By Schae Beaudoin
The University of Connecticut is considering moving the learning community EcoHouse from its current location in the East Campus Sprague Hall to the new STEM dorm across campus for the Fall 2016 semester.
EcoHouse is described as a learning community designed for students who are interested in environmental issues and sustainable living.
UConn engineering professor and EcoHouse faculty director Dr. Richard Parnas explained the reasons UConn administration has given for the proposed move.
“First, the learning communities would like to consolidate a number of the learning communities into the new STEM dorm, in order for much better coordination between them. But another reason I’ve been told is that they want all the learning communities to be in handicap accessible living arrangements and Sprague, where EcoHouse is now, is not handicap accessible,” said Parnas.
Parnas said he believes the first floor of Sprague Hall and Whitney Dining Hall, the dining hall for East, could be made handicap accessible relatively easily.
The current location at East is convenient for many EcoHouse students, because Parnas estimates about half the students involved in the learning community are School of Agriculture students. Many agriculture buildings are right next to the East Campus dorms.
Sophomore EcoHouse student Madeline Kollegger is concerned about the commute to her classes if she lives in the STEM dorm next year.
“I’m a natural resources major and a geoscience minor, so all of my classes are in this eastern side of campus,” said Kollegger. “Having to come from all the way over by Hilltop where the new STEM dorm is, would take a very long time, especially since a lot of the work I’m doing in my natural resources classes is in the UConn forest.”
Sophomore EcoHouse student Anna Alvarado is also concerned about the distance from many of her classes.
“If we move to the STEM dorm, everything would definitely be like another 15 minutes of walking, and that would be awful,” Alvarado said.
Whitney Dining Hall in East Campus is directly involved with EcoHouse by serving food from Spring Valley Student Farm. Many EcoHouse students volunteer at the farm, including Alvarado.
“Whitney is such a nice environment, since it’s a smaller dining hall and any work that we do on the farm, we get to see the direct impact of it,” she said.
EcoHouse students say being across campus from Whitney is one of the reasons they’re worried about the possible move.
“Moving to the STEM dorm would mean that we wouldn’t be able to go to Whitney Dining Hall, which is a lot more cultured towards the typical lifestyle of someone who’s in EcoHouse,” said sophomore EcoHouse student Eric Hong. “Like trying to eat local foods and everything, which Whitney Dining Hall does a lot more of.”
Parnas also expresses concern over the needs of vegan students in EcoHouse.
“We have a fair amount of vegetarians, and vegetarians can be taken care of reasonably well in a lot of the eating places on campus, but vegans cannot, and Whitney is excellent for that,” he said.
Whitney often serves tofu and tempeh, among other vegan-friendly meals.
Kolleger said she enjoys many EcoHouse community activities, like cooking in Sprague’s kitchen. She also said she is worried about the character of EcoHouse changing if the learning community is put in the STEM dorm.
Although Kolleger, Hong, and Alvarado said EcoHouse has been an important and largely enjoyable part of their experience at UConn, they are all unsure whether they would choose to live in EcoHouse next year if it was relocated to the STEM dorm.
“That’s something I’m struggling with, because I really wanted to be in EcoHouse all four years and I don’t know. I’m not sure yet,” said Kolleger.
“Putting all things into consideration, there’s probably a good chance that I would not be in EcoHouse, just because of how difficult it would be,” said Hong.
UConn Spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said in an email that the university is still reviewing the future of EcoHouse and has not made a decision yet. “We’re collaborating closely with the Learning Communities office, though, and those decisions will be shared as soon as we have final information,” Reitz said.