Zoe Smithwick and Ella Williams at the Davidson Community Garden. Photo courtesy Gabriela Nahm

Erin Simard ’23 (she/her)

The novel coronavirus has disrupted just about everything students once took for granted, including their ability to advocate for the issues they care about. In the absence of in-person activism, campus organizations have struggled to identify effective ways of organizing and mobilizing students to learn about and actively support these causes.

The Office of Sustainability and the Sustainability Collective have recently overcome this obstacle with their Earth Month Sustainability Challenge. The challenge consists of bingo cards that are distributed on a weekly basis via email to those who have registered to participate, and promotes sustainable alternatives to students’ daily activities.

Participants are encouraged to return their bingo board after completing as many activities on the bingo board as possible. The more activities a student completes, the more points they receive, and the more entries they are allotted in prize drawings. These entries can win students smaller prizes through weekly drawings, such as the reusable grocery bags given away to one lucky participant this week, as well as the grand prize of the month-long lottery (which has yet to be revealed). 

Activities range from making an environmentally-conscious adjustment to a daily task, such as hanging clothes to dry in place of machine-drying, to expanding each student’s knowledge about environmental justice and sustainability by listening to an educational podcast episode. 

Azella Markgraf ‘21, the Office of Sustainability’s Student Engagement and Communications Lead Coordinator, says the inspiration for the project came from the success of the Physical Education, Recreation, and Wellness Department’s Student Wellness Bingo Challenge, which occurred last October. The Office of Sustainability sought a similar method of recruiting students in order to increase “engagement around sustainability [and] around this topic of Earth Month,” Markgraf commented.

Markgraf hopes that the challenge will allow “people to feel like they have an opportunity to explore those interests, and with COVID, it’s super difficult to [do so], so we were hoping to give them some space to learn about sustainability and environmental justice, but also have fun.” 

Most of all, Markgraf anticipates that incorporating the simple daily tasks required by the challenge will inspire participants to reflect on how their privilege affords them the opportunity to engage in such sustainable practices — “even just purchasing sustainable things and having access to a zero-waste lifestyle can be a huge privilege, and I really want people to consider how their identity affects their relationship with sustainability.” 

Further, she hopes that the project will encourage students to consider how the struggle for justice is closely intertwined with a student’s daily individual practices and choices.

Caroline Wack ‘23, a member of the Sustainability Office’s communications team, believes that “sustainability can feel like a big, scary, end-of-the-world issue, and it definitely is [important], but I think that people approach it [as if] it’s all-or-nothing.” 

Her aspiration is for the initiative to serve as a stepping stone for those who have never engaged in sustainable practices or have rarely sought out educational resources about the environment. “The solution isn’t going to be everyone using metal straws… but there are plenty of free resources [to educate yourself about sustainability and environmental justice].”

Grace Tayloe ‘23, another student involved in the planning of the challenge, similarly hopes that completing the challenge will illuminate “how easy it is to commit to small changes like walking to the store instead of driving.” Tayloe emphasized that though environmental justice and building a sustainable society is a daunting task, taking these small steps to increase students’ awareness of their options to change their lifestyle is an excellent way to start.

Looking forward, Tayloe intends to make the continuance of the project in the years to come a priority for the office.
To stay up-to-date on prizes and the office’s upcoming events, follow their Instagram account (@davidsonsustainability). For more information about how to participate and how to live more sustainably, register for the Office of Sustainability’s biweekly newsletter using the following link: https://forms.gle/dzjCiHmbUwrGAjPg6.