Sophomore leads first campus initiative for Jockey Being Family




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IC Chronicle

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October 2017 issue

Sophomore leads first campus initiative for Jockey Being Family

By Justin Henry

For sophomore Adrienne Smith, being adopted never defined her relationship with her parents. However, the social stigma surrounding adoption demeans it to “second best” behind biological parenting, she said. She recalled a time when her friend called his brother adopted as a joke, implying he was beneath him in the ranking of siblings.

“Adoption isn’t second best,” Smith said. “It’s another pathway to creating a family.”

In the wake of a campus community confronting a lack of diversity and inclusion, Smith said students who were adopted face microaggressions, subtle and unintended offenses against people from marginalized or misunderstood groups.

“When it comes to diversity and inclusion, adoption should be talked about as well,” Smith said. “There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to adopted students.”

Smith, adopted from Seoul, South Korea when she was six months old, felt an instant connection with Jockey International Inc.’s philanthropic project, Jockey Being Family (JBF), whose mission statement is to increase the number of successful adoptions by networking with agencies. She was first introduced when one of the clothing line's catalogues featured a mixed-race family in the fall of 2016. Smith, a model herself, had been turned down by casting directors looking for father-daughter shoots after learning her dad was caucasian. 

After a few video chats with JBF's marketing planner Kim Salli, Smith volunteered to bring the organization to Ithaca College as its first campus ambassador. Salli, taken with Smith’s passion and determination, said their first conversation initiated a professional, as well as a personal, connection.

“Within five minutes of our talk, I knew I wanted [Adrienne] in the foundation,” Salli said. “If not, then just as a friend.”

Smith first turned to her roommate, sophomore Irina Noonan and fellow television-radio production major, to take on the role of vice president. Noonan, who was adopted from Russia when she was five months old, said the project felt like home.

“I want to help Adrienne out in any sense that she needs,” Noonan said. “She’s a very hard worker and she always has to keep herself busy.”

As vice president, Noonan manages the organization’s social media to help spread awareness of JBF’s mission. One advantage of working with her roommate and close friend, Noonan said, is that she can help Smith get past any personal concerns and help her focus her attention on JBF’s initiatives.

“I can always tell when something is off,” Noonan said. “I can help take on some of that stress.”

JBF’s mission is to minimize the 10 percent of adoptions ending in the child’s return to foster care by providing post adoption support, according to JBF’s catalog, in the form of funding and volunteers. By providing post adoption support, they complement the work of foundations like the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which helps children living in foster care find permanent homes.

“Many families who adopt face extra challenges and are in need of post adoption support, to help their family remain strong,” according to JBF’s About Us page on their website.

With the right support, the site said families can provide a permanent home for children awaiting a nurturing family or what the foundation terms “forever families”.

Smith’s goal on campus is also ending the stigmatization surrounding adoption and providing a network of support for students who were adopted. She said she always had a positive relationship with her parents. However, for many children and parents, the topic of adoption becomes a source of resentment and alienation, especially if the child confronts hurtful microaggressions.

“A common trend I see is not being able to talk about [adoption] and not being able to share these thoughts,” Smith said. “It’s good to have a place to share those thoughts and ideas.”

For Noonan, her adoption was openly discussed since childhood. She said her adopted mother was sure to include her biological mother during evening prayers, thanking her for giving life to Noonan.

However, she has endured her share of adoption jokes, including allegations she is a Russian spy and she is affiliated with Vladimir Putin and the KGB.

“I usually don’t say anything but it’s definitely not necessary,” Noonan said.

Smith’s enthusiasm has garnered positive support from the campus community as she discovered during this semester’s organization fair on Sept. 6 when she collected over 100 names of interested students. Throughout the day, she connected with numerous students who were also adopted, but equally enthusiastic were non-adopted students.

Noonan attributed campus enthusiasm to her roommate’s natural charisma and passion when talking about JBF to other students.

In the coming months, Smith’s agenda is filled with promoting awareness of JBF. She will be networking with with local adoption agencies and foster homes. With President Shirley Collado, she will be working to install a fundraising drive in the campus bookstore. JBF’s teddy bears, taglined “buy a bear, help a family”, will be sold at the checkout desk, the proceeds for which support the organization.

The first person to be honored with purchasing the first bear, Smith said, will be Collado herself.

Activist professors in the Age of Trump

Illustration by Adriana Del Grosso

IC Chronicle

For the free exchange of ideas

October 2017 issue

Illustration by Adriana Del Grosso

Activist professors in the Age of Trump

By Ashley Stalnecker

Cultural critic Henry Giroux laid out the reformist professor’s duty in a lecture at the MacPherson Institute. Giroux said teaching should inspire a “radical democratic project” that rejects a society characterized by inequality, degradation to the environment and the elevation of war and militarization to national ideals.

“Under such circumstances, education becomes more than an obsession with accountability schemes, an audit culture of market values and an unreflected immersion in crude empiricism in a data obsessed, market-driven society,” Giroux said. “It provides the foundation for a world in which thoughtlessness prevails.”

Giroux described these qualities as laying the groundwork for the country’s submission to Donald Trump’s right-wing authoritarianism.

For progressive academics, the 2016 election was the harbinger of an anti-humanistic Trumpocalypse with a hatred for liberal arts not seen since the McCarthy era. Many take their cue from critical pedagogy and the writings of Brazilian educator Paolo Freire.

While teaching impoverished Brazilians to resist European imperialism in the 1960s, Freire wrote “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, a manifesto to create an egalitarian model of education. Critical pedagogy calls for a radical re-thinking of the traditional learning dynamic between student and teacher.

The text describes a one-way “banking model” of teaching where the teacher deposits knowledge into the students’ minds which, Freire theorized, maintains the oppressive imperial conditions imposed by European colonialism. In its place, Freire advocates for equality between student and professor as adventurers achieving truth.

During the 1980s, Freire maintained correspondence with pioneering critical pedagogists, most notably Henry Giroux and bell hooks. Since then it has had enormous impact on training courses for teachers in the attempts by critical pedagogues to resist the neoliberal restructuring of the university, according to Melanie Lawrence in “Beyond the Neoliberal Imaginary.”

Neoliberalism refers to the marketization of public goods and services thought to exist for the good of society. In higher education professors call this the commodification of the university.

“Critical educators are advocating for change and the significance of challenging neoliberalism becomes our quest for the direction of an alternative logic; one that challenges the conservative neoliberal imaginary, treasures the narratives of all people as originally promised through democracy, and critically examines both how and for who quality education is organised,” Lawrence wrote in her abstract.

A study by David Steiner and Susan Rozen found critical Freire’s and Giroux’s work are among the most commonly required texts in education courses at 14 of the top ranked universities in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report.

In the United States, the book has been harshly criticized among conservative pundits as well as mainstream academics. In Gerald Graffe’s Radical Teacher, Graff said this pedagogy ironically confines students to thinking through a narrow neo-Marxist lens.

“What right do we have to be the self-appointed political conscious of our students?” Graff asked. “Given the inequality in power and experience between students and teacher (even teachers from disempowered groups) students are often justifiably afraid to challenge our political views even if we beg them to.”

Ithaca College’s own Sherry Deckman, professor in the department of education, has found new ways to engage students in her classes through Freire’s theories. In a blog post “Engaging Students as co-instructors”, Deckman wrote that involving the insights of her students has made for more enriching class sessions.

Just as Freire envisioned, critical pedagogy has moved countless academics to radical democratic activism. But professors at Ithaca College and Cornell University are not only dedicated to getting involved in the political turmoil of the time period; they are interested in getting the youth involved too.

Cornell historian Russell Rickford focuses his research on black radical tradition in the United States. Rickford is one of the founding members of the Ithaca chapter of Black Lives Matter. In an email he wrote that his political activism and scholarship go hand in hand.

“It is absurd to suggest that one’s own experiences and outlooks do not dramatically shape one’s pedagogical style, approaches, and priorities,” Rickford wrote. “Those who are able to claim such ‘objectivity’ are usually individuals who enjoy the greatest power and status under white supremacist patriarchy. The ‘objectivity’ of a white male classicist is rarely if ever questioned because Eurocentrism is hegemonic.”

Rickford views his responsibility as one to help move people toward engagement and activism. As Karl Marx suggested, intellectuals need to change the world, not just understand it, he said.

All the world’s a classroom

Michael Twomey retired from his job as an English professor at Ithaca College at the end of the Spring 2016 semester to pursue the path of becoming a climate lobbyist. As he works his way to becoming a full climate lobbyist, he has been doing small jobs to make a large impact with the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

“We have people who lobby in Congress by going to talk with congress-people but the local chapters like ours do a lot behind the scenes in terms of phone calling congress-people,” Twomey said. “We go to town meetings. We write letters to Congress people and we do all that we can to bring new members in, educate people about climate change.”

So far, Twomey has called congressman Tom Reed’s office to talk with his staffers and written a letter to the editor that was published in the Ithaca journal.

Citizen’s Climate Lobby has built a name for itself of bipartisanship, appealing to Republican economic interests and Democratic interests of sustainability. The group proposed a carbon fee on oil companies that produce carbon through importing, manufacturing and drilling.

The carbon fee would collect money from all of these producers of extractors or importers. Twomey said this is distinct from a tax in that the purpose of a tax is not to raise money for the government. Instead, the fee would then would be returned to taxpayers.

“The net cost of governing doesn’t increase because we’re using the IRS and so it’s economically efficient,” Twomey said.

Twomey said the second part of the lobby’s work is to convince congress-people to join an organization in the House that’s called the Climate Solutions Caucus, formed by Republicans and Democrats. Twomey said in order to join, a congress-person can only join with someone in the other party.

Twomey believes it’s important that people get involved in the near future as politics change and intensify.

“I’m concerned,” he said. “I think that it’s important for ordinary people to step up and do what they can because what I’m seeing is that the government is in a state of disarray.”

Meanwhile, politics Professor Patricia Rodriguez has been working with Tompkins County Immigrants Rights Coalition. Although largely inactive since 2005, the group has reinvigorated since the 2016 election.

The group was originally developed to pass a comprehensive immigration policy that creates a path for legalization for immigrants. When the policy failed, the group died down until the 2016 election and Trump’s discriminate travel ban.

Now, Rodriguez is working with the group to create a rapid response network to document the government’s search and deportation of immigrants. They are working on a hotline that will allow an immigrant to contact the coalition and have the group show up at their doorstep or wherever needed to document their arrest. The group does not have the power to stop the arrest but they come as a sign of support and solidarity as well as witnesses.

When the group is called, they will film, take photos, and write down information that might later be needed in legal proceedings. They serve as witnesses to make sure what is going on is verifiable and not imagined or based on assumptions.

Since the summer, the network has become a group of more than 50 people. The hotline is currently in the process of being tested and the number should be available by mid-September.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez is doing everything she can to get her students, and the youth in general, involved in activism.

“I think the youth are key to be involved in different groups, different organizations, that try to bring about change,” says Rodriguez. “The world is there for their grabbing.”

She thinks it is important that the youth pay attention to what is happening politically and socially to issues such as racism, bigotry and violence. She said that not only those issues are important, but the youth should be made aware of the different socio-economic classes and different styles of living that are unequal.

“I think that youth need to be confronted with that and just begin to think in ways that perhaps they never have about solutions to that,” Rodriguez said.

As a professor, she believes that her most influential work is giving students such information.

“To me I think that the influence of the work I do is to have a different type of thinking that is not individualistic, that is collective,” Rodriguez says. “And to bring students into that conversation as well, to get students out of the classroom, to be engaged in something that is real, that I feel like everyone can have an impact on.”

Despite all the negatives in politics lately, Rodriguez still has an optimistic view on the future.

“I’m involved in [activism] because I see a lot of hope,” she says. “I have a lot of hope for change to happen. I have a lot of hope that people in the end will think about other people more, rather than just the

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Mythbusting academic neutrality




Creative Nonfiction


IC Chronicle

For the free exchange of ideas

October 2017 issue

Mythbusting academic neutrality

Today’s college administrators struggle to integrate classes in business and finance with classes in the humanities and social sciences. But how could they when students learn in one class that their other classes support the oppressive capitalist system?

By Justin Henry

In the aftermath of the Red Scare's anti-communist witch hunts, the academy's operating philosophy was surmised by Kenneth Keniston's 1969 book Criticism and Social Change.

“Any attempt to distinguish between ‘objective’ and ‘partisan’ criticism ignores the role of judgement and values in the critical process. For all values and judgements can be deemed partisan by those who reject them,” Kenniston wrote.

Kenniston and his fellow academics in the American Association of University Professors believed a free market of ideas would allow universities to maintain a healthy dose of public scrutiny.

As universities welcomed radicals and reformers as tokens of intellectual diversity, the identity politics of the New Left, a coalition of second wave feminists, anti-racists and LGBT activists, converged with scholarly work to create leftist criticism of traditional society. What became known as critical theory and critical pedagogy gained significant traction among professors disillusioned with the lack of progress since the rights revolution of the 1960s.

Informed by psychoanalytic and Marxist theories of European postmodernists, critical theory is an umbrella term that encompasses many cultural and social criticisms. The methodology of critical theory asks how various aspects of western capitalist societies maintained an oppressive society.

Descendants of critical theory—like feminist theory, queer theory and critical race theory—adopted Marxist ideas of a class struggle between oppressor and oppressed but applied to various identity politics of the New Left coalition. Gender, sexual identity and race were now understood to be socially constructed fictions, rather than natural facts of the human life which actively maintain an oppressive society.

Harvard University legal scholar Derrick Bell, commonly referenced as the founder of critical race theory, argued racism was fundamentally ingrained in American society and therefore the politics of race must be at the center of analysis. In his field of legal studies, race was the focal point of legal proceedings. Strict textualist interpretation of law could allow for racist execution and preserved the racism of the time in which it was written.

Since then, critical theory has been integrated into curriculum of the humanities and social sciences of reform-minded professors, the very same ones who conservatives say make everything about race or gender. This is because their scholarly work begins with an assumption of an oppressive and looks for the recreation institutional oppression within seemingly apolitical subjects.

Among critical race theory’s foundational ideas, the 2015 edition of Critical Race Theory in Higher Education lists racism is permanent and ubiquitous in American society and that whiteness is cultural capital.

The book responds to the proposition of a post-racial society after the election of the country’s first black president. It points to the shooting of Trayvon Martin and other young African American men and disproportionate incarceration of people of color as recreations of an oppressive system and a race neutral rebranding of Jim Crow era laws.

The emergence of critical theory in the post-civil rights era marked a paradigm shift in left wing political thought: radicals and reformers rejected mainstream, color blind liberalism and meritocracy as race-neutral facades that turned a blind eye toward institutional oppression.

The most significant contribution to the contemporary academic lexicon is the distinction of institutional, rather than incidental, oppression. Racism, sexism and other forms of oppression were understood to be inextricably ingrained the fabric of American society. Francis Lee Ansley wrote in the Cornell Law Review that white supremacy didn’t solely refer to self-conscious racists but to a broader system.

“I refer instead to a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings,” Ansley wrote.

And as a result, racism itself discriminated based on race. Only white people could be racist in a white supremacist society. People of color could only be prejudice.

By the 1980s, when to be “color blind” was the mode in American culture, criticisms of race-neutral liberalism had gained significance among academics. In 1985, Stephen J. Ceci, Cornell University professor of psychology, conducted a study to assess the implicit beliefs of professors in the social sciences. He sent out two groups of academic papers to 150 review boards. One paper hypothesized that racism against minorities was at play and the other suggested “reverse racism” against white males was at play, which was more often rejected.

Conservative critics like Pat Buchanan and Jordan Peterson describe critical theory as a rebranding of Marxism, which had become unpopular due to the devastation in eastern Europe and China, used to indoctrinate students into communism and anti-American sentiments. Proponents of critical theory view it as liberation from European hegemony ingrained in academic theory as well as the scholarship necessary to inspire social justice activism. 

During the Fall 2006 semester, the Ithaca College Center for Faculty Excellence hosted scholars of critical race theory from across the country for a lecture series. The goal of the event, according to the program anthology, was to “explore pedagogical resources” and support “interdisciplinary research scholarship and activism”. One article by Kevin R. Johnson entitled “Law and the Borders: Open Borders” made a case against monitoring the border between U.S. and Mexico.

Critical theory and critical pedagogy contribute to the worldview of students and professors, particularly in the departments of social sciences, politics and humanities. Derek Adams, assistant professor in the department of English, said critical analysis played a role in the conversations by student and faculty protesters during the Fall 2015 semester. For example, activists contemplated whether or not white people could genuinely be an ally in the fight against oppression against people of color in a society which favors whites. Russell Rickford, Cornell University professor in the department of History, resolved this conflict of interest by saying white people could not be allies but they could be “comrades”, Adams said.

During the Spring 2015 semester, following former President Tom Rochon’s announcement that he would retire, POC @ IC, the student-faculty alliance against the former president, featured “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, by Brazilian Marxist Paolo Freire, in a list of recommended texts to “continue conversations started and yet to be had.”

The Ithaca College Journal of Race, Culture and Ethnicity," a review of student essays, demonstrates how critical theory has become more than a theory but an operating methodology for students to understand society and themselves. Throughout the Spring 2015 volume, Paolo Freire’s "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" appears in 22 footnotes.

The journal is published by the Center for Race Culture and Ethnicity, founded by Dr. Asma Barlas, professor in the department of politics, in 1991. Barlas includes “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” in her “Race and Colonialism” class. In the journal’s essay “A Letter to my peers”, Sierra Council reflected on the insights gained in Barlas’ class.

“This class has been a reflection of the greater systemic forces that influence our lives— patriarchy, capitalism, hetero-normative, and racism,” Council wrote. “It has plagued our conversations and forced some students to withdraw, including myself at times.”

Today’s college administrators struggle to integrate classes in business and finance with classes in the humanities and social sciences. But how could they when students learn in one class that their other classes support the oppressive capitalist system?

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Beach bunnies & piping plovers: My time as a wildlife conservationist




Creative Nonfiction


IC Chronicle

For the free exchange of ideas

October 2017 issue

Beach bunnies and piping plovers

My time as a wildlife conservationist

By Sarah Stuart-Sikowitz

It is a sweltering day in June and the birds are chirping. I am working at the Rockaway beaches, located at the southeast tip of Brooklyn where the borough meets the Atlantic. To my right are the barrier island’s plant-speckled dunes that roll gracefully until they hit pavement. To my left is the clear water of the Atlantic lapping against the trash-ridden sand. However, I am not here to pick up trash, I am here for what is before me: the nesting site of the critically threatened piping plover.

The piping plover or Charadrius melodus, a small white bird with a silhouette akin to cotton balls on stilts, is federally-listed as threatened and New York state-listed as endangered. With a drastic loss in habitat due to development and increased beach user-ship in the past three decades, the bird’s ability to nest on Brooklyn’s beaches became nearly impossible.

Suburban life in the Rockaways was developed in the mid-1800s, but due to the challenge of hauling people through swamps into the islands, it wasn’t fully operational until 1869 when the first railroad was built.

The original towns and villages were established by poor Irish and Jewish immigrants who were attracted to the cheap and beautiful land. The supermarkets and smoke shops didn’t come until after the first modern railroad was built in 1956, which transported people from Manhattan and upstate New York to the area’s closest beach. This ushered a new era for the Rockaway peninsula.

With easy transportation, the land became known in New York as prime year-round real estate. In rushed the opportunistic developers selling beach side mansions for quadruple what they bought the land for. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers chose these beaches as their new homes, letting schools, rental homes, gas stations, and all-terrain vehicles take over the islands. This was the beginning of the piping plover’s decline.

Their population declined until the Rockaway nesting site was established in 1989 as a protected zone by the National Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. Since then, crews like mine have been installing protective fencing around their nesting zones and monitoring their reproductive behavior in order to facilitate the species' population growth.

During my time with the plovers, I worked underneath Doug Adamo, chief of the natural stewardship division at Gateway National Recreation Area. Adamo has been overseen the plover protection program for over 14 years.

“There was probably a really nice fore dune and secondary dune that was wiped out by development,” explained Adamo. “Now we just have the remnants of that. Luckily, it was 1972 when the park was created and the last of it was preserved from then on.”

Despite their effective function in the broader ecosystem, people rarely see beaches as diverse environments that serve as a home for a plethora of important birds, grasses, and insects that had established themselves long before humans arrived. Fore dunes, the first dunes from the sea, are the areas that plovers and a wide range of animals and vegetation inhabit. The first three rows of dunes are covered in beach grass, cord grass, sand wort, and sea rocket. Their roots lace together loose grains of sand and cement the dunes in place, which are extremely sensitive to human foot trampling. Sand dunes must be stabilized by this vegetation as they provide the first barrier against impacts of storms and floods. This will become increasingly important as ocean levels rise and test our ecological defenses in the next fifty years.


We have worked on the beaches for the past two weeks. As many of the plover couples have laid their eggs and have started to incubate, we are checking to see if any have hatched. Though this landscape is a paradise to many, it has lost its glamour as it is our duty to monitor the hot sands for eight hours a day.

Two fellow National Park Service employees trudge through the sand next to me: one 79-year-old man named Tony with a wispy white ponytail poking out from under his canvas hat, and the other a young man squinting against the blinding light. I am covered in my cotton uniform, skin hidden from the overbearing sun.

My crew of biotechnicians work out of Gateway National Recreation Area, New York City’s most expansive federal park. We spend most of our day looking through binoculars, taking notes and getting to know the plovers. There are many behaviors we look out for. Displaying their feathers at a fellow bird? One is courting the other. Are they collecting shells? This is a common behavior among nesting pairs who decorate their nests to camouflage their eggs. A butt that has recently turned the color black? They’re likely mating and the female may be pregnant.

It takes a trained eye to find the brilliantly camouflaged birds, white and grey speckled little things, unremarkable against the sand and shells. After laying four eggs, plovers spend the majority June sitting on their nests, an activity called incubating. Stress and distraction from nearby beach activity can affect their ability to incubate effectively and can lead to higher egg and chick death. It is essential we know if and when there will be eggs so we can set up symbolic fencing—a protective string fence which illustrates the approximate distance the birds need from human beings without becoming stressed. Once hatched, their chicks are even smaller and significantly harder to spot. As we are only a few weeks into the nesting season and it takes roughly 26 days for them to hatch, I have yet to see one since starting the job.

While we scope out the nest of two mating plovers, Tony is off on another rant about a family walking along the water.

“Those beach bunnies better keep walking,” he grumbled, smacking his lips from dehydration. The man spent most of his days here harping on the locals, complaining of their arrogance and general demeanor. “They don’t care about our plovers, they only want to bring their goddamn dogs on the beach and take over like they own the place.”

Tony has established himself as one of the plover’s most dedicated protectors, clocking in over twenty years of work on the job. He has spent one quarter of his life warding off beach goers threatening to harass the species. This is one of the most important parts of his job, as the plovers’ threatened status has been caused by an array of factors, the highest among them beach recreation.

The Management Plan for the threatened piping plover, a document written in 1989 and followed diligently by the staff at Gateway, describes the three most detrimental impacts to the plover’s reproductive success as habitat loss and degradation, disturbance by humans and domestic animals and predation.

“Human activity and habitat decline go hand-in-hand,” Adamo said. “With the disturbances during the beach season, this is what happens: the birds are already establishing their nests when Memorial Day comes along. All of sudden there are tons of people that weren’t there in the beginning of May around the birds. That’s why all these conservation measures were put into place, we’re trying to help that situation.”

To lessen the human disturbances, the government asks beach users to avoid flying kites and drones, not to bring their dogs, and not to enter into marked bird nesting territory. Plenty of beach space is offered to engage in those activities elsewhere. For those who refuse to abide by the law, jail time and a fine of up to $500 is possible under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Many of my coworkers have called the police on vandals or trespassers in their time working for Gateway.

One nest robbed of its eggs may not seem like the end of a population. However, when dozens of people affect the birds’ ability to procreate—whether that be by harassing them, taking eggs, or simply flying a kite—it exponentially erodes the population with each new generation. In the 2016 mating season there were only 24 nests in the Rockaways, according to the Resource Report on Piping Plover Monitoring, and roughly 59 percent of the eggs were successful. This is only a slim rise from the numbers before 2012 when Hurricane Sandy’s waves created more nesting habitat, but not nearly enough to de-list the species. Another nest destroyed would have further eaten away at their success rate and brought the species closer to endangerment.

Many critiques of the federal government’s protection of endangered species go beyond frustration of lack of beach access. Some go so far as to argue that protecting a species is manipulating natural selection. In fact, having a more genetically diverse ecosystem provides more opportunities for evolution to occur. Patricia Rafferty, chief of resource stewardship at Gateway national recreation area, said anyone who brings up natural selection doesn’t understand the big picture.

“If you take people out of the picture, this species would do just fine,” Rafferty said. “The habitat that they need occurs in a place where there is high human demand and use. You can hardly take a bird that weighs a few grams and expect them to out compete humans.”

Having an act that protects these birds helps maintain a healthy ecosystem rich with genetic diversity. No matter how inconvenient beach closure may be, these small regulations can change the entire environment for the better.

“Within the 4.5 miles of Sandy Hook that have been left natural for the beach nesting birds, including the plover, just within that area, we’ve seen one-half of the state’s [plover] productivity,” Adamo says with a proud smile. “That’s really productive. You can imagine if we had even five more miles of beach somewhere what the productivity level might be.”

That’s why we are hard at work in the Rockaways, monitoring the plovers, educating members the public and sometimes detaining them. Without the National Parks, Fish & Wildlife Service and other federal, state, and local organizations that have taken action in regulating the species’ population, Adamo believes the birds could have seen a grim end.

“The plovers just can’t be productive without minimal disturbances,” he said. “If there were no regulations on them, you’re looking at very small pockets of populations whose productivity would go down so much that within 10-15 years, they might be extinct.”

This is what we think about when we see families on the beach. But today, all is well in bird land. Worst case scenarios are rare. No speeches must be made to educate lawbreakers. The family passes by my team without event, though Tony continues to grumble. The family isn’t here to steal eggs, nor are they looking for trouble. The plover female nestles peacefully over her eggs while the male scavenges for food. With no imminent danger in the near future we decide it’s safe to venture on towards the next set of fenced-off areas.

The next plover site is past a crowd gathered at a beach-side resort. We are a stark contrast with the half-naked visitors burning their tanned skin in the hot sun. We dodge children tossing baseballs and drunk fathers with enormous beer bellies. All are grumbling like Tony now who is flushed both with jealousy and frustration at their hedonism. One part of me wants to strip off my sticky cotton AmeriCorps shirt and jump in the water like the rest of them.

Far past the drunken sunbathers and giddy children, we arrive at the final fenced-in nesting site. Within the string fencing there are two plovers zooming one way or another, down to the water to feed and into the grass to cool off. Their newfound energy is palpable and we can’t help but smile. Tony pulls his binoculars to his eyes and watches them calmly, his mood lightened by the birds and our distance from the resort.

I look through my binoculars and find the birds. Their soft, rounded bodies have not ceased to send me into a fit of squeals. The species do less walking than bobbing, hopping here and there erratically and peeping quietly for one reason or another. I scan their land for the movement of other plovers but see little more than discarded bottles, cardboard, and tampon applicators. They do not mind the trash, they have never known a world without it.

Throughout my time working with the plovers, I debated with myself why humans aren’t more sensitive to their effects on the natural environment. Ultimately, the answer seems disturbingly clear: they might not know, or they might not care. People will continue to smash or take eggs, trample through dunes and erode precious root systems, party and leave trash behind them. They can’t be bothered to stop until they recognize the aggregate impact of thousands of people each year who do the same.

In an ecosystem, small actions are like a drop of water in a still lake: they will cause ripples that continue to grow long after the drop has dissipated. From my time with the plovers and my own research of sensitive ecosystems I have learned only the bare minimum of how each of my sandy footprints affects the wider environment. I may never know exactly how much I contribute to the rise of CO2 emissions each time I flick a light switch on. I certainly can’t measure the amount of methane that has been released in order to bring me the red meat I’ve consumed in my lifetime.

However, my awareness of these facts has lead me down an analytical road that has brought on the urge to lessen these impacts and veer my actions in a greener direction. Dozens of times per day we are presented the choice to be more sustainable, and dozens of times per day we make the wrong choice. But these choices became instinctual only when I realized this Earth is not mine but is equally shared by all species and their children.

“Look,” my coworker says, “Do you see?”

I look without the aid of binoculars to center my vision to find which of the dozens of littered bottles he is referring to, then I look through the specs to see it. At first, I only see a red Budweiser bottle, dented lightly, but there is nothing special about it. Pressed by my peer’s urgency I continue to look, and after some time a tiny bobbing head peeks over the Budweiser can’s edge. The sheer feathers on the head are puffier than those of the adults I’d seen, and I suddenly realize what is behind the beer can. We stand there for some time, waiting for the bird to reveal itself. Finally, the anonymous animal I’ve spent weeks working to protect emerges. A baby plover, the smallest creature I have ever seen. In that moment, the choice became easy.

From Medieval classics to climate activism




Creative Nonfiction


IC Chronicle

For the free exchange of ideas

October 2017 issue

From Medieval classics to climate change

Keeping up with former English professor Michael Twomey

Michael Twomey retired from the departments of classical studies and English at the end of the Spring 2017 semester. During his 37-year career at Ithaca College, he taught courses like Literature of the Bible and Medieval Literature.

Twomey’s teaching career concluded at the end of the Spring 2017 semester when he left to pursue a new life as a climate lobbyist with the Citizens Climate Lobby. Ashley Stalnecker, layout and design editor, spoke with Twomey about his training as a climate lobbyist and activism in the age of Trump.

How long have you been involved in activism?

Michael Twomey: Since last fall. I joined the Citizens’ Climate Lobby maybe a year before that… I was just a member and didn’t really do anything but last fall I actually got active. So, that’s the one organization I’m involved in.

“Our consistently respectful, non-partisan approach to climate education is designed to create a broad, sustainable foundation for climate action across all geographic regions and political inclinations.” - Citizen’s Climate Lobby

Were you involved in activism before the Trump administration?

MT: I wouldn’t say wasn’t involved. I was definitely paying attention and I was studying climate change and I was writing about climate change in my scholarship but I wasn’t actually politically active until the election.

Once the election started heating up and once Trump was elected especially, I got seriously involved in the Citizens’ Climate Lobby because of his appointment of Scott Pruit as director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and because of the things [Trump] was saying; his denial of Climate Change.

Share some of your experiences training as a lobbyist

MT: I’m sort of in the pre-lobbyist path, doing the phone calling, the town meetings, writing letters to the editor and presentations to public groups. That’s still a long way from being an actual lobbyist but that does mean that I’m supporting the organization and working toward sensible climate practices through it.

It’s a process. Not everyone is asked to be a lobbyist. We’ll see whether that happens or not but I also realize there’s a special set of personal skills that those people have. They have to be extremely knowledgeable for one thing. I don’t think that’s a problem for me, but there’s also this ability to talk to strangers and really get them to understand you and that’s a really rare gift. We’ll see if I have that or not.

How has the scene for activism changed since Trump was elected?

What I’ve noticed, and what I’ve been reading about, is that many many more people, private individuals who previously were not politically active have become politically active in all kinds of organizations.

People are, to a certain extent, stepping up either by just giving contributions to organizations like Sierra Club or with actual political actions ranging from protesting in the streets to working behind the scenes which is pretty much what I do in the Citizens Climate lobby.

You probably saw the Women’s March the day after the Inauguration. That’s a pretty good indication of people’s involvement... I’ve just seen lots more of that since the election than I did before.

Why do you involve yourself with activism and what does it mean to you?

I thought about this pretty hard. Especially after the election I realized there were so many things that needed attention but I also realized that I couldn’t possibly get involved in all of them so I made a decision to just focus my attention on one issue and to join an organization that is actually making progress on that issue.

For example, health insurance, social security, Medicare, immigration, women’s issues and then climate—all of these things are important to me but I had experience in the environment so I decided that’s where I had the most knowledge and that’s where I could actually make a difference.

I joined the Citizens’ Climate Lobby because...I wanted to focus on that one issue but...because I think it’s a really really good model of political activism should do.

“I realized there were so many things that needed attention but I also realized that I couldn’t possibly get involved in all of them so I made a decision to just focus my attention on one issue.” - Michael Twomey

MT: When you think of lobbying, you imagine these shady characters with briefcases full of cash lurking around…Congress, bribing congressmen but we don’t pay money. We lobby in the sense that we do talk with congressmen. And one issue we talk about is climate change. And one issue that we have is what we call a carbon fee and dividend.

This proposal is that the government would charge a fee on oil companies that produce carbon: For example, extraction, which would be through mining or drilling; importing, so that when you import goods that have been manufactured in such a way to release carbon into the atmosphere; and manufacturing itself. So, that just about covers all the ways that carbon is released into the atmosphere.

CO2 of the major greenhouses gases, the other being methane. What the carbon fee does is it collects money from all of these producers of extractors or importers but it’s different from a tax in that the purpose of a tax is to raise money for the government. We’re not doing that. What we’re doing is collecting a fee which then would be returned to taxpayers and that’s the dividend part. So, we don’t raise money for the government; the net cost of governing doesn’t increase because we’re using the IRS and so it’s economically efficient.

The bottom line for this is that this idea has been gaining traction among Republicans. The second part of our activism is that we talk with congresspeople and we try to get them to join an organization in the House that’s called the Climate Solutions Caucus….It was formed by two, a Republican and a Democrat...but we do a lot to promote it. The rule about that is if you’re a congressperson and you want to belong to this caucus then you have to get a member of the other party to join with you so there’s always an equal number of Republicans and Democrats in the Caucus.

“The Caucus will serve as an organization to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply and public safety,” according to documents filed with the Committee on House Administration.

Right now there are 52 people in this Caucus altogether which is double the amount at the beginning of the year. So, membership of this Caucus is growing and includes our local Congressman, Tom Reed, for the twenty-third district which is where Ithaca is. What’s notable about that is he was one of the first Republicans to come out in favor of Donald Trump. And yeah, there is that he’s a conservative Republican who’s opposed to raising taxes and he has done a lot that indicates that he might be a climate change denier but, on the other hand, he’s in favor of a healthy environment and he’s in favor of creating jobs. By promoting the carbon fee in dividends, what we’re doing is indirectly promoting the growth of renewables and that’s something Tom Reed is actually in favor of because it means more jobs for people in New York State.

In a nutshell, that is what we do. We have people who lobby in Congress by going to talk with congresspeople but the local chapters like ours do a lot behind the scenes in terms of phone calling congress people. We go to town meetings. We write letters to congresspeople and we do all that we can to bring new members in, educate people about climate change.

What was your best and worst experiences with activism on your own and with the organization?  

MT: There is one thing that I think is a really great indication of what we’re capable of. In July, a bill came before Congress for military appropriations. This bill specifically called for cutting military research on climate change. The bill that was supposed to be rushed through Congress.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby has a special group within it called the Climate and Security Action team. Within half an hour, this Climate and Security Action team mobilized, calling Congress people and helped to drum up enough votes. I shouldn’t say they did it all by themselves because there were already a number of Republicans and Democrats that wanted to vote this thing down. They wanted to restore the Climate Study funding to the bill.

So enough people voted against the bill that it had to be revised and passed with the funding intact for climate study. I think that’s a really good example of what this organization can do. So, that means the money for climate study was kept in the military appropriations bill...The army wanted this, by the way. They want climate study because they’re really really aware of what climate change can mean from a military point of view.

When you join the organization, you start at the bottom. This means that you’re taught about how to write letters to congresspeople, how to call them, what to say, what not to say. It’s really a training experience that you get. I have been working with a biologist and the two of us have given presentations, one at Cornell and one at Ithaca College. In the Cornell presentation, essentially, I didn’t say anything because it was my first presentation so I just watched and observed. At the presentation at Ithaca College, I did actually speak for about 10 minutes and then I turned it over to the biologist. So, I’m being given more and more responsibility in terms of the public.

For me, I can see that I’ve learned some things about how to talk to people and I’m working on getting to the point where I can make a presentation by myself. So that means I don’t have any great accomplishments to point to at this point because this is a very disciplined organization in which they just don’t let you out in front of the public unless you’re a known commodity and you can be relied on to do the job properly. I’m a college professor. I’ve been talking to students for a long time, and even so, I still have to start at the bottom and that’s one of the things I just really like about this organization. They’re not just taking chances by letting people run wild in public and ruin the reputation of the organization.

In terms of accomplishments, what have I done? I’ve called Tom Reed’s office and I’ve talked with his staffers a couple of times and that’s gone very well. I got a letter to the editor published in the Ithaca Journal. These are pretty small accomplishments but they mean something to me.

One of the things we do at the monthly meetings is what we call motivational interviewing. The idea behind this is to practice talking with non-members but specifically people who are either ignorant to climate change or in complete denial about it. And it’s a really interesting exercise and it’s incredibly frustrating because I have spent most of my time talking to people who agree with me. If I talk to fellow professors or even members of my family, because my family is all Democratic and liberal, everyone I talk to essentially understands climate change and agrees that we have to do something about it and is trying to do something. When you actually try to talk to somebody who is opposed to renewable, who is in favor of mining coal, what do you say to them? And so, those exercises have been the most frustrating because suddenly i’ll find myself completely unable to function.

The way that we do this is somebody pretends to be a climate change denier so you have to try talking to this person. This person is hitting you with all the usual talking points of climate change denial. And, you know, I thought, it’s really really hard to break through that and it’s frustrating for me.

What is your prediction for the next four years and the general future of American politics?

MT: I voted for Hillary Clinton and when I went to bed on election night, I was positive that the following morning we would have the first female president and I was totally wrong about that so don’t ask me for predictions. I don’t feel like I can make predictions right now.

I’m concerned. I think that it’s important for ordinary people to step up and do what they can because what I’m seeing is that the government is in a state of disarray. And although there are many people of good will who want to do the right thing, there are many people who don’t care in the government, people who don’t care to do the right thing. They have their agenda, and so i can’t predict what’s gonna happen. I just hope that more people step up and more people turn this around.

What is your goal in your activism?

MT: The ultimate goal is to get this carbon fee and dividend passed as a law. That would be great. That’s my personal goal, that’s the organization’s goal, so that’s what I would really like to do.

Then, we’ll see what happens after that but that’s the immediate goal. That’s why I really like the organization because it has a very specific and focused goal and it has very practical ways to achieve that goal and we’re working in the right direction. It seems like it’s happening. It’s all positive so far.

How did you get involved in environmentalism and lobbying and why?

MT: It starts with one of my kids. I have two daughters. The second one has always been an environmentalist, at least in terms of her interests… She went to school to be a landscape architect so she and I used to talk about the environment and she got interested in what is called sustainable landscape design.

The idea is that when you design a landscape, let’s say it’s a park, then it has to be sustainable which means that you have to develop ways for it to collect water by itself thus using more water. Or you use sustainable materials; if you’re building park benches or playgrounds, sustainably harvested materials.

I started to get really interested in that just by talking with her because she was learning all kinds of interesting ways to use renewables and to save water... From there I discovered a movement in literary criticism called “ecocriticism” which studies human responses to the environment. I started to write about that.

“In such areas as the study of narrative and image, ecocriticism converges with its sister disciplines in the humanities: environmental anthropology, environmental history, and environmental philosophy.” - Literature and Environment, Harvard University

From there it was only a short step to finding out about the Citizens Climate Lobby. It was actually a colleague of mine, Nancy Jacobson, in the biology department who actually I met at a climate change workshop and she started talking to me about the Citizens Climate Lobby and she urged me to join. She brought me into it.

Can you share any more experiences with activism?

MT: This summer I spent a fair amount of time in Germany. One of the things that I wanted to look at is I wanted to see what Germany is doing for sustainability and I was really blown away… First of all, the transportation is really really good. You can go just about anywhere on a train, or if not on a train, then on a bus so most people who live in cities don’t really need cars but Germany does have cars because they are just as much a car culture as the U.S. is…. But, their cars are much more efficient. Very few people drive SUVs. Gasoline is very expensive because it’s taxed so heavily. All of that is good for the environment and we could learn from that.

Another thing is that when you drive through the countryside or take the train through the countryside, you see windmills producing electricity all over the place. It seems as if they have a lot fewer objections to the sight of windmills in the landscape. It’s just amazing that wherever you go there they are.

And the other thing is I saw many more solar farms than we have in this country—really big solar farms and people with solar panels on their roofs. So they’re doing a lot to cut down on their solar emissions… It’s a very densely populated country but the air is extremely clean and the streams are very clean. Countries like Denmark are shooting to be They do a lot more for environmental protection than we do in this country.

100 percent sustainable by the middle of the century and they’re getting really close. And Chile. The amount of sustainable energy produced in Chile is skyrocketing. They’re going to be 100 percent renewable within a couple of years at the rate they’re going. So, what I found really discouraging is how kind of willfully ignorant so many Americans are about change and about the possibilities that sustainability offer for us.

An (In)convenient college

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An (in)conveniant college

Ithaca College, once a trailblazer in environmentalism enterprise, has let sustainable practices fallen by the wayside after funding became tighter. Newly appointed President Shirley Collado says she's open to reinstating Ithaca's high ranking.

By Arianna Ashby, Rebecca Eulberg, Justin Henry, Dan Santoro and Joe Sprung

The industrial revolution introduced mankind to a troubling split between humanistic practice and entrepreneurial ambition, a divide which Ithaca College pledged to bridge in 2006, when talks began of a new building for the school of business.

“By acknowledging the importance of building a sustainable world, Ithaca College has made an ethical and moral decision to not only make a positive difference but also to teach our students the important link between sustainability and responsible citizenship,” read the institutional plan for sustainability.

Since that time of optimism, the college has undergone financial and personal turmoil relegating sustainability to a second thought. Can a college fulfill its altruistic duties of educating thinkers of tomorrow while operating on the existential threat posed by global warming?

A pioneer in sustainability

The average institution of higher learning expels 52,434 metric tons of greenhouse gasses on a yearly basis, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Altogether, colleges and universities produce 121 million metric tons of CO2, which amounts to a quarter of California’s total output.

The three scopes institutions use to gauge its consumption of greenhouse gases (GHG) are:

  • Direct combustion—for heating buildings
  • Indirect combustion from consumption—from purchased electricity
  • Indirect combustion not from consumption—from transportation

Transportation is the most difficult source to monitor since it relies on feedback from yearly surveys which have low response rates, according to the 2013 Climate Action Plan progress report. For this coming semester, the Office of Energy Management and Sustainability now documents this in a required survey prior to purchasing a parking pass. For instance, if a student drives five miles to and from campus every week day, they emit about half a metric ton of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Ithaca College has a proud heritage of blazing trails in environmental sustainability which explains why its net carbon output is lower than the national average. The college is also a signatory on American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), committing the college to carbon neutrality by 2050, after former President Peggy Ryan Williams signed it in 2007.

To achieve this ambitious goal, the college built three structures to cohabitate with the surrounding environment and meet the criteria for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). This placed the college in a category shared only by Yale University as earning the platinum status for an academic building, the Park School of Business and Sustainable Enterprise, in 2010. It was followed later that year by the Peggy Ryan Williams (PRW) Center, which also earned platinum status.

The PRW Center was awarded LEED status for the way its architecture is integrated with the earth’s natural functions. The building casts a massive shadow across the campus’s north-side garden where cool air is fed directly into the lobby. The PRW Center’s roof is 6,500 square feet of vegetation to replace oxygen in the air removed when the ground was cleared for the building’s construction.

Ithaca College partakes in reducing carbon emissions in two key ways. The first is through carbon sequestration, the process where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration happens naturally when trees convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis. The college’s natural lands, 600 acres of forested area, are owned by IC and are estimated by the Sustainability Tracking and Assessment and Rating System (STARS) to remove approximately 680 metric tons of CO2, which is 2.06 percent of CO2 emissions in 2012, from the atmosphere annually.

The majority of Ithaca College’s energy still comes from the grid, however. Grid energy is a mix of energy originating from different sources including helpful practices and harmful ones, with different percent shares producing grid electricity in Tompkins County. Tompkins County’s electricity comes from diverse group of sources, mostly outside the local area—nuclear, renewable, natural gas, coal and oil. None of the electricity, however, comes from the coal-fired plant on Cayuga Lake. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency suggests that only 32 percent of Tompkins County Energy comes from greenhouse gas emitting sources.

Ithaca College itself has more than 85 buildings on campus that rely on natural gas as a primary source of energy. In the 2010-2011 academic year, IC’s natural gas use was 168,470 British Thermal Units (MMBTU). IC also is a consumer of electricity and other energy sources. Data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that during the 2015-16 fiscal year, the college purchased 111,562.07 MMBTU of electricity. Currently, the price of electricity in New York is 19.4 cents per kilowatt hours (kWh).

This means that IC spent over 689,642 dollars on electricity during this time frame.

Falling back

In 2009, a year after the construction of two buildings that would go on to win LEED platinum status, Ithaca College was ranked 47th in the Sierra Club’s top 200 “coolest schools”. However, the college has not since been included on the Sierra Club’s. IC’s regional competitors, Wells College, SUNY Geneso, SUNY Cortland, Williams College and Wartburg College all made the 2016 ranking.

David Turkon, professor in the department of anthropology, recalled the end of Williams’ presidency, shortly after she signed the ACUPCC, when environmental sustainability was at the heart of Ithaca College’s ideals. Lamenting a lost soul of the college in the wake of constraining budgetary practices, Turkon described IC’s former environmental efforts as an attractive quality to donors and prospective students.

“This used to be a quiet, little niche school that focused on environmental sustainability and that was why people wanted to contribute to it,” Turkon said.

How did Ithaca College recede from the front-lines of sustainability?

Trading cheap fossil fuels for renewable forms of energy is an expensive project and involves a multi-year gradual transition with talented personnel and strategic finances. During a time when the college saw waning numbers of student enrollment and inexpensive natural gas, using fossil fuels became a cost-cutting initiative.

Higher education’s financial structure is cyclical: student tuition is invested for profitable degrees and someday, the college’s division institutional advancement hopes, alumni donations. This establishes a precedent of some academic departments on campus being pioneers of sustainable practice — the business and communication schools, for instance, named for the college’s top donor — and others to fall by the wayside.

There is no wonder why the college was able to invest in sustainable architecture with a chic modern design for three of its buildings; the money must come from either an outside source or yield a return on the initial investment. The A&E center provided a talking point for the college to recruit prospective students, the PRW center was funded with 280,000 dollars from the New York Stage Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the business school was a combination of the two, supported by a wealthy alumni network to fund the most profitable degrees in the college, thereby fostering more future donating alumni.

The 2013 CAP progress report showed a significant increase in both electricity (seven percent increase) and natural gas consumption (eight percent increase) from the previous year. The report attributes to the opening of the new Athletics and Events Center in Fall 2011, which increased total campus square footage by eight percent.

While the A&E center does much to mitigate its consumption of fossil fuels, it remains the college’s primary gas guzzler, accounting for substantial increases in natural gas and electricity use during the 2012-13 academic year. It also demands much of the college’s maintenance funding and attention. This demonstrates the inherent conflict of sustainable enterprise in an age of financial constraints: the A&E center, while adding a financial and environmental burden, is a big selling point for the college.

The college’s most recent Climate Action Plan progress report marked total CO2 emissions at 31,549 metric tons, down from a high point of 38,234. Although total emissions had been steadily decreasing, the college did not publish any more progress reports after 2013.

“The wide variability in some categories from year to year is troubling, and may speak to the need to ensure that the same data collection protocols and interpretations are being used,” the report read.

These reports were published by the division of energy management and sustainability in the office of the facilities, which has suffered scattered human resources appointment since the college’s sustainability high point in the mid 2000s.

Marian Brown formerly served as the special assistant to the provost for sustainability. She left IC in 2014 after her position had been relegated from one with direct interaction with administrators to facilities where she had less influence. According to the Wells College website, her new position allows her desired scope of influence. After 2 years of Brown’s work, Wells College was included in the Sierra Club’s list of “cool schools”.

During her three decades at Ithaca College, Brown developed campus wide sustainability initiatives which included developing environmental-themed research initiatives for students and faculty. Her position, as well as that of Mark Darling who retired as sustainability coordinator in 2016, did not find replacements until the end of the 2016-17 academic year when Becca Evans was hired.

Alternative options

The Finger Lakes region of New York State offers many other alternative energy sources that could expand the college’s sustainable practice. One strong possibility is through wind power and one opportunity for this is located about 12 miles away from IC campus, at Black Oak Wind Farm. While it is currently in Public Comment Period of Environmental Impact Statement, if it were to become operational it would need an energy purchaser. Ithaca College provides a likely candidate since the farm will have seven GE 2.3-107 wind turbines capable of producing 16.1 megawatts of energy.

These could include things like geothermal heating and technology implementations in buildings which would help counter heating and cooling issues. Other options are outlined in a study prepared for Ithaca College to improve sustainability by Dr. Christopher W. Sinton, and would include waste wood, which comes from various sources including timber harvest, forest management residue or sawood waste, or biogas, a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide that is produced by anaerobic digestion of organic wastes.

If implemented strategically, environmental and financial sustainability can go hand in hand. For as long as Ithaca College relies on fossil fuels for its operations, it is in the grasp of the capricious tides of an inelastic marker. As public opinion shifts toward environmental awareness, student income and alumni donations respond positively toward sustainable enterprises.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center poll, Americans aged 18-29 are more likely than older Americans to see climate change as an imminent threat. With many small independent college receiving the bulk of their funds from tuition and fees, initiatives to reduce the effects of climate change can prove to be a marketable quality for college’s image.

Divestment: where idealism meets reality

The greatest barrier to reversing the effects of global warming is a profound case of volunteer-bias among institutions. Although climate change is a global issue, change can only come about if institutions collectively take action, however, the small impact any one institution will make discourages the first step.

In mid August of 2016, 747 organizations of all types and sizes pledged to divest from fossil fuel corporations with Go Fossil Free, a nonprofit consultant that advises groups compel the administrative officials of their organizations to divest. Among the signatories are Syracuse University and the city of Ithaca.

Divestment is the opposite of investment: withdrawing from assets that fund ethically questionable ventures. In philosophical terms, however, investment and divestment is all about values. Their aim is to change widespread public consciousness about fossil fuel companies in the same way that the public has turned against tobacco companies. Companies can only operate in a favorable legal and political framework, according to the Go Fossil Free website.

Go Fossil Free has some big aims for itself, that is, to wean mankind off of the resilient quasi-monopolized market of fossil fuel, an immediate withdrawal which would be worse than that of tobacco. The unilateral divestment of any tuition-dependent college would be more challenging for the college than Exxon Mobile.

At independent, tuition driven colleges, diversified endowments have braced institutions from financial ruin. When the college’s endowment lost one-third of its asset-value in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, the budget narrative for the 2009 fiscal year attributed the college’s ability to keep its head afloat to a diversified source of funding. In the years since, the college has restored this one-third and even surpassed it but, unfortunately, not without the profits of fossil fuel corporations.

Balancing environmental sustainability and financial sustainability is a difficult task, since environmentally unsustainable practices tend to be cheap and reliable means for income. The college needs a clever exit strategy.

“I wouldn’t expect students to fix that issue, of course. Getting students who express an interest in that, that’s what I’m expecting,” Evans said. “If a student is thinking about starting a divestment from fossil fuels, coming to us and saying ‘hey, can we get XYZ data of how much we are invested in oil?’ and ‘what is possible?’ Yes, I can help do that. But real change will come from the students and the resources of the director and provost.”

The total market value of the endowment portfolio for the 2016 fiscal year stated in the annual endowment report is equivalent to academic year, is 269.5 million dollars. This number is dwarfed by Cornell University’s endowment of 5.758 billion dollars, according to their 2016 fiscal year report. This endowment plan is the reason Cornell, along with all Ivy-league colleges, are so financially strong. They are not nearly as dependent upon income from enrollment like smaller institutions such as Ithaca College and other independent colleges and can afford economic transitions.

This is a campaign colleges across the nation have already begun. According to an NPR article, Syracuse University sets the record with the largest endowment divesting from all fossil fuels with an endowment of 1.2 billion.

Syracuse University’s plan to divest is simple. First, they plan on pulling all direct investment in fossil fuels while finding other places, such as investments for companies focused on renewable energy, for that money to be reinvested. These are companies that are determined by the university’s investment managers as to whether they are reliable enough to invest in. This ensures that money is not lost. After divesting from direct fossil fuel corporations, they plan on reducing fossil fuel exposure through the university’s index funds or other co-mingled assets.

This is the basic plan that other universities and colleges have been following for divestment since it allows money to be drawn away from unsustainable practices without any loss of profit. Ithaca College would have to follow a similar trend of careful divestment and strategic investment.

Of Ithaca College’s endowment portfolio, 2.1 percent is invested in fossil fuel based companies, according to Janet Williams, vice president of business and finance. Williams explained that the low exposure of half a million dollars invested in fossil fuels limits the negative of possible divestment. However, the drawbacks to divestment she said include changing a diversified investment portfolio and policy constructed to support the college’s academic endeavors for the long term.  

“Many of those endeavors include reducing the carbon impact of the college and academic research related to dealing with climate change,” Williams said in an email.

Williams said the college has been taking into account the community and its concerns, proactively looking for sustainable investment options. For example, the Park Sustainable Endowment Fund was established in 2015 and invests in companies that are either fossil free or actively seeking environmental solutions.

“We believe continuing to be able to support the college’s efforts has a more direct impact than small divestments from large public energy companies,” Williams said.  

Becca Evans was hired as the sustainability coordinator during the Spring 2017 semester with starting an official college-wide sustainability committee as her first goal. The committee would be responsible for working on sustainability literacy testing for incoming freshman and graduating seniors in order to gauge what students learned during their time at IC.

Tight funds are not so much a concern for Evans, she said in a Q & A with IC Chronicle. Working with very little resources, she said, is a stimulating challenge.

“I know people are frustrated with how things died over the past several years, and I’d like to step away from what went wrong in the past and focus on what we can do for the future,” Evans said.

Meet IC’s new sustainability coordinator

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Meet IC's new sustainability manager

Q and A with Becca Evans

In 2007, then-President Peggy Ryan Williams signed the American College and University President's Climate Commitment. This tasked the college with attaining complete carbon neutrality by 2050. After it was signed, the administration began developing the Climate Action Plan, which was signed by the 2009 Board of Trustees. This plan had the college pledging to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

In the years since, sustainability efforts have been cast aside at time of financial turmoil for Ithaca College. As the college’s commitment to the long term goal continues, the sustainability department has slowly got its footing back. The position of Sustainability Coordinator was reopened this year and was promptly filled by Becca Evans on April 3, 2017. To welcome her to the college and introduce her to its students, Sarah Stuart-Sikowitz sat down with Becca and talked about the future of the college’s sustainability program.

Can you tell me your academic and professional history before coming to IC?

BE: I grew up in the suburbs of the DC/Metro area. I went to Lynchburg College for my undergrad. I had just turned 17 when I was a Freshman in college, and went in thinking I was going to major in graphic design, and I got there and realized I could do a lot more than graphic design.

I get the question a lot, you know, ‘why do you care?’ or, ‘what go you started?’ I’ve thrown around a lot of answers to that and the best answer is nothing, really. I’ve always really cared about [sustainability] and realized it could be a career. So, I switched to environmental science halfway through my Freshman year and moved into the “eco-house” on campus. The house was a group of environmental students all living together and trying to keep our footprint super low. Most of us were vegetarian, we didn’t have heat or air conditioning, we hand washed our clothes and line dried our clothes, you know, as much as we could do as undergrad students.

At Lynchburg I started a greenhouse project, completely gutted and renovated the already existing greenhouse. It was in really bad shape. We ended up having to put plastic wrap on a lot of the panes because it was such an old space. We started planting herbs and vegetables and ended up being able to supply a third of the herb use for our campus, I know we went to a really small school, but still, it was exciting. Since then they even brought chickens onto the campus and it’s continued to grow.

I then took a number of years off of school after I graduated and managed an emergency animal clinic for a while. That was really fun and really exhausting--18 hour overnight shifts got really old really fast after a handful of years.

Then I went back to school. I went to UVA [University of Virginia] for a semester and ended up transferring to VCU [Virginia Commonwealth University] where I got my master’s degree. I focused primarily on environmental ethics and policy. Ethics is where my heart is, I’m actually reading my old textbook right now [laughing]. My first year in grad school, I started working at SRVA as an intern and then was hired during my second year and continued to work there after graduation. I volunteered at Equality Virginia during my time at VCU, which is a (LGBTQ+) human rights campaign at the state level. I’m here!

You said that nothing really drove you to environmentalist in college, so what is driving you to pursue environmental stewardship now?

BE: I think there’s so much misinformation out there, and getting you guys and your kids involved in this movement is really going to help make all the difference. All that we can do is prepare you guys for actually tackling real-world problems. You guys are going to be the ones that have the solutions. We’ve made it about as far as we can, and it’s going to be the 20-somethings that will come up with the solutions. So that’s what keeps me here--getting students to figure out real world problems with real world solutions and get what we have off the ground. But certainly, the situation isn’t getting any better so that definitely keeps me around.

Why did you choose Ithaca?

BE: When I was an undergrad, we were all saying, ‘oh my gosh, did you hear about that school up north that’s doing all those green initiatives?’ There was a history at IC for being a sustainable university. The history of IC is really what brought me here. And the fact that there has been a lapse of success is what really drew me here even more. I really like working with very little resources, whether that is funding or otherwise. I find I thrive in those conditions, so it’s a challenge. I see it as a challenge. I’ve wanted to get into higher education for a while and got my feet wet with SRVA. I hadn’t gotten to work directly with a college, but I worked with a lot of college students. I really liked the Northeast, and I was really looking forward to getting out of 100 degree summer heat with 90% humidity [laughing].

What is your plan for the future going to look like?

BE: My priority right now is getting a sustainability committee off the ground, and for that I’m working from scratch. I know that we have some rep communities that have been in place in the past, but I’d like to see us restructure to make sure we have a good team working and that we all have the same goals. I know people are frustrated with how things died over the past several years, and I’d like to step away from what went wrong in the past and focus on what we can do for the future. I know it kind of seems like the office died, but we still have a pulse and an interest. The sustainability committee is definitely my first priority because that’ll help push our agenda.

After that, I’d say my next priority is sustainability literacy testing. That would entail having a number of questions that incoming freshman can answer, just to give us a baseline of knowledge of what they know. Then they’ll answer the same questions when they graduate. It would be required testing similar to Alcohol EDU. That way we can see where the holes are. So if we find out that students don’t know about one aspect of sustainability that we’d like you to know, then that’s the problem in our curriculum and we can hyperfocus on that.

There are a number of smaller projects I’ve been working on. I’d really like to get a fund going for carbon offsets. When we report our CO2 emissions, the biggest problem we have are our scope-3 emissions. So basically carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere through travel. Students driving to and from campus, faculty either driving an hour each way every day. One, that’s really hard to control. Obviously we can’t send the TCAT out an hour and have it pick everyone up and bring them back, and we’re really restricted with the TCAT on campus as well. So one thing I’d like to see is a totally optional donation portal for carbon offsets. When you buy your parking pass, what I’d like to see is a little survey that says: ‘how many miles do you drive to and from campus, to campus activities, etc,’ and then if we can somehow have some sort of equation that quantifies how much CO2 you’re emitting every year just from driving to and from campus, and to show that ‘this is how much it costs to offset your emissions, do you want to donate this much money?’ Again, totally optional. I think people would end up taking part in it. Of course, you can donate as much as you want. If you don’t want to donate the $8 or whatever it is to offset your emissions, donate 50 cents. Fine, 50 cents adds up really fast.

Finally, communication is the biggest problem we have on this campus when it comes to--not even just sustainability. There isn’t a good way to get the word out about anything. The Intercom has its limitations, it certainly is useful in some ways, but to get the word out on campus in terms of’s not working. I’ve found that a lot of frustration with our office and with other departments is, ‘there’s nothing happening with sustainability here.’ Well actually, a lot of things are happening, we just don’t know how to tell everyone about it. So we’re working to put together a website. We want to make that a sustainability hub for students and faculty and staff, on campus, off campus, people out of state, whatever. That includes student research and faculty research and having an archive for projects that have happened in the past and what succeeded and what didn’t.

What does your position mean to you?

BE: I’d really like to be a resource for students. I want students to feel comfortable coming to me and saying, ‘hey, I have this really cool project I’d like to work on and it doesn’t fit with any of my classes, is there something you can do to help me?’ Absolutely, I am here to help you. Whether that is trying to track down someone else who has a better idea of how to help you, or if it’s trying to help you find funding, or if it’s something that might help this campus specifically, certainly we want to see if that’s possible. I’d also really like to connect faculty. It seems like there is a number of faculty members working on similar projects that could easily tie in with one another but they just don’t know about each other. Obviously, I’d like to get the community involved. I am working with Cornell on a getting a sustainability competition program going. That’s currently being planned. At the very least, I’d like to have people hearing about what’s going on at Ithaca and saying, ‘I can do that at home, that doesn’t sound so hard.’ Getting people to think about these ideas and think about what it means to be sustainable or eco-friendly.

So would you say your position is mostly being a resource for students? Do you have a part in making bigger changes on campus?

BE: Yes and no. I think the students are going to be what makes change, and I am here to help facilitate that change. I have many projects I’m working on alone, but it’s taking a lot of help from students to get those going. The sustainability committee, I know there have been whispers about it on campus, it’s been through SGC. So now it’s my job to say, okay, this is what students want, let me pick it up and let me see where I can go with it. But I want students to get involved, and not to rely on this office to get things done. Of course, the end goal is for this campus to be sustainable, and we’re going to get there one way or another.

So what about things that students can’t get involved with such as the school’s investments in oil?

BE: I wouldn’t expect students to fix that issue, of course. Getting students who express an interest in that, that’s what I'm expecting. We’ve got things working here, but funding is always a limitation, and I don’t expect a student to look through the budget of any office or department. If a student is thinking about starting a divestment from fossil fuels, coming to us and saying ‘hey, can we get XYZ data of how much we are invested in oil?’ and ‘what is possible?’ Yes, I can help do that. But real change will come from the students and the resources of the Director and Provost. I don’t know if it’s my job to make big energy decisions.

What is your coolest or most peaceful moment in nature?

BE: When I was a senior in undergrad, for spring break I went camping in the panhandle of Florida. It was not peaceful. [laughing]. We were expecting a beachfront campsite, hardly anyone around...definitely not the case. There were like, electrical outlets at every campsite which were 10 feet apart. But we ended up having a really good time. I saw my first live alligator. First time flooding a campsite, there was like 6 inches of water in my tent. Learned the hard way not to set up your tent at the bottom of an incline. Plus I spent a lot of time kayaking.

What is your favorite recreational activity?

BE: Kayaking. I haven’t gotten the chance to go since I got to Ithaca. That’s been a bummer, because of the weather. When I lived in Richmond I used to go all the time. You will more than likely see me out on the water either sleeping in my kayak or having a beer taking a lot of pictures. So kayaking is where I feel the most peaceful in nature. My partner is an avid rock climber and tries to drag me out more often than not. We even have a climbing wall in our basement. But kayaking is my favorite.

Members of the Ithaca College community can contact Becca Evans at:
(607) 274-3763

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