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Painting to petition: Students demand an Office of Sustainability at USF Tampa campus

Freshman and biomedical sciences major Carissa Smith painting at the Climate Crisis Art Night Wednesday event held by SPEAK. ORACLE PHOTO/ JULIA SAAD.

The new Sustainable & Ethical Practices coalition, formed by multiple USF clubs and organizations, is demanding the establishment of an Office of Sustainability after frustrations with the university’s lack of action.  

In order to educate the student body on the importance of this demand, the student organizations held several events during USF’s “Climate Week.” The most recent event was on Friday, called the “Climate Fair,” where a QR code for the petition was displayed for attendees on a screen at the Marshall Student Center (MSC). 

Students Protecting the Environment and Animals through Knowledge (SPEAK) and Students for Socialism (SFS) came together to write a petition before spring classes started, according to Will Mleczko, economics major and SFS president. 

The petition has been signed by 263 people at the time of publication. 

Morgan Mathews, president of Global Leaders Outreach for Better Environment (GLOBE), said establishing a specific department for sustainability would make proposing student initiatives more credible and efficient. 

Although the call on the petition is to “reinstate” the Office of Sustainability, Thomas Muthalakuzhy, SPEAKS’s co-president and biology major, said there has never been one in the Tampa campus. 

“There is one in the St. Pete campus,” they said. “So it would be nice to also have one over here, where there are a lot more students, more impact and a lot of financial opportunity to make change.” 

The St. Pete campus Office of Sustainability is in charge of all “collaborative efforts, practices and initiatives” relating to the campus environment and energy efficiency, according to its website. Assisting student organizations including inter-campus projects like the Student Green Energy Fund is among the office’s duties and responsibilities. 

Reducing greenhouse emissions by 50% until 2035 at USF campuses is a part of the Climate Action Plan (CAP) currently under the Office of Sustainability.

The Student Green Energy Fund was founded in 2011, under Student Government (SG), and it is the only resource for students to reach out to with sustainability ideas, such as reducing single use plastic and carbon emissions on campus. 

SPEAK also hosted a “Climate Crisis Art Night” at the Social Sciences building on Wednesday so that students could create art that expressed their feelings on climate change. Ally Caine, anthropology major and co-president of SPEAK, said art allows for free expression, without words. 

Organizers provided five empty canvases, paper, paint and several other materials such as clay, buttons, strings and beads for bracelet making, to around 16 students that night.

An established department like the Office of Sustainability would be even more beneficial to ensure students are heard, according to Muthalakuzhy. 

“We want to do the things that USF has said themselves that they were going to do because they haven’t been doing anything,” they said. “They are asking students for money when they already have plenty, and are spending with things such as the stadium construction.” 

The on-campus stadium is being funded by a $200 million debt approved at a September Board of Governors (BOG) meeting, while $140 million will be covered by the university.

Related: BOG approves $200 million debt issuance for on-campus stadium

The process of petitioning is found in the USF SG constitution, amendment XXII,  and it requires signatures from 5%, or 2,308 enrolled students, out of a 46,159 student body. Signatures must be verified in Oasis, according to SG advising. 

SFS is very familiar with the process of petitioning and Mleczko said he is confident the coalition’s goal is achievable. 

“We definitely want to reach this goal by the end of the semester,” Mleczko said. “On any given day, if you are outside the library, you can run into over 100 students easily within an hour. Our strategy is really to cover all bases.” 

There was no clarification of what will happen if the coalition was to reach their goal, however, SPEAK members were informed by SG that if they do, they could “bring it to Rhea Law and she would advocate for us”, Muthalakuzhy said.

Ashlie Lamphere, sophomore and environmental science major, said she attended the fair in order to sign the petition. Lamphere said because Floridians see the effects of climate change more prominently, this cause will reach students. 

“I am going to put it up on my Instagram, and I feel like if other people do that, it will reach students,” she said. 

By creating art and petitioning, SPEAK planned on “hitting administration from different angles,” expressing how students feel impacted by administrative decisions, Muthalakuzhy said. 

“Hopefully it will tickle their hearts, get an emotional response out of them,” they said. “See if they have anything in their hearts that will help the student out.”

Julia Saad, News Editor

Julia Saad started as a news correspondent in fall 2022. During Saad's tenure at The Oracle, she has covered a variety of news. However, Saad's favorite topic to cover is being able to place readers in the ambient environments of USF events.