A Sustainable Home’s No Use Without a Key

Despite decades of evidence to the contrary, there’s always something we want to trust in the goobery handshakes of student-life administrators, spectacles a-sparkle, promising us the world.

Two years ago, the promise was a space for the sole purpose of streamlining sustainability efforts on campus: a snazzy center where both the Student Sustainability Collective and university officials could combine their scattered, homeless initiatives under one roof; a lean, green, tree-hugging machine.

The Sustainability Resource Center — now located next door to Price Center Theater, in what used to be the EDNA info booth — was originally a brainchild of the SSC. The organization offered to pay for it through student activity fees, allotted quarterly by the A.S. Council.

That’s when university officials kindly stepped in, offering to pay all construction and rent costs, so that A.S. funds — which now abound, since student activity fees were inflated last year, with a special line for the SSC — could go 100 percent toward the projects themselves.

Surely student leaders must have felt, for a moment, that they might just be on the same team as the Man, all money and power aside — especially for the sake of something so blatantly common-good as slowing the gassy death of our dear planet Earth.

The center’s Web site is still taglined with its startup mission: to “house” both university staff and SSC representatives in a “collaborative space” to realize “common goals.”

Despite this noble goal, now that construction rubble has cleared and recycled-material furniture been pushed into its right place, the SSC can hardly call the center a home. Simple initiatives like a campuswide bike-rental program and electronic-waste bins are having trouble getting off the ground, as they have no central place to exist: Campus Sustainability Coordinator Maggie Souder won’t allow students to set up any additional fixtures inside the SRC.

In fact, according to SSC student director Rishi Ghosh, they aren’t even allowed to put anything on the shelves or the walls. Students can only use the meeting space by appointment — and even those can be overridden by administrative agenda. They don’t hold keys to the building.

Souder blames the student shutout on their own inability to present her with an agreeable right-to-use form, which would lay out the guidelines for their presence in the center. But ultimately, it’s up to Souder’s discretion whether students should be able come and go in the interim. The space “rules” she’s set up are clearly arbitrary hurdles, serving to shut the strewn backpacks and collegiate commotion out of her pristine new office as long as possible.

Meanwhile, the student vision of a bustling community lounge has lost the good fight to UCSD’s token taste for anal feng shui. Seems administrators will never stop trying to convince us we like Ikea ottomans and white space as much as they do. Green, chilly and spotless, the SRC looks and feels not unlike music/art venue the Loft a few chain restaurants down — nice-looking and new-smelling, but not us. Not college. So from here on out, let’s at least get our promises in writing.

Rebekah Hwang/Guardian

(Granted, the Loft wasn’t created under the same pretense that students were going to get some say in its goings-on. We weren’t even asked to pay — not directly, at least. Although now that the Loft is going on the A.S. referendum as a potential student cost, what do you say we bulldoze that UFO lamp and graffiti over the olive-puke wall paint?)

The entire SRC lobby area is dedicated to bragging about the center’s uber-progressive building materials — vintage wood flooring; translucent window panes and Polygal walls to maximize daylight (even though the ceiling is riddled with light fixtures); furniture shaped so sustainably your body enters a state of absolute space-age efficiency.

It reeks of public relations, not progress. And all the while, the SSC is sitting on a budget the size of the ozone hole. Not to be dramatic, but trees are dying. Glaciers are melting. Polar-bear cubs are crying. It’s the kind of sadness that warrants a cluttered bulletin board and the sacrifice of personal desk space.

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