Students in an environmental studies senior capstone course are trying to create a sustainability-themed residence hall where students can improve the environment and bond with like-minded peers.
Seniors Claire Burrus, Miles Wehner, Shayla Bolding and Willa Rubin were enrolled in the environmental studies senior capstone course this semester when they were brainstorming a project that would solve a sustainability problem on Trinity’s campus. Their idea was to create a living space for students interested in promoting sustainability.
Burrus, who pitched the idea of a hall to the group, was inspired by her time studying abroad.
“When I studied abroad, I was with a large group of different people from American universities, and my friend from the University of Denver was telling me about her experience living in a sustainability hall and the community that it provided and projects that they did together, and I just got to thinking that Trinity should have something like that,” Burrus said.
The group created a constitution for the hall and spoke to the Trinity administration, the Center for Experiential Learning and Career Success and Residential Life about what would be possible.
Sustainability Hall is patterned after HOPE Hall — a living learning community where students fulfill a specific educational objective by living in the hall.
Rachel Boaz, assistant director of Residential Life, explained the concept of a living learning community.
“A true living learning community in the higher [education] definition is a community where everyone who’s living in that community has a similar academic curricular path. That means they’re in a formal academic course and having programming in the residence hall that is directly related to that programming,” Boaz said.
Burrus spoke about possible programming that the hall could incorporate.
“I’m personally interested in food sustainability…. but I think it could be really cool for the hall to get involved in some type of water conservation work like protecting the Edwards Aquifer,” Burrus said. “There’s a lot of stuff that Trinity students could do with local San Antonio organizations to support the community in a way that’s sustainable and eco-friendly.”
According to Burrus, students living in the hall might receive lectures from environmental studies faculty in a sustainability-focused seminar.
“I’m hoping that the seminar would focus on environmental issues, but also on sustainability living practices, so that members of the hall can learn about how to live sustainability and then apply [their knowledge] in the context of the living learning community,” Burrus said.
While providing educational opportunities, the hall would also promote leadership and team bonding. Rubin discussed the hall’s possible social aspects.
“There would be officers, so there would be leadership positions available for students to experience, and they’d be working with the administration and faculty, which would be a great networking opportunity in our plans. We have plans for a seminar that students would be taking, so that gives them the opportunity to get lectures from faculty, or possibly outside organizations, if we have the budget for that,” Rubin said. “It’s a way to have that social engagement and easy avenues for friendship, but it doesn’t require any social implications of substance-free or Greek life organizations.”
The students held focus groups earlier this spring to identify what students would be most interested in with regards to a new hall.
“The most important finding was that students were interested,” Rubin said. “We had 13 different focus group participants, with a pretty even spread of grades from freshman to junior. … About half of the students were environmental studies majors, but half of that half were double majors and then the rest of them were not environmental studies majors. So it’s a good spread of majors as well, which I think is important to show there is a wide engagement.”
“[Students] are really excited about the opportunity to be engaged on and off campus with service projects and to build their network before they graduate so that they have relationships with off campus leaders,” Rubin said. “People were excited about the social aspect, like being able to have functions within the hall. And also people are excited about engaging with students on campus, and [being] able to support sustainability initiatives and see their full potential with this core group of students that could be volunteers for earth week or the community garden. So it’s just a good way to have a sustainable mindset on campus and really instill that into Trinity.”
The students have thought about partnering with the Climate Changed First-Year Experience (FYE) class, but the group is still weighing the pros and cons.
“We want the hall to be a place for students of all majors, interest levels and experience levels in sustainability to opt into if they want because it’s not only a sustainability initiative, it’s a community initiative,” Rubin said.
Rubin sees the hall as a good way to connect with similar-minded people, but expressed hesitance when discussing the effects of joining the Climate Changed FYE.
“So if you’re a first-year or sophomore and you haven’t had much luck making friends on campus and you’d really like a way to join a community but you don’t want to go in Greek life or join Swashbucklers, this is a way that you can do that,” Rubin said. “If we were to focus in on the Climate Changed FYE, our group is fearful that it would just turn into a ‘HUMA Hall’ situation, and that’s really not the point. It’s about engaging people from all sides of the spectrum in this one initiative and really building community with a diverse group of students.
All four students involved with the Sustainability Hall proposal will graduate this spring. Gregory Hazleton, the visiting assistant professor of English who taught their capstone course, believes it’s important to find new students to assist in the hall’s creation.
“In order for the proposal to move forward, we really are looking for [students], and we’ve had a lot of interest from students who want to pick up the proposal and be the ones to help discuss with Residential Life how this might work and what we can do to help implement it,” Hazleton said.
Hazleton sees the hall as an expansion of efforts across campus to become more sustainable.
“What I see from my perspective is that there is a real interest from students in thinking about sustainability and the environment. And there’s a lot of great actions taking place on campus through the Sustainability office and Sharon Curry, and students working really hard to think about what sustainability means,” Hazleton said. “With that energy, if there was a centralized place where students were living together and talking about this on a day-to-day basis and forming networks and thinking about projects that they could do both here on campus and off campus, then the energy can keep going.”
The hall is still in its earliest stages; the group hopes that it will become an official housing option in the next few years. Students who are interested in assisting in the creation of this hall can contact Gregory Hazleton at firstname.lastname@example.org
or Rachel Boaz at email@example.com