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Fifteen University of Michigan and Ann Arbor environmental and political advocacy groups attended the Campus Carbon Neutrality Communication and Culture Town Hall on Tuesday evening to discuss options for improving the University’s sustainability efforts. Approximately 25 people attended the town hall in West Hall.
The Campus Culture and Communication team, one of eight internal analysis teams working for the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, led the event. Joseph Trumpey, Art & Design associate professor, the host of the town hall, said its purpose was to focus on how student organizations cancan help achieve carbon neutrality within their own groups, but also across campus.
“I think the main question here is, ‘What is the culture of U-M, the institution? How does it relate to student organizations and student life on campus, and what can be improved to make carbon neutrality a mission that you feel is shared, that the University is supporting you, and you’re supporting the University, and everything moves forward?’” Trumpey said.
The Campus Culture and Communication team highlighted some of its own recommendations that it will submit to the Commission for consideration. Trumpey said the group is encouraging fossil fuel divestment options for faculty and staff, as well as an institution-wide three-credit educational and training requirement on the environment, among other suggestions. He said a preliminary step in spreading educational awareness would be continuing Planet Blue, a University sustainability initiative.
“We’re looking at a spectrum of reinforcing the Planet Blue online system, as kind of the shallow end of the pool, to the deep end of the pool, where there’s an academic three-credit course for every school and college which would be difficult to implement, but could be really pivotal in changing the culture of the University,” Trumpey said.
Students at the town hall noted that it may be difficult for the University to require students to take a three-credit course. As an alternative, Rackham student Akash Shah, Climate Blue member, asked about adding a sustainability curriculum into the mandatory online modules University freshmen have to complete on sexual assault and alcohol consumption.
Members of the audience nodded in response.
Students focused on the positive and negative aspects of both the top-down culture and the bottom-up culture at the University. The main issue they uncovered through these conversations was a lack of communication among different student organizations, as well as a need for expanding educational efforts and overcoming institutional barriers across campus.
Specifically, several of the student groups expressed concerns about the administration’s sustainability efforts. LSA senior Kristen Hayden, Climate Action Movement member, commented on a lack of transparency.
“Accountability and transparency are the two things that really hurt efforts around any student organizing,” Hayden said. “Understanding how the University makes its decisions and who to contact to get things done, and why the University chooses to do things the way that it does (is important).”
These discussions led to attendees suggesting more than 50 new ideas on achieving carbon neutrality at the University. Hayden suggested integrating repair thrift shops to provide a sustainable solution for damaged items like furniture, and Shah encouraged the implementation of groceries close to campus.
“I find it quite absurd that I have to drive my 3,000-pound car to go get a gallon of milk,” Shah said.
Hayden explained the importance of town halls like these in changing the conversation on sustainability and carbon neutrality at the University. She said the school could be an influential model for other institutions.
“I think something that is also important to note about the University is that it’s a microcosm of the larger world and understanding that shifting the systems here can help shift the systems in the places where U-M has influence, systems being things that influence how students are recruited, who has power here, and how that power is used,” Hayden said.