Humboldt State University

People on the Ground: Student Profiles

Justin Williams

Justin Williams is an Interdisciplinary Studies major at Humboldt State and has chosen to focus his education on the environment and social change.

"I am more interested in the humanities side of environmental science and the theory behind change," he says.

When not in class, Williams can be found speaking theory and life with friends on the quad, reading, writing and working with bicycles.

"The Bicycle Learning Center is a big part of my life," says Williams who was the Center's president for the 2007-08 academic year. "I help people repair their bikes, I teach bicycle maintenance classes, I do administrative stuff and sometimes I get to ride bikes.

"I think that a lot of people are needlessly intimidated by bicycle maintenance. And having a bike in disrepair prevents people from riding. The Bicycle Learning Center provides an opportunity for people to be self-sufficient and have control over their own lives."

One class at Humboldt State changed everything for Williams.

"Environmental Political Theory with John Meyer really made me rethink environmentalism, what it means and how it operates," he says. "It displayed the highly political and contested nature of our interactions with the surrounding world. My mind works in a theoretical way and I found it satisfying to be able to explore the environment in that manner."

After having Williams as a student, Meyer, a professor in the Politics Department, asked him to work as a research assistant for a book the professor was co-editing and writing. The book concerns the politics of sacrifice and peoples' unwillingness to engage with that concept. Another professor working on the book prompted Williams to take the next step and try to contribute something to the volume.

Williams, already an international award-winning essayist, knew writing for the book would be a challenge, but something within his abilities. It took him a year to write "Bikes, Sticks, Carrots," his chapter in the volume. His chapter explores "the ways that bicycles are constrained in our society." His conclusion is that "it is misguided to call for sacrifices without ensuring the mitigation of sacrifice. In short, we need to give bikes a fair shake."

In his dreams for a more sustainable campus, Williams sees Humboldt State providing safe and easy bike access to all of campus, more covered and intuitive bike parking, bike paths through and around campus and the closure of B Street.

"We need to increase the difficulty of driving to campus while making the alternatives possible and more attractive," he says. "I try to understand how to resolve dilemmas in environmental politics. I try to understand how environmentalism can be attractive and satisfying in a climate where political solutions are increasingly hyper-individualized or relegated to policy-wonks. And then I talk with people about it."