AASHE Student Diary Series: 'The Rot Spot'
Michael Rogers, a recent graduate of urban studies at the University of Richmond, is featured in this installment of the AASHE Bulletin Sustainability Student Diary series. A culmination of almost seven months of planning, Rogers writes about his experience with the planning and approval process for a university-wide composting program. AASHE welcomes questions and invites feedback on each Sustainability Student Diary entry. Submit diary entries of your own for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"This was to be a space that students would appreciate and improve together. Our space."
The University of Richmond’s composting and gardening program started with a conversation between myself and former sustainability coordinator Trey McDonald. We presented the idea to the university’s undergraduates and I believe about 12 people came to the initial meeting in my apartment on Oct. 1, 2009. All were interested in learning more about the possibility of bringing a composting program to campus in order to teach students about composting and to make the process more accessible to the general student population.
It was at this initial meeting that one student spontaneously mentioned the name “U Rot” and it has since been the accepted name of this student-run program. One student in attendance, Carly Vendegna-Ramirez, would later become a large supporter of the concept and partnered with me to start the long process of planning and approval of our idea. These interested students (and many more) met again a week later to continue the process of brainstorming how composting could become a part of the University of Richmond campus community, and specific people to connect to the movement including professors, the university’s living-learning program, Earth Lodge, and administrators.
To me, this project was a reassertion of dignity for the students at Richmond. We began to remind ourselves that we aren’t apathetic and we aren’t afraid to construct a new way of living … even in the small choice of where to put your food scraps. We want new ideas, new relationships and better community. We have noble goals and the passion to see them realized. I really desired to eventually create a safe space for divergent thought that allows for creativity and creates a strong sense of agency. This was to be a space that students would appreciate and improve together. Our space.
A few weeks after the initial meetings, Trey, myself and Backyard Farmer co-founder Sean Sheppard met to walk around the University Forest Apartments in search for the perfect spot for the program to be placed. At the end of this walk, we found a sunny location near the 1900 block of the on-campus apartments. This was the one.
For fun, I wrote a letter to Mrs. Abby Ayers, the wife of our current university president, to tell her about the program proposal and to hopefully get her support in the process. She politely replied with an e-mail saying that she was in support of the program and we were excited to watch the momentum build.
During the fall semester, the team worked to garner support in the student body. We scheduled an outreach program in the Forum during Environmental Awareness Week that received over 120 signatures from students, faculty and staff that were all interested in seeing the program come to campus. After a few more weeks, the group was excited to receive full funding from campus organizations including a gift of $2,000 from the Class of 1992 Environmental Awareness Endowment, $1,700 from GreenUR, $500 from the Westhampton College Government Association and $400 from the Richmond College Student Government Association.
Sean Sheppard compiled the first draft of the “Proposal for Composting System and Garden at the University of Richmond” to be edited by Trey and eventually finalized. Additionally, Sean put together an order for Biobag Composting Systems to be sold to members of the campus community. GreenUR agreed to pay for these systems and they have become an integral aspect of the composting program and student involvement on an individual and communal level.
After several meetings and countless e-mails, the proposal was finally approved and the group began looking for a date to build. The proposal sat for the rest of the fall semester and into the spring semester of 2010. One fateful day in late February, several of us met to discuss the final construction of the composting system. The group settled on March 21 as the day to build the composting system and culminate almost seven months of planning. It was a beautiful day attended by many members of GreenUR, Sean and a Collegian reporter who wrote, “All students need to do now to aid campus sustainability initiatives is save their food waste.”
Since the system was constructed, GreenUR has taken the responsibility of continuing outreach for the program by selling Biobag Composting Systems to students and staff. They are available to students for a deposit of $5 and to faculty and staff for a purchase of $10. In the fall of 2010, more than 40 composting systems were sold to members of the community and several composting demonstrations were scheduled. This spring semester, Lucy Barrett took over as chair of the university’s Agriculture Committee and dedicated herself to continuing the mission of U Rot and the vision of the students who founded it.
Finally, I want to say, “Thank you!” to everyone who helped us along the way with advice and constructive criticism to develop our plans. Without a large group of committed people from all over the campus community it would have never been completed as it now stands. Thanks for taking a chance on us and letting us make our mark on this campus. Carly and I have now graduated and moved away from our Alma mater, but I am confident in the amazing students that are still on campus and will continue what was started almost two years ago. Best of luck in the future and remember that I’m always an e-mail (or gchat) away.
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