Bethany College Students Celebrate Earth Day with a Week of Activities

In celebration of Earth Week, Bethany College’s new “Greener Bethany” club hosted a week-long slate of environmental-related events from April 18-24. The club, established in the fall of 2020, worked with several departments and offices across campus to offer a variety of events and activities throughout the week. A full week of activities is an ambitious goal, but Greener Bethany was evidently up to the task: the week’s events were well-attended, well-organized, and very fun. I can think of no better way I could have observed Earth Day 2021–with its theme of “Restore Our Earth”–than with a group of students and campus leaders committed to the cause of environmentalism. With many of us caught in the fog of pandemic burnout, their enthusiasm and activism was a breath of fresh air.

As Green Week wrapped up on campus, I sat down with its primary orchestrator, Ian Nelson, a sophomore majoring in environmental science. Ian is the current president of the Greener Bethany Club and the College’s Biology Honor Society (TriBeta). Tapped to take over the Greener Bethany Club by its founder and previous president, Tatum Dyar, Ian agreed to take the helm as Tatum turned her sights toward graduation. Established in the fall of 2020, the Greener Bethany Club’s current focus is making the campus more eco-friendly. Its most recent success has involved petitioning that the campus dining facility switch to reusable plasticware for takeout rather than single-use Styrofoam, which has since been implemented. In the future, Ian noted that he hoped the club would host more campus events, such as the Earth Week [events], and with more frequency.

Ian and Greener Bethany were instrumental in making Earth Week happen, but they were not alone: events were coordinated and hosted by Bethany’s DEI Director Dr. Tahirah Walker, the Black Student Union, the President’s Office, and several faculty members. Their input made for an interesting slate of events that encompassed multiple facets of environmentalism, from recycling to biodiversity to environmental justice and activism.

Earth Week: Day 1

The first event, orchestrated by the Greener Bethany Club and TriBeta, was an all-campus cleanup held on Sunday, April 18. Volunteers met by the tennis courts for supplies and, after breaking into groups of five people or fewer, were assigned campus quadrants. I was grouped with Julianne, a sophomore studying environmental science, and Hannah, a freshman marketing major. Our group volunteered to take the grounds surrounding the library, the Richardson Building, and the Johnson Visual Arts Center.

It was little hardship to tramp through a beautiful campus on a sunny spring day, and the grounds, evidently well-attended by campus maintenance, needed little attention in our quadrant. Seeing other quadrants already attended by other volunteers, our little group decided to take our tools and efforts to Campbell Village via Route 67. We found plenty to clean up here amongst the roadside litter and, joined in our efforts by Ian Nelson, spent the remainder of the afternoon there. Later that evening, students and faculty gathered in the outdoor classroom for an event hosted by the Black Student Union and led by Dr. Tahirah Walker. Participants were encouraged to discuss environmental issues in general and reflect on environmentalists who had inspired them. The outdoor classroom, a lovely space in the woods surrounding campus, was well-suited for social distancing and the event, skillfully led by Dr. Walker, certainly increased students’ awareness of environmental issues.

Earth Week: Day 2

Tuesday saw several events, two of which were held out-of-doors, and the pleasant weather was considerate enough to hold. During convocation hour, Dr. Joan Maloof spoke via Zoom about her experiences in ecology that led her to found the Old-Growth Forest Network. The network’s goal is to “preserve, protect and promote the country’s few remaining stands of old-growth forest” to try to help offset carbon dioxide emissions and preserve biodiversity. In addition to being an ecologist and activist, Maloof has written several books including Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old‑Growth Forests. Many people, she said, associate old-growth forests with the West and are not aware that they exist east of the Mississippi. One of these “hidden gems” is on Bethany’s campus: Parkinson Forest. After Parkinson’s Forest was added to the old-growth forest network in 2019, Maloof was slated to visit the campus to see the grounds and deliver a convocation address. The pandemic waylaid these plans, but Maloof was able to speak via Zoom and intends to visit the forest when COVID restrictions have eased.

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That evening, students and faculty again congregated in the Outdoor Classroom to hear “Harald and the Hott Pockets,” a band composed of three Bethany faculty members, as they worked through nature-related writing prompts provided by the English Department’s Professor Travis Straub. As the sun began to set, Dr. Bill Hicks of the Biology Department led students on an “owl walk,” during which owl calls were played from cell phones to see if real owls would respond. The owl calls worked and the group saw several owls!

Dr. Bill Hicks leads students on an Owl Walk
Dr. Bill Hicks leads students on an Owl Walk. (Photo by Shannon Kolkedy)

Earth Week: Day 3

On Wednesday, the library hosted a blackout poetry contest to promote upcycled art while recognizing both Earth Week and National Poetry Month. Using old magazines and books that had been set aside for recycling, students were encouraged to create blackout poems and enter their names to win a basket of eco-friendly books and goodies. Several student participants appreciated this brief reprieve from preparations for finals.

Earth Week: Days 4-5

On Thursday afternoon, students braved the cold temperatures to plant flowers at the Buckelew trailhead, named in honor of Dr. Albert “Jay” Buckelew, professor emeritus of biology who taught at Bethany for 42 years. On Friday the President’s Office put tents and tables outside of Morlan Hall and hosted “Feel Good Friday.” Such “Feel Good Fridays” are scheduled throughout the semester and are alternatively sponsored by various departments and typically offer games, food, and themed activities and prizes. Aided by Greener Bethany, the President’s Office offered a “make your own dirt” station with pudding cups, toppings, and gummy worms in recognition of Earth Week.

Flower Planting
Greener Bethany members kick off Earth Week with a flower planting event on campus. (Photo by Shannon Kolkedy)

Earth Week: Day 6

The week ended with two events on Saturday, April 24: a tree-planting organized by Greener Bethany, TriBeta, and the Bethany Memorial Church, and an art contest hosted by Greener Bethany and held in the dining hall. Volunteers met at the church at 10 am and were provided with shovels, gloves, and soil. As with the campus clean-up, volunteers decided to divide and conquer with some volunteers taking care of the trees to be planted on campus grounds while others stayed behind to plant trees near the church and adjacent buildings. The event was well-attended and, as the adage goes, many hands made light work: it took participants less than two hours to plant six trees.

After turning in my gloves and shovel, I made the short hike to the dining hall to check out the art contest entries. The submissions were largely photographs of the campus and grounds, including several lovely shots of the Bethany trails. The contest was judged by members of both the Art and Biology Departments. The works will remain on display in the dining hall until the end of the semester.

Though the Club has not announced any further events at this time, I expect more to be forthcoming in the semesters to follow. In the meantime, you can check out the books of Dr. Joan Maloof and visit some of the local old-growth forests she mentions. I know I will certainly be visiting Parkinson Forest!

• Raised in Wellsburg, West Virginia, Anna Cipoletti is a proud alumna of Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy, West Liberty University and Kent State University. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from West Liberty in 2014 and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Kent State in 2017. Anna has made a career out of a lifelong love of books and works full-time at Bethany College as a librarian and parttime as a bookseller and book reviewer. She resides in Beech Bottom with her sister and two Siamese cats. A nature enthusiast, Anna often spends her free time visiting one of West Virginia’s many beautiful parks or kayaking along Buffalo Creek.