The Oberlin Stories Project

On building a sustainable coalition

Samantha Bass ’11

“It amazes me that one year after proposing the Compost Work Group, composting is on its way to becoming a permanent reality at Oberlin.”

Three friends lay in the grass on a hillside.

The conversation always begins the same way: “We should compost more... oh, right; it always ends in failure.”

For over ten years, students have struggled to develop a lasting residential compost system. Now, for the first time in Oberlin history, the aspiration to compost is quickly becoming a reality.

Oberlin already composts a significant amount of waste. OSCA Composters bring organic material to the George Jones Farm and Campus Dining Services composts raw food scraps and used coffee grinds. Students living in the Sustainability Halls often compost, and the Green Edge Fund purchased a compost tumbler for Union Street housing.

Although these programs greatly reduce the college’s waste, over 90% of students voted in the last Green Referendum in favor of expanding composting on campus. Expansion has been historically difficult due to students graduating, lack of institutional memory, and scattered communication.

As a Green Liaison for Student Senate in the fall of 2009, I proposed a Compost Work Group to create a coalition space. Students involved are Marlo Barerra from Student Senate, Heather Sedlacek from OGROW, Abby Halperin and Julia Munson from the CDS Recyclers, Marion Rockwood from Burton Sustainability Hall, Stacia Thompson and Catie Wilkinson from the Resource Conservation Team and Erica Qiao from Environment and Society 101.

Through this coalition, we agreed on concrete goals and drafted a proposal. The college administration is incredibly supportive, and we meet weekly with Keith Watkins, Director of Facilities Operations, Molly Tyson, Director of Residential Education, Dennis Greive, Grounds Services Manager, and Scott Callow, Facilities Operations Manager. Our five-year plan will begin in the North Professor Street Dorm in Fall 2010, creating Compost Coordinators, Captains and Hall Volunteers. Later, ResEd or the Environmental Studies department will share oversight, ensuring continuity over the years.

I think composting at Oberlin is important because it will continue building sustainable habits and re-framing the way Oberlin students think about waste. First-years will sign a sustainability pledge and then make the pledge a reality as they compost their own organic materials. This project is about compost, but it is also about our relationship with our environment and embracing sustainability as a value.

Encouragement from college administrators and the dedication and energy within the Compost Work Group have continued to inspire me to push further and imagine new creative possibilities. It amazes me that one year after proposing the group, composting is on its way to becoming a permanent reality at Oberlin.

The Compost Work Group is special because it is was initiated entirely by students and runs on passion. Oberlin needs a compost revolution, and I hope this new organized space ignites one. My experience with compost organizing has been very empowering, and I am proud that our group is making a real change in our own community. Oberlin students are passionate about ideas, and the administration is passionate about guiding students towards realizing their fullest potential. Because really, we can do anything.