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For Generations to Come: Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Students for Environmental Concerns

50 years of history culminated this past week for the Students for Environmental Concerns (SECS), a Registered Student Organization (RSO) at the University of Illinois. The completely student-run organization specializes in combating environmental issues in the community and in the world through programing and activism. “We’re the oldest and largest environmental group on this campus,” said Sohinee Oswal, a senior studying Environmental Economics and Policy. Oswal is a co-president of the RSO, along with Mary Jane Oviatt. 

They’ve been working to build activists and raise awareness to the political and moral issues regarding the environment, and connecting people across campus to come together and enact change. For them, SECS is something they’ve been coming back to ever since their first meeting, and they hope to get students motived to do the same. “I transferred here my sophomore year and I knew I wanted to get involved in environmental activism. So, I looked up groups on the RSO website, found SECS on quad day, showed up to the first meeting sophomore year. I’ve been coming ever since.” Oviatt said. They culminated their year-long work with Earth Week 2018, which was a campus wide celebration of Earth Day through different events, such as a clothing swap, a group bike ride, and even a “Meatless Monday” event celebrating vegan and vegetarian food.

So why does the history of this rich, motivated organization matter so much? According to SECS alumni and Mayor of the City of Urbana Diane W. Marlin, it’s about the value and inspiration the club brings. “I mean, being a part of the organization changed my life,” she said. “Mainly it was the opportunity to make a difference, to do something meaningful, and to find a place in the universe. I came from a small town, and this is a huge University, and when I joined SECS it felt like home to me.” Her husband, John Marlin, is also an alumni of SECS. He weighed in on the sheer will-power it took to see the impact of student work. John Marlin referred to his work on the Oakley Dam that the Army Corp. of Engineers wanted to build, which if built, would have threatened the flooding of Robert Allerton Park in Monticello, IL. “Being a young upstart I thought it would take me about six months to stop the dam. It took twelve years.” The actions regarding the Allerton Dam also helped get students involved in something bigger than their studies. “The students and the faculty had to convince the administration to care about Allerton Park. Because in the 60s and 70s, they really didn’t. So not only were you fighting the Army Corps of Engineers, you were battling to get the university to take a stand for the property that they owned.” This inspiration is still present in the organization today, and as students got ready for the Beyond Coal Rally this past Saturday, they reflected on the history of the event. The rally was part of Earth Week and the Divest from Coal rally, which was a rally to get the University to Divest 100% from fossil fuel sources. “In 2016 the academic senate voted on whether or not they wanted the University to divest. And I remember it was a kinda cold spring day. It wasn’t really clear whether they wanted to divest or not, and I remember Tyler, one of our founders of Beyond Coal spoke and I just so moved by his words and I was so ready for everyone to vote yes to divest,” said co-president Oviatt, “and they did and it was huge and we were celebrating outside the union and put out a banner. And I remember thinking like we’re going to be able to win this, justice is on our side.”

The Beyond Fossil Fuels Art Show at the Channing Murray Foundation took place from April 16th to 21st. The Art featured is “A Not So Starry Night” by Abigale Pstrzoch. Photo Credit: Laura Schultz

Founded in 1968, Students for Environmental Concerns has been changing the University of Illinois campus year by year. Organizations such as the Student Sustainability Committee, which allocates funds to sustainable campus projects, and The Green Observer, the University’s only environmental magazine, were founded as branches out of SECS. Going throughout the week, the organization could teach the impact of truly being sustainable, from personal choices such as eating and recycling clothing, to bonding together to rally for something bigger. They enacted change on a large scale. “It’s the continuity of the environmental ethic, is what’s important,” John Marlin stated. Which is why the organization will continue to inspire change and motive students, for generations to come.

Cover photo is Aristidis (Aries) Loumis, a member of Students for Environmental Concerns, calls his Representatives at the Earth Week Political Action Call-in 2018.

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