The Nature of College by James Farrell

Annotating the Campus

Most of the time when we’re walking across campus, we’re not thinking about environmental issues.  We’re engaged in a conversation with friends.  We’re worried about that Chemistry test, or anxious about the big date tonight.  We’re talking about last night’s episode of our favorite TV show, or the new CD we got last week.  We’re talking about last week’s party, and wondering if Kate and Mick hooked up or not.

During Earth Week, though, we can help people think more comprehensively about where they are, and what it means.  By annotating the campus, we can help people to see this place and earth, and to think twice about the college as an ecological design.  Each research group should write 5-10 different annotations for the campus, designed to give readers either “blinding flashes of the obvious” or new insights into their campus environment.  We’ll print these annotations, mount them on a green background, and post them on campus for a day.

Here are some samples to give you an idea of how it might work:

Look up: Isn’t natural lighting great?  Buntrock was intentionally designed to optimize natural daylighting with a skylight over the Crossroads that offers central light to all floors. 

What’s covering your head?  Slate.  Many of buildings on campus have slate roofing – it may cost more initially, but the stone withstands acid rain and other features of Minnesota weather much better than other roofing materials resulting in fewer instances of repair or replacement.  Normal roofs last about 20 years; a slate roof will last 100 years or more.

Shit happens.  When St. Olaf students are “doing what comes naturally,” there are about 3000 bowel movements a day on the Hill.  And all of it is rinsed with tap water, and piped to the Northfield sewage treatment plant north of town.

Need a summer job?  Each summer students are employed painting in dorm rooms.  They use water-based paint and try to make our rooms presentable to us when we move in each fall.  The Green Team at Olaf is also looking into recycled-content latex paints for interior use. 

The current  Science Center was built in the late Sixties, when energy efficiency wasn’t an issue.  So a  poster doubles the insulation value of exterior walls.  When the building is remodeled, the insulation will be bolstered to cut down on heating costs in the frigid Minnesota winters. 

The Peace Coffee brewed in the Cage and the cafeteria makes good things happen because it’s fair-trade, shade-grown coffee, supporting workers and the environment in countries like Guatemala and Costa Rica.

If you’re breathing now, you’re inhaling air that’s been transformed in the last 100 years.  It’s not the same as the air that the first students at St. Olaf College breathed.  In the 19th century, Oles inhaled air that contained carbon dioxide in concentrations of 280 parts per million.  These days, we still suck in carbon dioxide, but we breathe 360 parts per million. Eighty parts per million sounds like no big deal, but it’s enough to affect the global climate. 

St. Olaf College created seven new wetlands this year.  Do you know where your wetlands are?

This is the prairie. Despite popular opinion, prairies are the most endangered ecosystem, not the rainforests. A natural prairie has over 150 types of grasses and wildflowers. Our restored prairie has between 30 and 50 species of wildflowers and grasses. Many animals make it their home including birds, small rodents, and insects.