Archive for May, 2017

Educating Sustainable Behaviors: The W&M Eco-Rep Program

~ By Maria Kanevsky

As an EcoAmbassador, for the past year I have been researching and trying to start an initiative for students to promote sustainability awareness in an “Eco-Representative Program”, otherwise known as the Eco-Rep Program. EcoAmbassadors each have a different project to focus on for the semester or the whole year, whether it be Crim Dell Restoration or leading Earth Week initiatives, and receive course credit for their project. All EcoAmbassadors meet once a month for class to report back on their projects, talk over sustainability as a whole, and discuss various readings related to sustainability.

For the first semester I mostly gathered my research. I talked to many faculty and students from other schools that already have their own version of the Eco-Rep program. I had some difficulties getting into contact with some schools, but most schools were excited to talk on the phone with me about their program. Each school was slightly different from the other in structure, but the main idea was still the same; to have Eco-Reps create sustainable programs and events to help educate their campus. There was one particular school where their program was breaking down, and taking those suggestions as things to *avoid* were especially helpful. Some schools have the funds to create the entire program within their sustainability department, and other schools have their Eco-Rep program integrated within other organizations, such as Residence Life or Greek Life, for additional support. I learned a great deal through all of the informational interviews, and there was a lot of information that I had to sift through.

Many options that other schools have were not going to be applicable to William & Mary, so in my project I tried to figure out what would actually work for our school specifically. The best idea that I could envision was an integration with Hall Council, where the dorm designated Eco-Rep would meet with Hall Council and help them to create events focused on sustainable dorm habits. After deciding on this idea, the next step was to try and involve those on campus. To encourage organizations to join in this program I wrote a manual detailing what an Eco-Rep is, the history of Eco-Reps, the goals of the program, and how the structure of the program would work. This was successful in the end, and now the Jefferson-Barrett Hall Council will be the first dorm to start the Eco-Rep program. Their Hall Council will be implementing a new executive position of “Eco-Rep” starting next school year, and will be following the ideas put forth in the Eco-Rep Program manual. I’m excited to help ensure that this first Eco-Rep role will run smoothly, and to hopefully see this role spread to the rest of freshmen dorms across William & Mary.

May 10th, 2017

Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference – Student Summit

~ By Jennifer Dunn, Talia Schmitt, and Gracia Luoma-Overstreet

Members of the William & Mary Eco-Schools Leadership Initiative (ESLI) attended the Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference-Student Summit held in College Park, Maryland and co-hosted by the American University Office of Sustainability and the University of Maryland Office of Sustainability. ESLI members had the opportunity to present our work on sustainability at W&M and in Williamsburg, learn from others’ presentations about their sustainability projects at their respective campuses, and gain valuable insight about best practices in sustainability.

The opening plenary speaker of the conference was Mr. Preston Mitchum, an impressive young lawyer and adjunct professor at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies who works to advance the reproductive and sexual rights of women and girls. He is extremely focused on social justice issues, and reminded the conference that sustainability extends beyond just environmental issues and must also encompass social justice issues in order to create a society that will be happy and healthy. While the ESLI members agreed that they desired more discussion about environmental justice within social justice, all felt that it was inspiring to hear Mr. Mitchum’s call to action on social justice issues in order to make the world a better place.

ESLI members presented our work on sustainability through environmental education to attendees of our workshop, explaining the importance of environmental education and how our work benefits both our volunteers and the students we teach. We demonstrated one of lessons about adaptations by teaching and playing a game called Adapt Like a Cat with workshop attendees and they thoroughly enjoyed the game and our teaching style. We also had an open discussion about environmental education experiences and shared ideas about possible lesson plans for the future.

The workshops later in the day that ESLI members attended were very insightful about other universities’ sustainability initiatives, prompting thoughts about how we could help make W&M more sustainable using other presenters’ methods. One presenter from Southern Connecticut State University shared how she and her team were able to negotiate with the Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts on their campus to allow students to bring their own reusable mug to reduce waste from disposable drinking cups, something that W&M students wish we could do but have been told that we cannot. This campus’ efforts proved to ESLI members that this goal could be accomplished and provided insight on possible ways in which to do it. A student intern at University of Maryland’s Sustainability Office presented how UMD educated all freshman students about sustainability in a fun and informative way during their freshman year classes, prompting thoughts on how we could help support the Office of Sustainability and SEAC’s efforts to be included in freshman orientation seminars to educate students about how to live sustainably on campus and be aware of their impact on the earth. A teacher at Virginia Tech held a workshop about the philosophical aspects of sustainability and best practices for communicating sustainability in a way that is informative and convincing. This presentation was striking because it reminded attendees to think from the point of view of others, rather than from the environmentalist point of view, something that I believe all advocates for sustainability are sometimes guilty of.

The second plenary speaker was Ms. Brenda Pulley, Senior Vice President for Recycling at Keep America Beautiful. She shared her career path and the attitudes and methods that Keep America Beautiful have been using in order to successfully convince the American public that recycling is important and essential to maintaining a healthy ecosystem and a sound economy. Ms. Pulley was very encouraging to all attendees to continue to work on sustainability issues, providing a success story amid all the negative current events related to the state of the environment.

In conclusion, this conference was an excellent opportunity to discuss sustainability with peers coming from different perspectives and facing different challenges on their own campuses because of the open environment of the conference. ESLI members were able to discuss and share contact information with many of the conference attendees, and we hope to be able to broaden our network and W&M network of resources, examples, and ideas in order to make W&M a more sustainable campus for future members of the Tribe.

ESLI members having fun at SSCC 2017 From left to right: Gracia Luoma-Overstreet, Talia Schmitt, Jennifer Dunn

ESLI members having fun at SSCC 2017
From left to right: Gracia Luoma-Overstreet, Talia Schmitt, Jennifer Dunn

May 10th, 2017

Got Some Lead, but We Ain’t Dead: Community and Innovation in Flint, Michigan

~ By Jennifer Ross

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the American Studies Association annual conference in Denver, Colorado. This year’s theme was “Home/Not Home: Centering American Studies Where We Are”….so there was no way I could not write about what was going on in my hometown of Flint, Michigan.

Skyline of Flint, Michigan. Personal photograph.

Skyline of Flint, Michigan. Personal photograph.

In my paper, “We Still Call it Home: Complicating the Flint Water Crisis,” I focused on providing a different narrative of the Flint Water Crisis, one that was much more full, complex, and multi-faceted than the accounts provided by the media. I twined together our history of crises (deindustrialization, state and municipal recessions, pollution, arson) with our responses to them. Because of these crises, Flint has fashioned itself into a hub of innovation:

  • Individuals have been urban gardening since I was a child. Now urban gardens cover entire city blocks.
  • The Flint Farmers Market offers free vendor booths to youth gardening programs and both allows fresh fruits and vegetables to be bought with food stamps and doubles the amount of produce that can be bought per dollar.
  • At the height of the arson spree, neighbors fought fires with garden hoses to supplement the skeletal fire crews the city could afford.
  • Community organizations and the University of Michigan—Flint rehab houses for individual, community, and educational uses. One such example includes the university’s Urban Alternatives House, which is Platinum LEED certified and explores environmentally sustainable construction and operation strategies.
  • Phytoremediation, a process utilizing trees to draw toxins out of contaminated soil, is underway in Chevy in the Hole, one of the most polluted ex-industrial sites in the city.

Specifically regarding the Flint Water Crisis, it was Flint residents, charities, and churches who first began organizing the massive water collectio and distribution efforts that allowed people to pick up cases of bottled water. Often a semi trailer full of water would pull up to one of these organizations, a call for volunteers would go out over the radio, and people would flock to help unload and stack the water. It was also Flint residents who distributed water door to door when the National Guard deemed several neighborhoods too dangerous to enter. Additionally, people throughout the city have responded with creative ways of dealing with the enormous numbers of empty water bottles, particularly through art and protest. One local artist traces children’s silhouettes, fills the outline with water bottles, and lights the plastic with LEDs to highlight the importance of water to the human body. The University of Michigan—Flint Early Childhood Development Center turned empty bottles into hanging chandeliers painted by the two- and three-year olds. The chandeliers have been hanging in the Flint Farmer’s Market and were auctioned off for almost $3,000. Finally, UM-Flint dance instructors choreographed a stunning display of what the water crisis has meant for adults with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

Water bottle chandeliers. Personal photograph.

Water bottle chandeliers. Personal photograph.

UM-Flint Spring Dance Finale. Courtesy Mlive.

UM-Flint Spring Dance Finale. Courtesy Mlive.

Attending this conference was a tremendous experience. For as much as Flint has been in the news, and for as egregious an affront to democracy and human rights the Water Crisis is, very few people are actually talking about it outside of the city, the state, and some activist circles. Thousands of scholars attended this conference, but mine was the only paper on the Flint Water Crisis.

It left me puzzled.

And it left me frustrated.

The Flint Water Crisis touches on issues which, at some point, communities across the United States and the country as a body must confront. Racist environmental justice policies continue to be implemented and carried out. The Rust Belt continues to decay and the soil and water contamination left by exiting corporations remains a hazard to the health and well-being of the residents both nearby and downstream. Neoliberal and austerity politics continue to ascend and become more normalized. And civil and human rights issues, including basic rights and necessities such as shelter, food, and access to clean drinking water continue to come under siege as local, state, and federal budgets are stripped of funding for infrastructural improvements and upkeep, environmental protection, and social safety nets. Perhaps most worrisome of all is the lack of productive and meaningful social criticism—quite simply, the absence of outrage—over the Flint Water Crisis.

What does this tell us about who deserves fundamental human rights, let alone civil rights? And how can we decry the human rights violations of regimes abroad when we are enacting violence against an entire population ourselves?

What does this tell us about our priorities as a country? And how can we, as a country, comport ourselves as the bringers of freedom, democracy, and wealth, when we invalidate local, elected governments through the implementation of “Emergency Managers,” and leave men, women, and children to suffer from the poisonous effects of lead?

And what does this tell us about the future? And how are we–how are you–going to respond?

About the Author 

Jennifer Ross received dual bachelor degrees in Honors English and History, as well as her Masters in English, at the University of Michigan-Flint. She is currently a second-year PhD student in the American Studies Program at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Jennifer’s research interests include the structure and function of state power, neoliberalism, disaster literature, and American empire. Her upcoming dissertation will investigate how the fiction of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina served to first build and then critique the nationalist narratives of the counter-terror state.

May 10th, 2017


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Welcome to Hark Upon the Green! This blog is a shared space for members of the sustainability community at William & Mary to write about sustainability topics on and beyond. If you would like to contribute to the blog, contact Madeleine Boel, Committee on Sustainability Web Assistant, at mgboel@email.wm.edu.
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