President David Anderson ’74 was proud to announce at Opening Convocation this year that St. Olaf is now a carbon neutral campus. To be considered carbon neutral, all of the electricity used on campus must produce no carbon emissions.
It really is quite an accomplishment to power all of a college campus – even a small one – with no carbon emissions, and this is something that St. Olaf should take pride in. However, the term “carbon neutral” isn’t quite as simple as producing no carbon emissions. St. Olaf still produces carbon emissions, but those are “offset” by our solar and wind power sources. Natural gas is still used to heat the school, and natural gas is not a carbon neutral source of energy by any means.
So calling St. Olaf a carbon neutral campus is more of a technicality than anything. If you asked me what carbon neutral meant, I would probably say that it meant we didn’t use any power that produced any carbon emissions whatsoever. And I would bet that when our president announced to campus that we are now considered carbon neutral, most others would have an interpretation of carbon neutral similar to mine.
It’s not that this one particular claim bothers me all that much, but it does follow a pattern I’ve noticed more and more as I enter my third year at St. Olaf. I feel as if I can’t take anything that the administration says at face value, because there’s always a complicated backstory behind it. They tell us one thing and we interpret it as such, when in reality it’s probably far more nuanced than the catchy two sentences in the admissions brochere.
When prospective students walking through campus on guided tours are told about the diversity of the campus, what they don’t know is that of the 830 students in the class of 2020, only 51 are domestic students of color. There are over 200 student organizations on campus, but in reality only half of them ever meet or plan events. The Piper Center advertises funding for unpaid internships, but they fail to mention that the deadline is in March and many people haven’t been hired before then.
It’s a pattern of misrepresentation and I’m tired of it. It’s definitely not something that just St. Olaf is guilty of. All colleges have to market themselves and try to convince prospective students to spend $50,000+ a year at their institution. St. Olaf certainly can’t keep its doors open if no new students are enrolling.
But I also feel like young people are more aware of these marketing strategies now than they have been in the past. When I was applying to college, I knew that the brochures strategically used pictures of minority students in order to show how “diverse” they were. But I was applying to small, liberal arts colleges – often in rural areas – and I knew the reality of what the student bodies typically looked like at these schools.
St. Olaf proudly declaring itself a carbon neutral campus seems like a stretch at best and a lie at worst.
Cassidy Neuner ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Carmel, Calif. She majors in political science and economics.