Environmental Issues are Human Rights Issues: A conversation with Chatham’s Nikki Mammano

By: Teri Bradford

Whether you’re sitting in class or standing in line at Café Rachel, you’re sure to see orange squares pinned to a few backpacks. The squares are a statement to show support for Chatham’s divestment from fossil fuels, and senior student Nikki Mammano is the woman behind the cause.
Mammano is a senior majoring in Economics and minoring in Sustainability and Political Science. She is also the President of the Sustainable Impact Team (SIT), an organization on campus that has made fighting for environmental and social justice its mission.
“When I transferred to Chatham [in 2015], along with studying my passion for sustainability, I was eager to join an on-campus organization that was involved in doing work with environmental justice,” said Mammano. “However, when I arrived on campus I learned that the organization that had existed before was no longer active because the leaders of it had graduated.”
Instead of feeling defeated, Mammano joined forces with Cierra Snyder, a junior studying Sustainability, and joined the graduate student sustainable business chapter of Net Impact.
“[Snyder and I] became a subcommittee under the umbrella of Net Impact. After the launch of our divestment campaign, we decided to branch off from Net Impact and become our own separate student organization,” said Mammano.
When SIT began, Mammano was met with support and “shock” from students. Many Chatham community members never considered where Chatham invested and now they were finding out that Chatham has “investments in fossil fuels along with other unsustainable industries.”
Students’ excitement about SIT is clear. At every major event on campus, SIT has been a presence that informs students and attracts more community members to their cause. But it’s not just about the environment for Mammano; it’s about the people living in it.
Recently, SIT has changed its mission statement to reflect that environmental issues are human rights issues. The mission reads that “SIT is an intersectional organization that focuses on uniting students around issues of oppression, environmental, and social justice through education, awareness and political actions.” The mission continues to say, “our goal is to organize campaigns and projects that advocate for progressive change on campus, in the community, and for our futures.”
Mammano tries to live her values and support organizations like the Black Student Union and the Chatham Feminist Coalition. Her passion for people overflows into her organization as Chatham continues to evolve.
“SIT has undergone so many changes and transitions since the foundation of the organization. Evolution and adaption to change are essential to the success of any organization. The needs of the university and the students involved are changing, and SIT is changing with them,” said Mammano.
She says SIT has seen “huge wins” with their fossil fuel divestment campaign in the past two years. Now SIT looking for opportunities that will allow them to “continue making Chatham a better place.”
Caring about what’s happening in the world around you has never been more critical. Mammano says that, in our political environment, it’s as important as ever that people stay informed and take steps to support sustainable actions.
“The well-being of both the planet and people are issues that I care very deeply about. It feels like every day the Trump administration does something to further regress the policies and progress made in the United States across so many different issues,” said Mammano.
She understands the powerlessness that can come from political stress, but she encourages students to keep fighting.
“When it feels like we are constantly losing in the fight for environmental and social justice under the Trump administration, it can sometimes be easy to lose motivation and feel burnt out. However, we need to support one another, stay strong and committed, and continue moving forward by reminding ourselves that people have real power to create change.”
When Mammano isn’t putting all of her efforts into raising awareness about social justice issues, you may find her working at the Women’s Institute, representing students as a Chatham Student Government (CSG) Class of 2018 representative, or dancing her heart out as an award-winning competitive ballroom dancer. Her on- and off-campus activities certainly fit Mammano’s ambitious and hardworking attitude. She’s left her mark at Chatham, something she hopes that can be kept alive.
“This semester my vision has been to not let [SIT dissipate] once I graduate because of the important and meaningful work we have done over years,” said Mammano. “I have learned and grown so much with this organization. I learned just how powerful our voices are as students and when we come together how student power creates real change. My hope is that it continues to provide students the same opportunities it gave me to be a student leader and have my voice heard.”
Mammano’s attended her first political rally as a SIT member, and she credits her experience with the organization for learning valuable skills. Consistently meeting with administration and presenting in front of Chatham’s Board of Trustees are certainly skill builders. She wants the same for those who come after her.
“My hope is that students will continue to pursue environmental justice work on campus through this organization,” said Mammano. “I hope they continue to hold the university accountable in divesting the university from unsustainable, destructive industries as well as in other ways.”