Daily, and for the homesick more frequently, the trek is made to the college mailroom. Eagerly students peer into the tiny glass windows of their mailboxes in the hopes of seeing a thin blue package slip or a 'confidential' pay check. Too often these hopes are sent soaring and then dashed when the occupant of a mail locker turns out to be none other than an all-campus mailing.
All of this is about to change.
Last year Director of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety Cheryl Wolfe brought the New York based company INFORM to Oberlin. INFORM works for college campuses around the country in efforts to reduce waste and expenses. During the planning sessions, paper, clothing and energy waste reduction strategies were put together.
One of the first projects generated by the INFORM conference centered around reducing the amount of junk-mail students receive. Jeff Bauman, head of the city's recycling and waste reduction program, printed postcards for students to use to remove their names from mailing lists.
Sadhu Johnston, then a junior and an environmental studies major, spent several days distributing the postcards to interested students in the mailroom. Overall, he remembers that people were very enthusiastic about the junk-mail reduction program but were more concerned about the onslaught of all-campus mailings than with the occasional catalog.
Devin Theriot-Orr, who has since graduated, also became aware of the student-generated demand to change the nature of all-campus mailings. Johnston proposed raising the price of campus-mailings to rates that would startle and discourage any chronic all-campus mail senders, while Theriot-Orr suggested banning all-campus mailings entirely.
The two students put together a proposal, the main goal being to keep the student body informed while cutting down on the amount of waste generated. Their proposal has generated a new campus publication, the Oberlin Shorts.
Beginning this week, all those wishing to send all-student mailings must either quick mail, e-mail, or deliver announcements to the Office of College Relations. By Thursday of the same week, an all-student mailing, Oberlin Shorts, will be sent out with announcement summaries.
Additionally, announcements will appear in their entirety on Oberlin Online and in a Plexiglas-enclosed bulletin board in the mailroom. Hard copies of the announcements will be available in labeled compartments under the bulletin board.
Last year, over 196,000 sheets of paper were used for all-campus mailings. Costing an average of $130 a pop, individual departments spent $9,360 on all-student mailings.
Johnston and Theriot-Orr have estimated that the elimination of all-campus mailings will reduce costs by 67 percent and paper usage by 79 percent, saving over 150,000 sheets annually.
"We got signatures from all the top dogs in the college. We got Nancy's signature and then Al Moran, director of the Office of College Relations, took the project on," Johnston said.
Johnston has spent the summer working with the Office of College Relations designing the system that will produce the Oberlin Shorts. The proposal will be on trial for the first half of this semester. Following fall break, all-campus mailings will be eliminated and the program will move into full swing.
As yet the bulletin board that will display the hard copy of all-student announcements has not been constructed, which Johnston believes may be a "serious drawback to the trial period."
Other concerns include the possibility of increased confusion for both students and college faculty as they try to figure out the new system. To combat confusion, the Department of Environmental Health and Safety has started an education blitz for students and faculty.
Additionally, Johnston reported that recycling assistants working with the Department of Environmental Health and Safety and a student employee working with the Office of College Relations "will be making an ongoing effort throughout the year to perfect the program."
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 1, September 5, 1997
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