Category: Opinions

Students’ small enviromental efforts make the biggest impact

Taking steps towards environmental conscientiousness has become a trendy staple of collegiate institutions in recent years. St. Olaf as an institution staunchly claims to have been committed to environmental sustainability long before it became a fashionable trend. While the claim seems a bit holier-than-thou, St. Olaf does demonstrate a strong track record of taking institutional steps aimed towards environmental conscientiousness. From curbing carbon emissions to locally composting all cafeteria food waste, St. Olaf stresses fostering and creating an environmentally sustainable campus.

Yet, the institution is not inherently altruistic. It likely would not be as amicable towards implementing environmentally conscious practices without two crucial motivations: enhancing the institution’s image and pressure from outside forces.

To satisfy the former motivation, stressing environmental sustainability works wonders for the institution’s public relations. This is not to say that a lack of benevolence invalidates what the institution does for environmental sustainability. Striving for carbon neutrality, implementing environmentally friendly architecture – especially Regents Hall – and restoring the Natural Lands benefit both the institution’s reputation and our community’s natural environment.

However, one major problem with the campus utilitarian usage of sustainable implementation is that the institution devotes the totality of their attention to major projects – such as achieving electrical energy carbon neutrality – and ignores micro-projects that could greatly improve the campus’s sustainability but would not be spectacular enough to garner much positive PR attention. Together with these macro-policy changes, the St. Olaf student body strives to go beyond the institution’s implementations and works daily to ensure that micro-sustainability remains a vital part of the St. Olaf experience.

I want to make clear that I’m not trying to insinuate St. Olaf students possess some homogeneous commitment to environmental stewardship. We represent a diverse amalgamation of beliefs, ranging from environmental apathy on one hand to something akin to “eco-mysticism”on the other. Nevertheless, as a collective force St. Olaf students continue to have a tremendous impact on campus sustainability.

No shortage of environmental clubs, outreach groups, or pedagogical programs exists at St. Olaf. The Environmental Coalition (EC) perhaps demonstrates best how students with proper initiative can take matters of sustainability into their own hands. EC is a student run organization that focuses on engaging and organizing other St. Olaf Students around matters of environmental sustainability or environmental conscientiousness. The coalition does much to promote concrete environmental action such as – but not limited to – organizing campus clean ups, writing an environmentally focused campus newsletter and instituting the No Waste Challenge. Recently, the group has successfully lobbied the institution to insert compost bins in the Buntrock bathrooms for discarded paper towels. Also aiding in the battle for micro-sustainability efforts are St. Olaf’s Student Naturalists. These select few foster community involvement with the College’s natural lands and teach our human community about the larger natural community we inhabit here at St. Olaf. Oles Under the Sun (OUTS) deserves mentioning as well. This student led group organizes affordable opportunities for students to engage with the outdoors through activities such as hiking and backpacking trips.

In addition to these organizations, the Environmental Conversation program invites incoming first-year students to apply for this environmentally themed first year living-learning community. The organizations listed above constitute a fraction of all the student environmental groups present on St. Olaf’s campus; to list the remaining groups would fill the remainder of this article. Oles have no reservations about creating and participating in a variety of programs that foster environmental conscientiousness.

In addition to the multitude of student environmental organizations present on St. Olaf’s campus, Oles demonstrate on a daily basis their commitment to environmentally conscious action. Take a look at any student around campus; chances are they’re accompanied by their sticker-cloaked Nalgene or some similar reusable water bottle. Additionally, an increasing number of students participate in The Cage’s “Mug Club”– a program encouraging the use of reusable mugs instead of disposable cups. Many students will also carpool or bus, or walk when not constrained by the brutal Minnesota winter into town to reduce transportation emissions. Generally, St. Olaf Students are not just efficient environmentalists who practice sustainable practices when convenient. Instead, they carry out environmentalist practices on a daily basis without hesitation.

I’d be hard pressed to say that the campus could take no further measures to increase environmental conscientiousness. The institution could work to further decrease carbon emissions from building temperature control and the transportation of goods to and from the campus. Students could drive their cars less, take the stairs more, and opt for a sweater instead of turning the heat up in their dorm rooms. Nevertheless, the St. Olaf community clearly demonstrates a commitment to both increasing environmental sustainability, and fostering environmental conscientiousness.

John McDaniel ’20 ( is from Waukesha, Wis. He majors in history.

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Oscar diversity isn’t the problem, Hollywood is

As the spring semester commences and full course loads kick into gear, those with their gaze fixed on La-La Land will have also marked Sunday, March 4, on their calendars: Oscar Sunday. Oscar history is being made this year in a number of circumstances: Greta Gerwig’s Best Director nomination for “Lady Bird” and Jordan Peele’s for “Get Out” make Gerwig the fifth woman in history to earn a nomination for directing a feature film and Peele the fifth person of color to be nominated in the same category. Peele is also the first person of color to be nominated in the Writing, Directing and Best Picture categories in the same year. It is also only the second time in the history of the Academy that both a woman and a person of color have been nominated for Best Director in the same year. Rachel Morrison, who has been nominated for her work on the set of “Mudbound,” is the first woman ever to be nominated for Cinematography.

Some might argue that this, the most diverse cast of nominees in the Academy’s history, is the fruit of the labor put into the #OscarsSoWhite movement. After the 2016 Ceremony marked the second year in a row to feature all-white nominees in the leading and supporting acting categories, the hashtag emerged as a platform upon which industry powerhouses and fans alike could express outrage and disappointment in the Academy’s apparent lack of appreciation for the work of filmmakers of color. The organization responded to the outcry by “widening its net;” vowing to double its women and minority voters by 2020 and to change membership criteria for Academy members who are no longer active in the industry. This policy change would keep some older Academy members who have, say, worked briefly in Hollywood and then left the business from having the same voting power as members who have been active in the industry for decades and are more aware of the systems, issues and attitudes currently facing the community.

It is my belief, however, that the Academy has not simply been “snubbing” exceptional contributions (although that may have happened in the case of specific films which deserved to be recognized and were not, for one reason or another), but that the opportunity to make and release exceptional movies hasn’t been given to everyone.

At Elle’s 2016 Women in Television dinner, Viola Davis had this to say about the limitations of #OscarsSoWhite’s goals: “The problem is not with the Oscars, the problem is with the Hollywood movie-making system … How many Black films are being produced every year? How are they being distributed? The films that are being made, are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role? Can you cast a Black woman in that role? Can you cast a Black man in that role? … You can change the Academy, but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for? … The Oscars are not really the issue. It’s a symptom of a much greater disease.” I could not agree more.

It is the status quo for the films that everyone has seen or that rake in the accolades come award season, the ones most firmly rooted in the pop culture canon, to be written, directed and produced by and to feature white, straight, cisgender and fully abled men.

For example, it is a fairly well-established rule of thumb in Hollywood that to have more than a couple of Black actors starring in one film would suddenly make it a “Black movie,” thus making it less profitable and less marketable to industry tastemakers and therefore less likely to be green-lighted. This narrows the already miniscule space that Black actors, writers and directors can comfortably occupy in an impossibly white industry. Productions that tell the stories of marginalized people and that seek to hire marginalized people to tell those stories are almost reflexively shelved.

It is my belief that upending the lack of institutional support for diverse filmmakers and performers is even more critical to achieving sustainable change than changing the demographics of the Academy’s voting body. As long as movies by people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and differently abled people aren’t being greenlit, funded or seen at the same rate as movies by and for the white, cishet men currently ruling show business, we will not achieve equal representation in the media responsible for inspiring and entertaining us.

Alexa Johanningmeier ’21 ( is from Florissant, Mo. Her major is undeclared. 

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