Sunrise Macalester organizes a carbon-neutral future

Sunrise Macalester organizes a carbon-neutral future

Mandy Week and Cal Martinez

Macalester’s chapter of the Sunrise Movement shares a goal of combating the climate crisis with community-oriented sustainable action, and the upcoming Board of Trustees vote to approve or reject the Comprehensive Campus Plan (CCP) could thwart or propel this initiative. 

Sunrise Macalester hosted teach-ins in Room 206 of the Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center on Tuesday, April 18 from 12 – 12:30 p.m. and Thursday, April 20 from 5 – 5:30 p.m. and issued a letter to the Board of Trustees. As of Wednesday evening, more than 300 students, faculty and staff have signed it in hopes of drawing campus-wide support for their goal.

At the teach-in held on Tuesday, around 50 students gathered to learn more about the significance of engaging in this conversation now and understand a timeline of what could be expected in the future. In May, the Board of Trustees will be voting on the CCP, a component of the college’s strategic plan, which will likely make several considerable changes to Macalester’s campus. Sunrise anticipates this draft containing decarbonization initiatives, such as an investment in geothermal heat pump technology by adding three to four geothermal aquifers to heat and cool the campus. 

Alongside a recently passed Minnesota bill with the goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040 and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a federal bill aimed at combating inflation through actions like an investment in renewable energy, the group hopes to amplify these efforts at Macalester. 

According to a poster entitled “Our campus is changing: decarbonize Mac?” that Sunrise used to advertise for their teach-ins, “[t]he IRA provides funds for higher education institutions to invest in clean energy on their campuses. This funding could cover 30%-50% of the costs of these investments, which is why it is so important for Mac to take advantage of this money while we can.”

Sunrise Macalester member Inbal Armony ’26 shared how the group’s role in the push for carbon neutrality began to take shape after a conversation with Sustainability Director Megan Butler about initiatives surrounding clean energy and how the org could be involved.

“Megan Butler … came and spoke to us in the beginning of semester, and we were asking about the Sustainability Office and her position and what her own goals were,” Armony said. “We had asked her pretty directly ‘how can we help?’ and ‘what do you see our role in this being?’ And she said that she felt that a reminder of student support and student engagement would be really impactful … Since [the COVID-19 pandemic began], there’s just been a big drop in engagement in everything, … so just to kind of bring up the conversation again [was the aim].”

Armony added that since then, Sunrise Macalester has been in close communication with Butler and Assistant Vice President of Facilities Services Nathan Lief, among other Macalester community members, about what decarbonization might look like. Sunrise detailed that this requires an update to the campus’ carbon neutrality goals, which have not changed since 2007. The group has also done extensive research that they’ve been sharing with others, including information discussed at this week’s events. 

Marty Stoner ’25, a member of Sunrise Macalester, spoke to the importance of the teach-ins as an opportunity for students to see the steps that are being taken to prioritize decarbonization efforts in a more accessible way.

“I feel like these teach-ins kind of uncover some of the details that seem confusing and hard to really find anywhere else because you have to do a good bit of digging to figure out ‘what is the Comprehensive Campus Plan?’ [and] ‘what are these plans that are taking shape?’” Stoner said. “It feels like they send out emails … but we all know that those emails just kind of get lost and don’t draw your attention, and it’s hard to really see the value in what’s going on.”

Sunrise member Emily Bruce ’26 also talked about the purpose behind the events and how the teach-ins highlighted work that has already been done and brought together those taking part in it.

“I think a teach-in is important because it sets a basis for education for what we’re preaching about,” Bruce said. “It shows student initiative, and it shows who’s actually involved by who shows up. Teach-ins are important because it really gives a chance for a student to showcase what they’ve worked on, and the work we’ve done has really been able to be mobilized by students that have shown up today.”

Francesca LoPresti ’25, who attended Tuesday’s teach-in on behalf of her student org, shared that she came to learn more about where efforts currently stood.

“I came sort of as a liaison to Mac Outing Club,” LoPresti said. “[Sunrise] emailed us asking for support since we have a lot of student engagement, and it seems like their big thing right now is trying to gain student engagement. I wanted to see whether they were walking their talk and … whether they were backed by anybody, who they were backed by, and things like that.”

For LoPresti, seeing the high turnout at the event was uplifting, and she is encouraged by the direction that clean energy efforts are heading. 

“It makes me really excited that this could actually happen because a lot of the time when these big ideas are pitched, it’s not going to happen, because that support isn’t there,” LoPresti said. “Knowing that [the support] is there, I think that could garner a lot of student attention.”

According to Sunrise, increasing student support for prioritizing carbon neutrality in the CCP remains one of their main goals in the final weeks leading up to the vote, and Armony expressed optimism following the first of the two teach-ins.

“I was not expecting that many people,” Armony said. “It’s really great to see a full room … and to kind of give people what we have learned and a bit of a framework to pour their excitement into was a great feeling.”

Empowered by the overwhelming turnout, members of Sunrise hold high hopes that these lessons and ideas manifest into actions.

“There’s a lot of talk about these kind of initiatives, but there’s not a lot of action, and I think this is kind of a really big step in the direction between just talking about something and making something happen,” Bruce said. “Initiative is actually happening now; change is happening here.”

Looking ahead, Armony explained that the potential for these changes has become more promising given the extent of support for these efforts across campus.

“I think it’s really important that people understand that it isn’t just students that want this on campus,” Armony said. “There are so many people higher up that are really working on this, like within the Sustainability Advisory Committee, Sustainability Office, I’m sure people on the Board [and] I’m sure senior leadership team. So in terms of scope, there are a lot of avenues that this could be pursued by.”

Stoner expressed a similar sentiment, underscoring the importance of working collaboratively in order to make a difference.

“For Sunrise, it’s like community organizing,” Stoner said. “It’s like bringing people together and making things happen … It’s hard to push up against the Board of Trustees: when you hear that, that sounds very scary. But all of a sudden, we’re meeting with the student liaison who meets with the Board, and then you start to see the connections that weren’t so evident before. And so when you get organized, you can really start to see it’s that idea that the sum of us is greater than all our parts.”

Sunrise Macalester meets weekly on Sundays at 5 p.m. in Room 206 of the campus center and will be hosting an art build tomorrow, April 22 at 11 a.m. in the Idea Lab, and they encourage those interested to get involved. 

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