Tree Hugging Together

The seventh floor of Hubbard Hall looks like any in this dorm; there are bulletin boards full of events and information and name tags on each door that say, “Hello My Name is…”
[bigwindmill]But appearances can be deceiving. One bulletin board is always about the environment, and the name tags are made from biodegradable paper that, when planted, grows flowers. This is because 7 North Hubbard is home to the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment (RISE).
RISE was created in 1995 for students who want to learn more about the environment and eventually earn a specialization in environmental studies. It complements two other residential living and learning communities on campus: James Madison College, which focuses on social sciences, and Lyman Briggs School, which focuses on natural sciences.
Environmentalism is an increasingly visible worldview on campus, sometimes to the point of being trendy. Students carry SIGG brand aluminum water bottles, eco-friendly notebooks and canvas bags; they wear shirts with slogans like “tree hugger” and “green is the new black.” It is no surprise some students want to extend their eco-friendliness to their living quarters. [dr]
Dr. Laurie Thorp is the program director for RISE. She says RISE’s popularity has paralleled the “going green” trend, especially in the past three years. “I give Al Gore credit. When Inconvenient Truth came out, I saw a large rise in enrollment,” she said.
This year RISE is 210 students strong, and more colleges are asking to get involved with the program, Thorp said. RISE students can come from the colleges of Arts and Letters, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Natural Science and Social Science. “We currently serve six colleges. The College of Business just approached me about joining and will likely be added in January,” Thorp said.
Students who join RISE freshman year live on one of two designated floors in Hubbard Hall; one for men and one for women. The goal is for these students to become tight-knit groups, have familiar faces in classes and help each other ease the transition into college life.
However, students do not have to join freshman year to work toward an environmental studies specialization. Whether students join freshman year or later, they must all complete the same core courses required for the specialization, along with the classes they need for their specific major, much like adding on a minor degree. Students can still major in whatever they want. The only requirement is that their current major permits the specialization.
[leaves]Students in the program must complete a list of required courses that add up to 23 credits to receive a specialization. Two of these are courses in geological sciences and integrative studies in social sciences. There is no academic requirement to join the program, but students who wish to join as freshmen must apply because spaces are limited in the dorms. There is no limit on the amount of students who can join the program later.
Students entering RISE in the 2009-2010 school year could move into a West Circle dorm rather than Hubbard. Relocating the program is being considered to house it in more personal setting. “[This would offer] a smaller residence hall where we can establish a stronger culture of environmentalism and sustainability,” Thorp said.
Sophomore environmental and economics policy major Stephanie Edlinger lived on the RISE floor in Hubbard last year. She said she really enjoyed the energy and excitement on her floor, but thought relocating was a good idea. “Traveling to class was always a chore, especially when the weather became colder. Moving to a more central location in West Circle would be beneficial to future RISE students,” Edlinger said.
No matter where RISE is located, students in the program will still participate in the same activities. An emphasis is placed on hands-on learning. Students conduct energy audits in MSU residence halls to find out how much energy they use and how much they could potentially conserve it. RISE students also take field trips to rivers and conduct tests that show what is living in the river and how much life the body of water can support. Less academic endeavors include RISE tailgates before home football game (everyone brings their own cups instead of using disposable ones that will end up in landfills) and trips in the fall to the cider mill. [fleury]
A fall retreat for RISE students took place in mid-September at Gull Lake, near Kalamazoo, Michigan. Swimming, spending time by a campfire, canoeing, going on nature hikes and watching bird sanctuaries were some of the activities students enjoyed most.
Kevin Fleury is the resident mentor for the RISE floor, and although he is not a part of the RISE program, he went on the fall retreat to support his residents. He said he was impressed how easily the RISE students and their faculty get along during the retreat and back on campus. “Dr. Thorp has a really positive relationship with her students. She is laid back and a lot of fun,” he said.
Only six of Fleury’s residents are actually in the RISE program, but he said even those not involved have nothing but positive things to say about the program. They may not be in RISE, but having the program around encourages everyone to reduce their eco-footprint starting in their dorm room.
“I spent all summer looking for something cool for RISE students. I decided to make signs for the door out of biodegradable paper. I spent about $175 on 65 tags but came to find there were only six RISE students,” he said.
Fleury said most of the students living on the female RISE floor are involved with the program.
[evening]Edlinger, who joined the program as freshman last year, said it was a good idea to have RISE students live together because it made high school to college transition much easier. “It was a really good experience. Everyone I live with this year, I met last year through RISE,” she said. After graduation, she is considering using her specialization to be a business consultant and help companies “go green.”
The RISE community is full of undergrads with big ideas. Living in a community with people, idea boards, discussions, field trip and even nametags that care for our planet is making the environmental studies specialization these students get just a little bit greener.

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Dear Lou Anna

Dear Lou Anna,

What is all this hype going around school about a proposal to lower the drinking age to 18? For many of us it would be nice to be able to go to a bar and order a drink, but a lot of teenagers are still naïve about drinking responsibly. When many of our parents were in school they could drink at 18, but times have changed and our generation is different. We have a lot more physical stimulants, which can cause us to feel the need to let loose in potentially harmful ways. We also have a lot less discipline.

This whole debate started after 130 college presidents – including those from Duke and Ohio State — launched a movement for discussion about the current drinking age, called the Amethyst Initiative. You were not one of them. I know this was unpopular with a lot of students, but your job is to look out for their safety, not be their friend.

The Amethyst Initiative started in June 2008 when founder John McCardell, President Emeritus of Vermont’s Middlebury College, contacted several presidents who were long-time friends to ask their opinions regarding the drinking age. The presidents discovered a common desire to revive the debate about the current drinking age, and support followed.
Since then I have talked to a lot of your constituents and they have had split opinions on the matter.

According to statements on www.amethystinitiative.org, supporters of this movement believe 21 is an outdated age for drinking. Adults under 21 are allowed to vote and join the military, but they are not allowed to have alcohol. They also believe that lowering the drinking age could reduce binge drinking, which is typically defined as four or more drinks on one occasion for women and five or more for men.

At a large campus like MSU, many minors are bound to let loose after a long week of classes. However, when caught drinking by officials, a minor in possession charge can turn into heavy fines and probation, not to mention a dent in someone’s record. For instance, during Welcome Week there were 134 “minor in possession” (MIP) citations given. Universities and employers often ask about criminal history, and a misdemeanor on your record can sometimes stint your chances of being accepted.
Sure, it is a valid point that college students are bound to drink and MIPs are tarnishing records. But there are some good statistics that show lowering the drinking age may produce more harm than good; it may actually increase binge drinking and auto related accidents.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking is the highest among ages 18-20, which make up 51 percent of binge drinkers. It also leads to more than 4,600 youth deaths per year. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says that in European nations with lower drinking ages, such as the United Kingdom, there are higher rates of binge drinking. These countries are considering increasing the drinking age to 21 because of its effectiveness in the United States. MADD’s statistics also show that since the early 1980s the number of teens killed annually in crashes, involving drunk drivers under 21, has been cut in half. More than 5,000 young people were killed in the early 1980s versus about 2,000 in 2005.

Sophomore resident mentor Jourdan Weiss is leery of lowering the drinking age. She envisions 18-year-old females going to a bar and being bought drinks by older men. This could set up a scene for date rape drugs to be slipped into drinks. “Girls might get taken advantage of; a lot of them have been around the same people for four years in high school. They’re naïve coming to college. They don’t realize that not everyone in college is trustworthy,” Weiss said.

Weiss, who oversees female students on Wilson Hall’s third floor, thinks that many 18-year-olds would drink even more for a period of time if a law like this was enacted. “People would go buck wild at first. Imagine turning 18. People would be doing 18 shots to celebrate and may be less aware of the consequences of their actions. They might end up drinking so much that they get alcohol poisoning,” Weiss said.

Sure, many people take 21 shots for their 21st birthday, which is not ideal either. But teenagers’ brains are still developing into their early 20s. Heavy drinking damages the pre-frontal cortex of the brain in teenagers, which leads to decreased long term memory and ability to learn complex tasks.

Many states are hesitant to lower drinking ages because the federal government has tied them to federal highway funding. The law enacted in 1984 threatened to withhold 10 percent of federal highway funding unless states rose the drinking age to 21.
Traditionally, active U.S. military members could consume alcohol at 18 on a military base. However, in the 1980s, Congress required the military to comply with the state’s drinking age. However, if a base is located within 50 miles of Mexico or Canada, that drinking age could be adopted. Current legislation has been introduced this year in Kentucky, Wisconsin and South Carolina to lower the drinking age for military personnel. A bill is in the works in South Dakota to allow 19- and 20-year-olds to buy low-alcohol beer.

Junior Allison Rice, 20, agrees that 18-year-olds are not mature enough, but suggested that 19 would be a better age. “People are going to drink anyways. At 18 years old some teenagers will still be in high school and will not have matured enough. Nineteen is a better suited age,” Rice said.

Senior Kimberly Bonk, 21, admits to drinking underage her first three years in college. Although she can legally drink now, she deems the current drinking age “stupid.” Bonk believes a lot of the appeal to underage drinking is because it is illegal. According to MADD statistics, 48 percent of all alcohol consumed on 4-year college campuses is by underage students. Bonk said the drinking age should be 18. “You can get married, serve in the military and live on your own before you are 21.”

However, Bonk said to compensate for a lowered drinking age, drunken driving penalties should be increased.

Homer Smith, executive director of MADD Michigan, said there is enough evidence in the number of lives saved and reduction of binge drinking that supports keeping the drinking at 21-years-old. According to MADD statistics from the pre-21 law, the current drinking age saves about 1,000 lives per year.

Smith was not surprised that college presidents signed on to the Amethyst Initiative. “I think what happened is leadership of the Amethyst Initiative misrepresented the data it showed to college presidents,” Smith said. “We [MADD] want to give praise to Lou Anna Simon for not signing the initiative,” Smith said.

So you see, Lou Anna, some people are glad that you have not followed in the footsteps of others. Sure, there are 18-year-olds who would be responsible with drinking, but there are many who would not be. We cannot risk their safety and the safety of everyone else just so they can hold a beer in their hands sooner.

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