Progressive student organizations unite as ‘Green Umbrella’
First meeting fosters discussions on sustainability, social justice
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 04:10
A number of student organizations met as a coalition under the title of Green Umbrella to hold their first meeting of the semester on Wednesday, Oct. 24. The meeting aimed to brainstorm and coordinate initiatives relating to sustainability, the environment and social justice on campus. Additionally, starting this year, Green Umbrella is striving to make discussions during meetings more student-run and less structured.
Green Umbrella began two years ago as a way to promote collaboration and networking between progressive organizations on campus, including Wellesley Energy and Environmental Defense (WEED), Regeneration, Slow Food Convivium, Amnesty International, the Sustainability Cooperative, Botanistas, Peace Coalition, the Outing Club and El Table.
Members of the aforementioned orgs, as well as any other interested students, were invited to El Table at 7 p.m. and were joined by Danielle Gaglini ’11, the College’s sustainability coordinator for the Office of Sustainability.
After two of the meeting’s organizers, Elli Blaine ’13 and Ellen Bechtel ’14, introduced themselves and explained how the meeting would proceed, attendees were given five minutes to write down the topics they wanted to discuss on pieces of paper, which were then taped to the wall. Once all the potential topics were posted, attendees marked the issues they found most compelling with checkmarks. The pieces of paper with the most checks were chosen as discussion topics and were divided amongst several tables in the room. Attendees could then elect to attend the discussions occurring at different tables during two consecutive 20-minute time slots.
The meeting followed a format adapted from the “open space” technique which requires no set structure in the discussions. Participants were encouraged to switch tables if they felt they were not learning from the topic or contributing to the conversation.
Sam Burke ’14, vice president of WEED, enjoyed the informal, interest-driven feel of the discussions.
“The ‘open space’ format really helped create an atmosphere of inclusion and community, allowing attendees to generate their own agendas and discussion topics,” she said.
Participants discussed a wide array of issues ranging from sustainability initiatives on campus to dining hall reform, creating art from waste, the nature of the Green Umbrella and communication between different orgs and campuses.
Many attendees expressed concern over the amount of waste generated on campus. They noted problems such as overprinting in the libraries, recycling bins being contaminated with non-recyclable material and food being thrown away in dining halls.
They also wished to expand already-successful initiatives such as composting during the annual Tanner Conference, as well as this semester’s pilot program at Bates dining hall in composting pre-consumer waste, the kitchen’s biodegradable waste during food preparation.
In regard to the overprinting situation, some students suggested that libraries impose a limit on the number of pages that a student can print. They conceded that although the printing limit might make students more aware of their paper usage by forcing them to “budget” their printing allowances, there might be a student backlash.
Another discussion table explored multiple facets of dining hall reform, including the efficacy of the swipe system at the Lulu, the financial cost of dish theft, and the desire for more variety and transparency in food preparation. They also brainstormed ways to implement more sustainable practices in the dining halls, including using more local foods and reducing waste.
One table provided a forum for attendees to voice their opinions on their rights as students and on the rights of staff members. They agreed that when it comes to negotiating faculty and employee contracts, the College should take actions that reflect Wellesley students’ values of respect, compassion, openness, individuality and accountability.
Another table was devoted to discussing the upcoming “Waste to Art” installation set to occur in stages beginning on Nov. 1. Under the guidance of Boston contemporary artist Willie Cole, project participants will create an art installation out of recyclable plastic bottles. The installation will be displayed in a public space on campus to generate awareness throughout the Wellesley College community about waste and sustainability.
An additional discussion group brainstormed ideas for a potential “sustainability skillshare” event that would bring together students, faculty and staff in learning various skills such as composting, preserving food and repairing bikes. The group noted that Olin College of Engineering already has an ongoing skill share program, and cross-campus collaboration would be welcomed to organize a similar initiative at Wellesley.
As a first-time attendee, Shruthi Kumar ’16 found the meeting to be valuable in exposing her to different aspects of sustainability and social justice as well as methods of brainstorming and collaboration.
“It’s interesting how little people on campus know about environmental issues and about the topics we discussed in this meeting,” she stated.
Other tables brainstormed ways to make progressive orgs and environmental and social justice issues more accessible to students. One topic discussed was the role of the Green Umbrella on campus.