Students find outlet for sustainability work in specialty housing

Joining the 15 other special interest housing options this year, the sustainability suite in Latin Way houses 10 students looking to catalyze sustainable change on campus and create a welcoming space for the environmentally conscious to gather, discuss and live.

Alumni Danielle Jenkins (LA ’13) and Rose Eilenberg (LA ’13), who were members of the Sustainability Action Squad last year, headed the planning for the new housing option, according to Program Director of the Office of Sustainability Tina Woolston, who is also acting as an advisor to the suite.

“They had been trying for probably like a year and a half, or longer,” Woolston said. “They had submitted a proposal to [the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife)], and then they just kept following up with it after they became seniors.”

The residents now living in the Sustainability House went through an application process in March, including questions related to environmental impact and living preferences. The form also included a section where students wrote research proposals to catalyze environmental changes on campus.

All of the residents are required to work on research related to sustainability or to work with the Sustainable Action Squad, a group of students dedicated to engendering environmental changes around campus, according to the Tufts Sustainability Collective website.

Along with this participation requirement, the group has had to develop their own programming for the suite.

“It would be great to have some kind of guidance. But then again, it is kind of fun that it’s all up to us,” sophomore resident Charlotte Clarke said. “And we kind of get to decide where this goes from here on out, which is a really exciting thing.”

The suite’s residents have agreed to meet once a week as they determine the types of programming they will facilitate on campus, according to Clarke. She said they also meet because they want to get to know each other.

“We meet about how we’re living in the suite and then there’s another side of the meeting — what kinds of things do we want to be doing to encourage sustainability on campus.” Clarke said.

Resident Jeremy Goldman explained the sustainability suite’s connection to TSC.

“We technically are part of TSC. At their GIM, [one of us] went up and gave a spiel about the sustainability suite and how it’s a space for sustainability, [what our] presence on campus [will be], all that stuff,” Goldman, a junior, said. “So we’re a part of them but it’s not like we’re under them, and it’s not like their leadership directs us.”

Goldman added that this freedom was one of the things that attracted him to this particular branch of themed housing.

“We basically decided that we wanted it to be a space for environmental conversations to happen, a space for groups to have meetings — basically a space at Tufts where anyone that has an idea or an opinion can come and talk to any one of us,” Goldman said.

According to Clarke, aside from the three events that the suite is required to host to be categorized as themed housing, they also hope to set up events like dinners or small discussions that will be open to the larger community.

“We really want to be an open space that people would feel comfortable dropping by, if they just want to chat or if they have an idea for us to work on or want to talk about anything like that,” Clarke said, echoing Goldman’s sentiments.

Clarke told the Daily that the space is too small to hold large club meetings that would be of comparable size to the large group meetings that Tufts Divest From Our Future, for example, is able to hold. Clarke described the suite as more of a social place to engage in sustainability rather than an official location for TSC-affiliated gatherings. They have, however, held smaller meetings.

Woolston thought that creating a social community surrounding sustainable behavior could help strengthen the adoption of those behaviors that may have seemed irrelevant and foreign beforehand.

“They are going to be providing a place for people who are interested in the environment to meet and hang out,” she said. “And when you get those people together, then they can generate ideas and some momentum behind doing change on campus.”

On a more personal level, the members of the suite also focus their attention on their own sustainable behavior.

“It’s hard in a Latin Way suite, since there’s not much we can do with the infrastructure,” Clarke said. “But we are obviously turning off all the lights, we compost, … we have an ‘if it’s yellow, let it mellow’ system.”

With the Tom Thumb’s Student Garden so close — right behind the Latin Way complex — the suite has been able to use some of the produce from the garden, as well as contribute compost to the garden, Clarke said.

While some of the members were assigned roles such as house manager and events manager, the loosely defined titles quickly shifted, according to Goldman, who described the lack of leadership as a positive.

“That way no one is getting too stressed about extra responsibilities and, on the flip side, everyone feels like they can contribute whatever they are good at contributing.”

Goldman, a self-proclaimed fan of cooking and ‘dumpster diving,’ considers food as his prime contribution to the suite. Dumpster diving is the practice of picking up the leftover items outside of grocery stores that have been discarded when they no longer look perfect or the expiration date has passed, even though the items may still be edible.

“You can get so much food dumpster diving. I just call it ‘diving’ because it’s more euphemistic,” Goldman said. “A lot of it comes in bulk and so a lot of it is going to be wasted.”

A few members of the suite, for example, found 100 avocados in Allston.

“We’ve been making avocado pudding, avocado rice, avocado cake, avocado guacamole. People made some stuff for their faces,” Goldman said.

Recycling, too, is a significant theme in the suite’s agenda, and as such, it was the central focus of its first event last Friday: a freecycle.

As people in Medford and Somerville transitioned from summer to fall housing units, many left unwanted items out on the streets. Among the stashed goods was a giant polar bear, rugs, clothing and a Japanese umbrella, according to Goldman.

Woolston commented on the events that the suite is looking forward to hosting.

“The more outlets people have to get involved in environmental action, the better it is for the institution and for our office,” Woolston said.

Though there are many outlets around campus that have been vocal about sustainability, like the Eco Representative program and Tufts Divest, Woolston said the sustainability suite is a distinct option.

“There may be other people that don’t necessarily want to be active in that way but want to be able to live with people that have similar mindsets in the way they want to live,” she said.”So the Sustainability House provides that.”

When selecting the members of the suite, Woolston said it was very important to create as diverse a group as possible. TSC posted on its website in February that the group was to include students from all backgrounds of environmental involvement.

“If you are with people that are exactly like you all the time … then you don’t necessarily see or understand how things could be viewed or perceived by other people who come from different backgrounds,” Woolston said. “So if [the suite is] trying to communicate about environmental issues with the entire campus, [it is] going to need to have a lot of perspectives coming into it to be able to do that.”

This was true for Clarke, who hadn’t been involved with the sustainability movement on campus before, even though she was very interested in it.

“I think it is really important to have perspectives from people who aren’t deeply entrenched in it because they have more of a view of how other people on campus will look at us, and how other people on campus do sustainability, who aren’t directly involved in it.” Clarke said. “And again, that’s really good for reaching out and making a bigger impact on people who might not necessarily have been in the past.”

Though programming is just getting started for the sustainability suite, Clarke said that they have high hopes for the group’s achievements.

“Our house has to put on three events a semester, that’s the ResLife requirement, [but] we’re hoping to do a lot more than that,” Clarke said.

Woolston said that the group had expressed interest in moving into a house, but that it might take some time before this happens. Clarke added that moving into an actual house could be a great thing for the future of the group.

“If we had a house, then we could have a space for our own composting bin and our own garden, and I think that would be really awesome,” Clarke said. “I think that that’s kind of ultimately the goal of the suite — to create a space [where] all of these things can be happening.”