $212,000 in support from 8 foundations, grown our base from 60 to 1,600, and trained 1,050 of our peers. KSEC is soon to launch a new strategic plan centered around the objective “We will unite and uplift our voices to resist all new threats to our communities and the environment. We will no longer be ignored.” Holding true to our objective, we are working to triple our capacity over the next three years so we can help even more young Kentuckians see that they can stay in their home state and make this place what we need and want.

If you’re interested in getting involved in or partnering with KSEC, reach out to Allison Crawford at Learn more about our specific projects and programs by exploring our website and keep up with us by following our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. If you’d like to support KSEC, you can visit our profile, our Razoo donation portal, or reach out to Allison.


Allison Crawford is an Americorps VISTA serving as the Communications and Development Director for the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition. After receiving her Bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and television production from Murray State University in 2014, she became a national award-winning reporter for WKMS. Allison helped to re-energize KSEC as a student in 2012. After working in public media from 2014 to 2016, she returned to KSEC to serve in her current position. Being born and raised in Kentucky and watching many young people flee her home state, Allison feels a responsibility to stay and help build Kentucky to its full potential. She believes the most effective way to start is by empowering her peers with the knowledge and skills they need to make their home state a place where they want to and are able to stay. Allison Crawford lives in Lexington, Kentucky. She plans to return to her rural hometown of Murray to continue pursuing her vision for Kentucky even after she ages out of the youth demographic.





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