By Grant Welker, GateHouse News Service
April 19, 2008
(Reprinted from the Herald News)
In the 1950s, college students pushed for civil rights. In the 70s, demonstrations opposed the Vietnam War. The big cause across college campuses now is the environment.
"It's almost become a cliche, but Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' really shook things up with his facts and pictures," said Matt Grein, a junior business major at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
"Older people grew up when the dollar value is all that needs to be on the balance sheet. Our paradigm needs to shift."
UMass-Dartmouth - with an Office of Campus and Community Sustainability and programs to recycle books, cardboard, printer cartridges and compost food - has been active in its quest to be more environmentally-friendly. A new sustainability minor begins during the fall semester.
"We're really interested in serving as a resource for the community," said Susan Jennings, the interim director of the sustainability office, a center at the university for Earth-friendly events and programs. "People are anxious to find what they can do in their lives to help, and what other people are doing. The university is very interested in fostering dialogue between people."
The students are, of course, a driving force.
Last fall, senior Ellie Early started her own weekly farmers market on campus using produce from Dartmouth Orchards, Hillside Farms, Kettle Pond Farm and others. She moved to Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth last year after having an internship there and set up the market with help from a professor.
But faculty have led the sustainability drive, as well.
Rich Legault, a electrical engineering graduate who now works at the university's Computing and Information Technology Services, started last semester showing a series of environmentally themed films on campus.
"I wanted to do something to raise awareness and make these issues more public on campus," he said. This spring, he's shown films on consumption, sprawl, sustainability and other environmental topics.
Jennings herself has been a role model for environmental activism, Grein said.
"Her influence might be the catalyst of everything we see going on on campus," he said. "She's like a Gandhi of sorts for the UMass level of environmentalism."
The campus recycling system, now in place in only four dorm buildings, will be expanded to all dorms in the fall, and Jennings recently hired a consultant to help revamp the program. "Until Jennings, it was hard to recycle. You almost had to go out of your way."
Rhonda Fazio, a textile design and art history major, said students have lots of information on the environment available to them through their classes.
"I think there is a surge of activism on this campus because many of us... would like to redirect the current course of this country and the world," Fazio said. "UMass-Dartmouth is cultivating a generation of students who are deeply impassioned and committed to the environment because sustainability has become part of the curriculum."
Student Amy Desriosiers said there has been "an incredible stream of environmental activism" on campus, especially when considering how difficult it can be to get students involved with issues. Students in her Literary Society, of which she's the president, say a environmental event with Captain Planet last year was the most important event they attended during the year, she said.
The Office of Campus and Community Sustainability was created last July to study campus sustainability, community partnerships, research and oversee curriculum. The office helped establish a sustainability minor that will begin this fall and a summer online sustainability certificate program, which Jennings said is geared toward professionals looking to connect environmentally-friendly practices to their everyday lives.
There is an assortment of other projects either planned or underway, too, Jennings said. The university has received grants to create a green roof pilot program and a summer sustainability camp for middle schoolers, is planning a bike path around campus that could be tied into a regional path, and is considering installing water fountains to discourage the use of bottled water, she said.
The university's food provider, Sodexho, has started buying some produce from local farmers as well, she added.
UMass-Dartmouth and Bristol Community College are both part of the Presidents Climate Commitment, a pledge from more than 500 college presidents to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and strive for carbon-neutrality. BCC President Jack Sbrega was in the Leadership Circle, as one of the first presidents to sign, in 2007. In Massachusetts, 46 presidents have signed.
Roy J. Nirschel, the president of Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., will sign the Presidents Climate Commitment Tuesday, on Earth Day.
"With a number of sustainability initiatives implemented on campus - our Canola Shuttle, for example, and our campus-wide recycling efforts - we're already on an eco-friendly path," Nirschel said in a statement. "Signing this pledge will formalize our commitment to the environment and propel our sustainability efforts to the next level."
The Roger Williams group Students for Renewable Energy and Environmental Preservation pushed for Nirschel to sign the commitment.
"I think what has happened over the last year," Jennings said, "is people are believing in climate change. Conversations that wouldn't be moving forward before are now on the fast-track.
"There's a sense of urgency and excitement, a real sense of community, of people working toward the same goal."
E-mail Grant Welker at firstname.lastname@example.org.