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First-year students pledge to embrace sustainable living in new residence hall

Aug. 18, 2010


First-year students moving into Oberlin’s new residence hall have pledged to make environmental sustainability a way of life.

Before construction of Robert L. Kahn Hall was even complete, the majority of incoming residents signed an agreement that they won’t bring a car to campus, that they will conserve water and energy and reduce waste as much as possible, and that they will actively engage practices that minimize the negative impact of daily life on the environment.

Kahn Hall, which will open for fall semester, is expected to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification. With sophisticated features like an interlock system that automatically shuts off the heat or air conditioning in rooms when windows are opened, to more simple ideas like clotheslines in the laundry rooms and an onsite compost tumbler, the building will be a testing ground for learning about environmental stewardship.

Molly Tyson, director of residential education at Oberlin, says students will take the lead in determining community standards.

“The programming will depend on student participation and leadership, and how much they choose to engage in sustainable practices,” Tyson says. “The goal of administrators is to help students understand what sustainability means for them and the environment.”

By living in Kahn Hall, residents will be expected to follow the sustainability pledge, a collaborative effort between upperclassmen and administrators that outlines basic everyday habits. Chief among the pledge rules is that residents will not bring a vehicle to campus and will seek alternative transportation methods such as biking, taking buses, and carpooling. The transportation issue seemed a necessary part of the pledge given that Oberlin is a bike friendly city.

Soon after residents move in, they’ll have an orientation and a series of meetings with the staff of resident assistants, compost coordinators, the resident director, and the dean in residence to decide on community standards for sustainable living. They’ll also work with Colin Koffel, a recent Oberlin graduate who holds a fellowship in the Office of Environmental Sustainability, to coordinate project ideas, which will include a waste diversion program during Orientation.

“We’d very much like to strive for a program-house model,” says Adrian Bautista, dean-in-residence at Kahn Hall and director of the First Year Experience. Bautista will work with faculty, staff, and students to consider cocurricular connections for Kahn Hall.

“This is a residence hall that will actually produce data and information and challenge students to engage others. In each wing, residents will know their energy and water consumption in real time. It may create some healthy competition. We hope residents will ask, ‘How responsible am I being?’ But at the same time, the focus will be on the community, not just the individual.”

Bautista, Koffel, and residential education staff will work with faculty to explore the possibility of tying the hall’s programs into an intro-level environmental studies course and other academic initiatives. Examples of other activities could include a “toxic tour” of contaminated sites in the county, or projects related to environmental racism— issues that residents wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to within the residential setting.

“We hope to provide residents with opportunities to explore environmental interests that connect them with the broader community,” Bautista says. “Perhaps the Kahn Hall experience will trigger a broader interest in sustainability. The hall may serve as a place to spark and develop leadership.”

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