Making graduation regalia affordable and sustainable

Through an independent project, an Environmental Studies senior took advantage of a hiccup in her degree planning to build upon the work of former students

Something that makes me proud to be an Environmental Studies major at Beloit College is the program’s willingness to embrace student projects that point out ways that campus sustainability can be improved. This semester, I was fortunate enough to advance a program that could not only reduce waste, but also remove a financial barrier to a Beloit-quality education.

At the beginning of the Fall 2019 semester, as I settled into my senior year at Beloit, I was disappointed to learn that my Environmental Studies capstone course had been cancelled due to low enrollment. In an anomaly for the popular program, only six members of the Class of 2020 are graduating with an Environmental Studies major this year. Each of us was going to have to strike out on our own to complete our final credit.

I found my energy again upon remembering that during the spring of my freshman year, three then-seniors—Macy Tran’17, Lola Davis’17 and Bonnie Willison’17—attempted to create a student-run and school-sponsored initiative to collect graduation regalia following the commencement ceremony, then redistribute it the following year. Macy, Lola and Bonnie recognized that asking students to buy caps and gowns for a one-time use wasn’t a sustainable practice and that the cost could be prohibitive.

Those students discovered that a binding contract between Beloit College and Turtle Creek Bookstore in downtown Beloit, where until May 2020 students went for textbooks and swag, prevented the school from sponsoring any method for seniors to obtain their caps and gowns beyond ordering it directly from the bookstore.

The summer before my senior year, Turtle Creek Bookstore announced that it would be closing around the time I graduated. I knew that the bookstore’s closure has been a loss for the community in many ways, but I also realized that it meant that the 2017 initiative had a second chance.

Because this project would require so much independent work and because it had to be taken on during the Spring semester, it now seemed like an ideal option. Instead of an extracurricular that I had to carve out extra time for, I could get credit for this particular passion project.

Anthropology and Spanish major Bob Avery’20 and I teamed up, with the help of Professor of Biology Yaffa Grossman, to revamp the original project. We also carried on another element of that initiative by securing funds from Beloit Student Government Funding Board to provide free regalia to seniors of low-income status.

As I write this, I’m almost ready to send a recommendation memo (which I had to learn how to produce) describing our plan for the reuse initiative to members of the administration. With the sponsorship of the Office of Student Success, Equity and Community, I hope that this program can eventually provide sustainable and affordable graduation regalia to all Beloit College seniors.

It’s heartbreaking that given the present circumstances, the Class of 2020 is still not sure whether we’ll get to wear our regalia (in public) at all. But everyone who was involved this semester, and in 2017, can take comfort in knowing that at least future classes will get to receive their diplomas while wearing sustainably obtained caps and gowns. Like everything that follows the philosophy of Environmental Studies at Beloit College, this program was built to last.

Clare Eigenbrode’20
May 12, 2020

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