Enviroslug to Lose Organizing Space of 15 Years

Students push to stay in place that feels like home

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Enviroslug program manager Carmen Gutierrez meets with Enviroslug members Wednesday afternoon. About 30 people use this office and must relocate after June 29.  Photo by Laretta Johnson

Enviroslug has only known one home — an office in the Rachel Carson College (RCC) Commons. 

ENVIROSLUG is a three-part organization — it houses the Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP), Student Environmental Council (SEC) and Campus Sustainability Council (CSC). ESLP is a student-run course offered every spring, SEC carries out on-campus sustainability projects and CSC awards on-campus groups about $250,000 in grants each year.

The student-run environmental organization secured the room in 2004 with the help of then-provost Andrew Szasz. Since then, it’s provided a space for them to coordinate sustainability projects, fund organizations and plan classes. 

But now, student life administrators won’t renew the student environmental organization’s lease, a move fourth-year and Enviroslug media and outreach co-chair Liane Bauer likens to the removal of an endangered species. 

“For the organization it’s a loss of home and it’s a loss of gathering space,” Bauer said, “but for the university, it’s the loss of an endangered species, which is a student organization which has a space to organize.” 

Associate college administrative officer for RCC Mari Ortiz-McGuire alerted Bauer and the rest of Enviroslug on April 15 that their lease would be up at the end of the quarter. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between RCC and the student organization allows Enviroslug to occupy the space until June 29, 2019.However, students said they were unaware of the MOU’s expiration date until receiving Ortiz-McGuire’s email. 

College Housing and Education Services is adding two new positions to each college, leading to RCC’s decision to stop leasing Room 210 to Enviroslug. One academic conduct officer will take the space of the 30 Enviroslug students who work there now.

“To conveniently uproot a huge sustainability organization on campus in favor of two staff says something odd about priorities of the campus,” said third-year environmental studies major and Enviroslug intern Julia Appelrouth.

Staff involved in the decision considered moving the new student life staff members into an office in the RCC academic building, but decided not to.

“That space does not meet the overall needs of the college,” said Executive Director of College Student Life Dustin Rollins in an email. 

The history and documentation of the MOU is hazy and has individuals feeling confused by the bureaucratic details of the arrangement. New Enviroslug program manager Carmen Gutierrez said she wasn’t told about the current MOU during her onboarding last April. She and Enviroslug have MOUs on record dating back to 2010, but the most recent one is from 2016. The version sent by Ortiz-McGuire contains additional language from the versions Enviroslug has on record and is unsigned. 

Pushing past the initial confusion, Enviroslug members met with RCC staff on May 7 to discuss retaining their space, but walked away without much luck. In the meeting, college life staff told them the decision was final. They also offered Enviroslug temporary use of an office in the RCC academic building, but for the organization’s members it’s not as simple as trading one space for another. 

Students in Enviroslug said the current location is central, visible to students and welcoming. They find the move disruptive and unnecessary. 

“Moving into a new place is kind of like moving into a new house,” Enviroslug intern Julia Appelrouth said. “[…] We always have shit to do. We can’t afford to lose a lot of time adjusting because there’s so many things that our students depend on us for and that we are passionate about that we want to carry out.” 

Enviroslug members also drew attention to the organization’s affiliation with RCC. The Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP) course is directly tied to the RCC-hosted sustainability minor and students host near biweekly events in the RCC Red Room. 

“We need to really organize and have students understand what this issue is and why this is important,” Carmen Gutierrez said, “not just for the Enviroslug organization but for all the students that took the course, for all the students that organize, receive Campus Sustainability Council  funding, for the students across campus that come across Enviroslug. They’re needing this space and this is really important to organizing. This is a crucial backbone.”

To collaborate against the decision, students reached out to former provost and retired professor Andrew Szasz, who offered to mediate talks between the organization and college. Students are also circulating a petition to gather campus support for staying in the space.

“In the meeting, Mari [Ortiz-McGuire] said not many students have a place to organize like this,” said Enviroslug member Liane Bauer, “and you’re right, so why are you taking away one of the very few spaces that students have?”

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Laretta Johnson is co-editor in chief at City on a Hill Press. Before this, she wore many hats within City on a Hill, starting as a copy editor and working as copy chief, opinions editor, city news editor and campus news editor (at different times) over the past year and a half. She sees journalism that helps people understand things, whether it’s a portion of a complicated bureaucracy or the way systems of power function within the UC, as a way to help facilitate change. Beyond the walls of the Student Media Center, Laretta can be found riding her bike around town, cooking food with her 11 housemates, journaling, going on long neighborhood walks or convincing herself one more cup of coffee isn’t a bad idea.

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