The future of environmental clubs in midst of COVID-19 will look different

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The door to the ISEE office located in the National Soybean Research Laboratory sits closed on Jan. 24, 2019.

By Jillian Little

With conflicting measures proposed by government officials and universities, COVID-19 will most likely make the college experience more complicated than ever before. An essential aspect of college is the professional clubs that students can join, and with the limited socialization that the fall semester will allow, this can make it harder for some clubs to adapt.  

Joe Edwards, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Liberal Arts and Sciences, is the current chairperson of the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC). The organization is responsible for promoting campus sustainability as well as allocating the revenue generated through the Cleaner Energy Technologies and Sustainable Campus Environment fees, which every university student pays. 

“If someone has an idea for a sustainability project they’d like to do on campus, they’ll write a proposal to us,” Edwards said. “To date, we’ve awarded close to $20 million in the SSC’s history.”

Like many environmental clubs on campus, SSC is trying to navigate the changing times that COVID-19 has presented. 

“Before COVID-19, we had regular and voting meetings to discuss new organizational changes and different events we want to put on,” Edwards said. “In the organization’s past, our focus was more on the fee allocation process, but lately, we’ve been trying to reach out to more students and get our name out there.”

SSC works alongside the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment (ISEE) to promote different events on campus, including their involvement in the environmental Quad Day last year and events during Earth Week. However, when COVID-19 hit, it made it difficult for the organization to go on during the spring semester.

“We still met over Zoom, but it wasn’t the same,” Edwards said. “It’s a little harder to communicate and have a collaborative discussion over the internet, but we were still able to get our tasks done.” 

Once being involved with Student For Environmental Concerns on campus, Edwards realized that the virtual format could influence the way that environmental activist groups run as well. 

“The point of those types of organizations is to be in an area with a collaborative spirit and be around people with the same energy,” Edwards said. “I don’t know how well environmental organizing will persist in a distant format, although I’m optimistic.”    

There are also clubs like Red Bison Ecology Restoration and the Illini Fermentation Club that rely on going places around Southern Illinois to do conversation work and other outside activities. With an increase in safety measures brought on by social-distancing, each group’s scope of personal protective equipment could change.    

Despite these complications, SSC is hopeful for the future of environmental clubs on campus and the fall semester. They plan to host a workshop about SSC and how students can apply for funds in early September and want to work with the ISEE and other RSOs to organize a career fair. 

“A sustainability career fair is harder to do than engineering, because a lot of these positions are as not well-funded,” Edwards said. “In a way, it would probably be better to do one virtually anyways.”

It’s just a matter of getting more people involved, whether that be in-person or virtually. For more information regarding SSC or any other environmental organizations on campus, stay up to date with the ISEE’s website

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