New Ecoleaders to promote sustainability

Sustainability at Vassar has started a new program to encourage environmental measures—defined as focusing on ecological, economic, and social concerns—in dorms and senior housing. The program instates ten to twelve EcoLeaders to act as sustainability representatives to their respective houses.

“Creating a program like this has been on our minds for a while, but for one reason or another [we] had never gotten around to committing to create it,” said Assistant to Sustainability Activities Alistair Hall.

Hall continued on the program’s origin, “This past fall we were inspired to revisit the idea and together with the Vassar Greens we were able to generate program goals and a position description.”

“EcoLeaders are Vassar students that were selected to be a part of the program that is ran by the College Committee on Sustainability,” explained EcoLeader for Josselyn House Yasani Spencer ’17. “Each EcoLeader went through a small application process which entailed a short application as well as a short interview with the advisor for the EcoLeaders, Alistair Hall.”

Virtually every living space at Vassar is included in this program. Spencer explained, “There are many EcoLeaders, one for every dorm, as well as three or four EcoLeaders for senior housing and one EcoLeader for off campus living.”

EcoLeaders went through a two hour orientation and training session at the beginning of the semester, where they learned what their position entails. They learned about where Vassar stands in terms of sustainability and how they could become involved in these operations. In addition, they were given a programming budget. The students also received leadership training and learned how they could help Vassar students in their houses.

Spencer clarified, “Each EcoLeader has the opportunity to conduct a sustainability project in their dorm based on where their sustainability interests may lie. My project in Josselyn will be a group project on reducing the amount of waste in the dorms as well as spreading awareness about one’s actions toward the environment and how they affect the environment as a whole.”

Spencer continued to explain her project, “I will be working alongside EcoLeaders Taylor Mosley [‘15] from Cushing House, Andrew Eslich [‘17] from Jewett House and Leo Chen [’15] from Lathrop House. Together, our overall goal is to increase eco-consciousness within the student body by raising awareness about pressing environmental topics, which include water waste, ghost energy, and waste reduction.”

In addition to projects, EcoLeaders play out a number of activities to increase Vassar’s sustainability. This includes acting as a resource to other Vassar students who might have questions on how exactly ecologically conscious Vassar’s campus is, study break planning, developing relationships with custodial staff and other members of the faculty, and creating more sustainable spaces on Vassar’s campus.

“We are also focusing our efforts to reduce the amount of waste within VC athletics this semester by reducing the amount of wasted Gatorade cups that are collected in the trashcans during athletics events in popular venues such as Kenyon Hall and the Athletic Fitness Center,” said Spencer.

Hall spoke to motives behind this program, saying, “That inspiration came from a collective feeling that we wanted to offer more tangible ways to get involved with Vassar Sustainability. Much of the work we do is campus-wide, like the Farmer’s Market, the Resource Conservation Fund and Composting in the Retreat, so we thought this would be an opportunity to expand our network into the Dorms, and who knows better about what could be improved in the Houses than students who live there?”

“I’m just finding out about this program, but I think it’s a really good idea,” said Caitlan Moore ’16. Moore is a resident of Josselyn House, the dorm Spencer represents.

“I don’t know a lot about sustainability or keeping Vassar ecologically friendly, so hopefully this program could help with that,”  Moore reflected.

“Ultimately, I think education is environmental and economic issues like this will definitely benefit people here and make the dorms a better living space,” she continued.

On subsequent semesters with the program, Hall said, “We plan to make this program a regular part of campus life, selecting ten to thirteen students a semester, offering sustainability leadership trainings and providing resources for the EcoLeaders to accomplish projects of their choice. Our hope is that whether an EcoLeader stays in the program for just one semester or for longer, they will have learned valuable change-making skills that will continue to benefit them, the campus and beyond.”

“I also think other people who live in Josselyn aren’t that aware of ecological issues, so this will help them too. I like that the EcoLeader actually lives in my house—so she knows what it’s like to be here. Every dorm is unique so someone who lives in Main, maybe, won’t know the issues Josselyn faces when it comes to sustainability,” said Moore.

According to Sustainability at Vassar’s website, the Spring 2014 program will conclude at the end of the semester with a dinner to thank the current EcoLeaders for helping their respective houses and greater Vassar community.

Hall said on the future of the program, “At the end of this semester we will collectively evaluate how we felt the program went and readjust as needed for Fall 2014.”

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