October 25, 2020

New environmental group on campus promises to stay

A group of students are trying to take Webster University’s future into their own hands and point Webster University down a greener path. A new organization, Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability, is forming to increase environmental awareness and sustainability on campus and fill a void they currently see in sustainable initiatives from the University.

Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability is not the first student attempt to start an environmentally focused group on campus. Environmental groups have been part of a tradition of Webster groups that “come and go,” according to John Ginsburg, Director of the University Center and student activities.

“There’s something about Webster that student organizations never seem to get a core group of really active members,” Ginsburg said.

Webster students, Ginsburg said, are often responsible for their own tuition, and as a result take on more credit hours and employment, restricting their time to spend on extracurricular activities. The lack of time to spend on a group makes it difficult for students to keep them going. Former student Brooke Benbenek was part of Sustainability Initiative, a similar student environmental group in 2009.

“Since I had a lot going on already with SGA and the sustainability coalition, and being a program manager, and trying to get school work done, I wasn’t able to devote enough of my time to the Sustainability Initiative,” Benbenek said.

Another obstacle is carrying on an organization when the founding members leave. In the case of the Sustainability Initiative, the two founding members both left to a new school and the other to study abroad, leaving the group behind with no one to pick up the leadership.

“It’s all organizational. There is an architecture to a group, so the group stays after people leave,” Faculty Advisor Jeff Depew said. “Having people involved is really important.”

To try to ensure they stick around, the group plans to target underclassmen to carry-on leadership roles and create long-term goals. The feeling has been that there is a large amount of interest in sustainability from Webster students, but a lack in organization.

“I think that Webster should be more sustainable. I don’t think they’re doing a good enough job,” junior Dana Gruber said. Gruber, a psychology and international studies major, will act as treasurer for the new sustainability group.

“There are other people on campus who want it too, we just need to make it happen,” Gruber said.

Another issue encountered unique to environmental groups is the many different directions an environmental group can aim its focus.

“I have watched the student sustainability interest over the years. It’s been very strong emotionally… but there’s been no organizing factor to rally the troops,” Ginsburg said.

Despite potential pitfalls, the students organizing Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability remain optimistic. President Andrea Harper said she believes the setting may actually be just right for getting a group off the ground.

“Webster is the perfect place to start. This is definitely doable and we will do it,” said Harper, a speech communications major.

While not much is being seen on the ground right now with sustainability efforts, Depew also sees potential for the school.

“I’m very encouraged. I’m excited about the way Webster wants to go. We’re very fresh. Webster is expanding, we have an open road,” Depew said. “The fact that we’re making a commitment is what is significant.”

Harper is also hoping for administrative and faculty support on sustainability initiatives.

“The administration is seeing the students actually care about sustainability through this group, which can force more change,” Harper said.

Despite how much the word is thrown around, many students are left wondering what sustainability actually means.

“Sustainability is using our natural resources in a way which ensures we’ll be able to maintain our lifestyle for generations to come,” said Vice President Lauren Pattan, a senior social sciences major.

The budding organization would like to see the school to implement changes on a variety of issues, such as recycling, energy, land space and other environmental issues around campus. They also plan to involve students through hands-on environmental activities, both on and off campus. The previous environmental groups that didn’t make it may also be a boon to the new organization, which plans to follow through with projects initiated but uncompleted by other groups.

Plans include visiting a recycling center to learn more about the process and then bringing that information back to campus to improve recycling habits here. Other education and service activities off campus are planned, as are projects on campus to green-up the school.

The students creating the group say they are banking on strong support from the student body.

“Our major goal here is that we have support and that students know that we are really open,” Harper said. “At the heart of sustainability is education.”

Although they are not yet official, they plan to apply soon to gain SGA approval. In an effort to reduce paper waste from on-campus advertising, interested students can find the group online at involved.webster.edu or on Facebook.

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