Sustainability Column Orientation Education

Kate Hinsche Class of 2020

As a prospective student who knew absolutely nothing about Colgate University, one of the most appealing things I found during my late-night Google search was the sustainability initiative. The aim to be carbon neutral by 2019 is both inspiring and ambitious, and back in January, it was enough to make me do a double-take on the smallest, coldest liberal arts school that would see my Common App. I thought that any school with a sustainability tab on its home page must have a student body equally, if not more, passionate about the environment. Perhaps I was deluding myself, but I expected Colgate students to at least know which recycling bin to use.

The reality is that the student body of Colgate is diverse and varied in many ways, and its level of sustainability awareness is no different. There is no standard for environmental education in the United States, a concerning fact considering global climate change will be one of the greatest challenges faced by our generation and those that follow. The sad truth is that most kids graduate high school knowing the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but not having any comprehension of their carbon footprint or how to reduce it. I am among the lucky minority that came from a community where sustainability and conservation education were incorporated into my public schooling starting at an early age. If sustainability is truly a goal for Colgate, the administration should recognize that the majority of its first-year class has not had proper exposure to eco-friendly habits and address that during orientation.

Going through freshman orientation is a whirlwind couple of days. You spend hours upon hours struggling through awkward ice breakers, listening to speakers and attending lectures on topics the administration has deemed of utmost importance. I don’t want to belittle the necessity of any lesson covered during orientation, but I think it’s valid to elevate conservation education to the same level of importance as an hour-long, pedantic rant on plagiarism and proper MLA citation. Even adding a short discussion on sustainability to one of the pre-existing programs or Link group meetings would make up for so many eco efforts lost in translation. Take, for example, the first-year welcome bags handed out on first-year arrival day. Each one had a small token in it to redeem for a reusable tupperware to carry out food from the Coop, but most people didn’t understand the purpose of the wooden circle they found among the many papers and pamphlets in their bags.

Colgate has the resources to implement a green living seminar first-year orientation, whether it be through the Office of Sustainability or in partnership with student groups like the Green Earth Gang or Students for Environmental Action. An orientation program serves to reiterate the importance of sustainability on Colgate’s campus to incoming classes and gives them the tools to uphold those values.