In my last semester here at Slippery Rock University, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what the future has in store for me. Will I be able to find a job? If so, will I have to move? How will I get there? Will my degree in English Literature secure me enough of an income to start paying back my student loans (I’m often told, no− what kind of job hires with that degree)? Another thought continues to permeate my mind along with the usual pre-graduation ones though; what does the future hold for this university?
After working at the Robert A. Macoskey Center (RAMC) on campus for the past two years, I’ve paid special attention to the environmental issues on campus. One recent example I experienced was in class this past week. My professor in my Environmental Geology class only gave me half credit for an in-class assignment because my partner and I wrote on the same sheet of paper, instead of handing in two separate sheets of paper with the same, exact answers. When I met with him and brought his attention to the fact that concept #2 states, “Sustainability is the environmental objective,” he told me that concept was related to something else.
While the issue at hand seems miniscule, consider this: if the 150 students in that lecture worked together on the assignment using only one sheet of paper, that means 75 less sheets would’ve been used to complete the assignment which means it is not only less grading for that professor, but it would be more environmentally friendly too. Considering that we students have to pay for printing due to a paper shortage, simple actions like sharing a sheet of paper for an assignment could also cut down on needless paper usage.
That is only the tip of the iceberg, though. The bigger issue at hand is that our role models, such as our professors, are not considering what actions they can do to promote sustainability. The Environmental Geology class is just one example. In the English Department computer lab, there are twelve posters warning students, “Absolutely NO FOOD or DRINKS allowed in the computer lab!” and to go use a copier if you need to print out several copies. Personally, I think one sign for each wall would’ve been enough. I’m sure if I went into each building on campus, I could find numerous instances where not only the students are making poor choices when it comes to conservation, but people “higher up on the ladder” are too.
Even our President has gone against programs that promoted controversial issues related to sustainability, such using renewable resources instead of burning coal. In the fall semester, a documentary screening related to coal usage was canceled because the President argued that the panel was not “balanced.” One of the graduate students working at RAMC and I both contacted several coal companies to ask them to sit on our panel. Each one of them refused to do so.
In the latest issue of Orion, a literary magazine dedicated to promoting environmentalism, Bill McKibben discusses how a few like-minded people cannot make a powerful change in the climate debate, but uses the example of a university changing its habits to show that as a collective, we stand a chance of making a difference. He writes: “Young people are asking college presidents to stand up to oil companies. If as a college president you do stand up to oil companies, then you stand some chance of changing the outcome of the debate, of weakening the industry that has poured billions into climate denial and lobbying against science. The action you’re demanding of your students less driving can’t rationally be expected to change the outcome. The action they’re demanding of you has at least some chance. That makes you immoral, not them.”
“No one likes a boat-rocker,” as my previous boss at RAMC and several friends told me. A lot of people don’t like tree-huggers either. So in theory, a lot of people don’t like me. However, the students who do think like me can only advocate for sustainability so much. On average, we spend four years in college and then move on into the real world to figure out the rest of our lives. Even if I were to bike everywhere instead of drive until I am eighty years old, the difference I make is not nearly as much as if our leaders that is, our mentors on how we should live take the time to advocate and practice sustainable habits with us too. It is our professors, directors, coaches, and the President who stay here after we move on but we are the ones taking what we’ve learned out into the world. It is them, with the support of their students, who really need to take a look at their carbon footprints and see how they can change their habits not only to better the university, but the world too.