By Natalie Roadarmel
Every morning by the Mill stream, Dean Wentworth can be seen feeding the ducks their breakfast. Dean is the Botanical Curator for the University, and has worked here for the past 18 years. About five years ago, he began feeding the ducks.
“The way I started [feeding the ducks] was I was working in the garden one year, and I was pulling weeds and a mother duck came up to me with 13 little ducklings and just stared at me like ‘could you help us out?’ She might as well had been holding a sign on the side of the road.”
Dean left his master’s program and research project at Oregon State University to work for Willamette and it is clear that his passion for this work is still very much present today. “I’m just glad I’ve gotten that opportunity, to enjoy the wildlife here, and to plant for them. It brings people in. I know when they give the tours people stop at the bridges and look over and see the ducks, and I think it attracts people to campus. It’s kind of a sanctuary for ducks. And they do very little harm to anything. They’re just harmless.”
Dean not only feeds the ducks every morning, but also purchases a special feed for the ducklings, as they cannot eat the usual feed he buys. He often keeps watch for any ducklings around Willamette in the spring, and will personally toss them feed to make sure they are able to survive into adulthood. In addition, Dean plants specific plant species around campus for different types of wildlife, such as butterflies and hummingbirds, to make sure they are able to thrive at Willamette.
What’s most astonishing is that Dean pays for all of this feed out of his own pocket. This has resulted in him spending around $30 a week to feed the animals, including the ducks, squirrels and nutria. “I feed the other wildlife too. Some of that may be controversial because the nutria are listed as an invasive species, but they didn’t ask to come here.” His contribution to Willamette’s animal species has resulted in the school’s campus becoming a safe and nurturing place for them. The biological ecosystem at Willamette greatly benefits students and science classes, presenting the community with learning opportunities right outside of their classrooms.
Dean is retiring after this school year. This means that there will no longer be anyone buying feed for the ducks. “I can’t do much about it because I’ll be on a limited retirement income. I’ve been doing that now for five years, and the ducks actually know, when they see me they come running. They know who feeds them. [Funding for duck feed] probably would have to come through the University somehow, they’d have to budget for some of that.” If funding for duck feed was not somehow supported by the university in the near future, he stated, “I think eventually what you would see is a dwindling of the population, and they would look for other places to go.” Although the ducks play a prominent role in the culture of Willamette, their feed is not the only environmental initiative on campus that has been affected by a lack of institutional budget.
What makes sustainability at Willamette difficult to navigate is the fact that it is not run by a single group or person. It is a connected effort between students, staff, faculty, the Sustainability Institute, Green Fund, La Chispa and multiple other groups on campus. These groups to work separately toward one communal goal: a more sustainable, equitable and well-rounded Willamette community and world.
Sustainability is heavily marketed to prospective students and potentially one of the main persuasions for convincing prospective students to choose Willamette as their school. Sustainability is listed under the “Why Willamette” page on the Willamette website. The first image website visitors see when they click on this page is of the Zena Forest. Zena is also greatly prevalent in packets received by prospective students and one of the main talking points about sustainability at Willamette.
This is understandable. Zena is a wonderful property that holds high amounts of potential and opportunity for research and conservation. Everything stated by Willamette about Zena Forest in their materials for prospective and current students is true. As one pamphlet states, Zena is “305 acres at Willamette’s sustainable managed research and education outdoor landscape.” Although Willamette’s ownership of Zena offers significant opportunity to students, it becomes an issue is when students feel their actual involvement at Zena during their time at Willamette does not match the level it is marketed. Sophomore Claire Pockell-Wilson expressed, “Sustainability on campus is something that you can market really well to prospective students. You see that with the Zena forest, and the marketing they have on the website. Based on a lot of conversations I’ve had with students who are first years this year, they came here thinking that they were going to be spending a lot of time out at Zena Forest, and that’s unfortunately not really the case.” Aside from Farm Club, few Willamette community members have regular access to the property.
This disconnect between how sustainability is marketed and how it is experienced by students is present in more areas than Zena. In the past, sustainability groups on campus have lacked proper communication, resulting in lost student and faculty efforts to bring increasingly sustainable practices to Willamette. Pockell-Wilson, recently premiered a newsletter entitled “Roots Of Change” to connect environmental, social justice and wellness centered groups on campus after identifying this disconnect, and the need for a more unifying voice between these groups. Separate efforts between sustainability minded groups on campus has also caused students, especially underclassmen, to feel utterly confused about where to begin with sustainability when they arrive at Willamette. “I was really shocked that there wasn’t an easy way to get involved. The longer I’ve been here the more I’ve realized there are some super great things going on, they’re just really hard to find, especially as a first year student,” commented first-year Olive Murdoch Meyer. So what are these groups? How are they intertwined, and how has Willamette’s sustainability budget been affecting them?
The Sustainability Institute works to promote and connect students to sustainability initiatives across the Willamette University campus. Joe Abraham is the Institute Director, Claire Pockell-Wilson the Communications Coordinator, Olive Murdoch Meyer the Project Coordinator, and I, Natalie Roadarmel, hold the role of the Communications Intern.
Next school year, the Sustainability Institute, along with many other departments on campus, will be faced with significant budget cuts. This means that the Sustainability Institute’s usual $15,000 budget will be reduced to $3,000 dollars for the 2018-2019 school year.
When asked what the Sustainability Institute budget typically funds, Joe Abraham stated, “A lot of it is special projects. The student wages component has always been significant, you know 30-40 percent of the budget goes to paying students because I think it’s important to provide student opportunities to lead and learn and those kinds of things. Events, communications, I mean, it’s kind of emerging and now it’s gone. Now [the budget] going to things like paper.”
This budget cut will not only inhibit the ability for the Sustainability Institute to host events it self-funds, but also increases pressure on other University financial outlets such as the Green Fund.
Students for Sustainability, a program I have been heavily involved with creating, is set to be introduced to Willamette next year as an organization aimed at increasing sustainability across campus, as well as student involvement in these initiatives. It will hopefully be funded by a Green Fund annual grant which was submitted this spring. “It’s very clear to me that if it wasn’t for student leadership, paying into the Green Fund, and having a student-led Green Fund, we wouldn’t have much to work with,” stated Abraham.
Other departments have also been faced with restricted budgets, whether through University budget cuts or other causes. Next school year, Community Service Learning (CSL) will be switching to semesterly leadership awards, or student stipends, instead of hourly wages. This will aid in giving a set budget for student pay, as with hourly pay students can easily work more or less hours than they are allotted weekly, but will likely also help with increased budget issues. Although stipends can be beneficial, accessibility to jobs and hourly wages are extremely important in issues of sustainability. Sustainability is often an issue that is primarily accessible to the upper-class white population, and changing this by creating ways for people of every background to be able to be involved should be a top priority.
The Green Fund is a superb resource that Willamette offers to its students. Every semester, students have the option of “opting-in” and paying a $25 sustainability fee which is then used to fund projects focused on support environmental justice, equity and general campus-wide wellness. The Green Fund committee is formed of seven students who are in charge of deciding how these funds are allocated to projects proposed by students, faculty and staff. Emma Sharpe, Committee Chair of the Green Fund, explained,“The Green Fund was initially very specific to environmental sustainability, but now we definitely are open to projects related to environmental justice, social justice, and generally campus wellness.” In the 2017-2018 school year, the opt-in rate for the Green Fund fee was around 80 percent.
With Willamette’s tight budget, the Green Fund has become an outlet for environmental justice funding throughout campus. This year was the first time that the money requested through annual Green Fund grants exceeded the amount of student fees the Green Fund collected this school year. Although the Green Fund is a great source for environmental justice funding, it does not hold the amount of money that is being demanded by students for piloting projects. Sharpe commented, “I think that burden falls a little bit hard, especially this year, on the Green Fund.”
Sharpe added, “I think that we try to make it clear that we are here for the students, and especially hopefully this year we’ve tried to reach out to many communities of students on campus as much as we could to basically empower them and we are the body of money that can produce their ideas.” The Green Fund is a place that anybody at Willamette can submit a grant to. “Students want equity and diversity and the Green Fund can deliver that,” Sharpe explained. By providing an accessible and free place for Willamette community members to request grants, the Green Fund has created an equitable place for people to come to with their project ideas. “We really are here to empower students and give them a chance to make their ideas actually happen.”
La Chispa, also known as the Salem Spark, is a group on campus that “…seeks to increase environmental justice awareness and conversations at Willamette University, while collaborating with diverse partners in Salem and in the larger Willamette Valley.” This group is a student-led group that works to address environmental racism and the inequalities of environmental privilege. As accessibility is one of the foundations of their work, Catalina de Onís, Willamette communications professor and founder of La Chispa, commented on how Willamette can work to make environmental justice more accessible to the whole of the Willamette population. “An environmental justice commitment can be advanced at Willamette by supporting those students, faculty and staff, and other community members beyond Willamette, who have direct knowledge of what it means to live in places that have been targeted for polluting practices. An environmental justice focus urges people who care to consider the long-time call by environmental justice actors and activists to understand “the environment” in the plural, not as a place apart but as places where we live, work, recreate and much more.”
By under-funding sustainability, Willamette is creating an environment in which students may not be fully compensated for their work, which risks accessibility in working for environmental issues on campus. de Onís adds, “Furthermore, environmental justice seeks to resist the ways that environmental degradation and toxic practices disproportionately impact people of color and low-income communities—and it is these perspectives and experiences that are vital for dismantling extractivist logics and practices. With creativity, coalition building and caring, environmental justice teachings urge us that another world is possible and worth struggling for.” Student leadership and action is one of the main bringers of sustainability and environmental justice to Willamette. We must make it accessible for students to put the time and energy they want into these initiatives and create an attainable way for everybody in the Willamette community to become involved.
A prime example of student leadership in sustainability on campus is composting. This semester, a group of six students came together after realizing they were all working towards a common goal: bringing composting to Willamette residence halls. These students spent hours upon hours of unpaid time working through roadblocks and past composting attempts to accomplish their goals. Their work was mainly funded through an old Green Fund grant, which was submitted by Abigail Bernhard. Although all students involved with this effort were happy to work as volunteers, they have a right to be compensated for the prominent amount of time they put into this project. Willamette sadly does not have a budget for wages such as this, other than the Green Fund which has already been faced with higher amounts of requested grant money than they are able to fund.
Many Willamette students are putting everything they have into creating a more sustainable campus. And the good news is, it is paying off. The University is currently in the process of drafting a Climate Action Plan, which should be approved by next fall. This plan will work to reduce the university’s overall carbon emissions by promoting behavioral change campaigns, which will be accessible to the whole Willamette community. These campaigns will be student-interest led and this spring semester there will be multiple forums as an opportunity for students, staff and faculty to be apart of the conversation that reviews this plan. Senior Sarah Brush (‘18) who serves on the Sustainability Advisory Board explained, “All of this change requires that we have constant pressure to make the change. So it’s hard when we don’t see that change immediately, especially as students when our time here is fleeting. As long as people keep applying that pressure, it’ll happen.” This student pressure is not only what will drive future sustainability at Willamette, but is what currently propels it. I have never met more driven, passionate, and inspiring students who are willing to do anything it takes to accomplish their goals than I have in my time being involved with sustainability at Willamette. “It’s hard. Change is hard,” stated Murdoch Meyer. And it is. Change is hard, but the student voice holds the potential for it to come in the most beneficial way to Willamette’s campus and community.