UTEP’s Student Green Team advocates for eco-friendliness
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When she first participated in UTEP’s Earth Week in 2014, Fernanda Lugo was surprised at how low-scale the weeklong event was. Lugo, who is a biology major, cared deeply about being eco-friendly and sustainable, and wanted to bring more of that to campus.
Fast-forward to this year’s Earth Week and Lugo, now a senior, is currently embarking on her second Earth Week as president of the Student’s Green Team, and the once smaller-scaled event has turned into a school-wide function.
“I’m in biology and I’m going into pre-med, which is something that helps people. I figured that you can’t help people if there’s no planet for people to be healthy on, so it’s interconnected,” Lugo said. “Even being in nature, there are studies that show that it improves your mental health and improves your immune responses, which are topics that will be discussed in Earth Week. Specifically, we will talk about how you can help nature and how nature can help you, you just need to start caring about it.”
From just participating in the 2014 Earth Week to directing the entire week of events, Lugo has developed a deep passion for becoming more eco-friendly. It started with gaining awareness toward sustainability, which led to Lugo leading forums on waste and consumerism.
“I noticed that a lot of people were interested in it and wanted to do more in it, but the only student organization for it was environmental advocates, and it was small and dying,” Lugo said. “We decided to do a big collaborative event for Earth Week in 2016, and we tried to educate and advocate, while still making it fun.”
An event that was a lot larger than imagined, Lugo saw a wide array of student interest and involvement in her inaugural Earth Week with the Student’s Green Team.
“The biggest improvement since the start has been student involvement,” Lugo said. “We’ve heard a lot of students, who saw it last year, and (they) asked how they can help this year and are really excited to help out. It’s cool and it’s a bit scary because it’s pretty much me designating where they can help.”
The school’s Green Team wants to not only advocate for eco-friendliness campus-wide, but also encourage other students to join them in practicing sustainability through volunteering, outreach and informing the student body. They have led different movements across campus.
They meet each Monday in the Classroom Building, room 004 at 2 p.m. to discuss eco-related topics through different guest speakers.
“We also just want to know people’s opinions and ideas—even if you don’t know anything about environmentalism, you can have the best idea on how to make it better,” Lugo said. “All the forums and discussions we’ve had led us to our current projects that we are having with eco-takeouts, the bike fix-it stations and outdoor drinking water fountains, which will be coming soon. We have the filling stations inside, why not outside?”
For this year’s Earth Week, Lugo and the organization have planned various events ranging from planting cacti, open forums and even a solar hot dog cook-off. The week’s events will start on Wednesday, April 19, and will lead up to Earth Day, on Saturday, April 22.
“We want to see as many students participating in these events and really engaging in the idea of how we have to change our morality towards environmentalism,” Lugo said. “It can’t be something that’s ultra political; it has to be something as being a kind person—something to do on your day-to-day—to think about recycling, saving water and educating more to do the same.”
Dillon Bouqayes, a freshman pre-med major, believes that one thing the Student’s Green Team can push for is more residential life recycling programs.
“They haven’t promoted recycling in resident life at all in both dorms I’ve lived in,” Bouqayes said. “To promote or improve recycling, they should just at least have a place where we can recycle at the dorms. Right now, there’s none. And then maybe promote different recycling stations during our move-in day.”
One of the biggest stereotypes surrounding the local environmental push is the fact that El Paso is in a desert ecosystem, so there’s not much to do for the environment. Lugo, however, aims to dismiss that preconceived notion.
“The biggest problem is that we live in the desert. People aren’t aware that there is wildlife out there and it matters here,” she said. “We’re actually in a bio-diverse area here and it’s worthy to go see and go hiking in. That’ll make you care about it more. That’s some of the myths we’re trying to dispel.”