Save the Grand Fennell Oak
PC Community Unites to Speak Out Against the College’s Plans to Cut Down Historic Campus Tree
With the demolition of Fennell Hall expected to start this summer for the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, the school plans to cut down the over 150-year-old Grand Fennell Oak to make room for this building. Immediately, faculty from all disciplines, as well as students and families, began demonstrating their frustration and opposition to these plans. A student-created change.org petition has since been published online, asking for the College to rethink this decision. Amassing over 600 signatures in the first three days alone and over 1,000 in the first week, the petition has received great support from our campus community, proving how much the red oak is valued by our community members. From a monetary perspective, The Grand Fennell Oak is appraised at over $44,000, according to the tree asset value listed on the 2022 Providence College Tree Inventory and Management Plan. However, it’s clear that this tree has a significantly greater inherent, historic, and personal value to members of the Providence College community.
Many petition supporters have brought up the environmental importance of trees, explaining that trees are important habitats for insect species, as well as important for air and stormwater filtration, as Jill Parrett, Director of Environmental Health and Safety, explains. Trees play an integral role in removing pollution from our air, converting it into clean, breathable oxygen. She also mentions that trees have the added benefit of alleviating stress and improving mental health. In addition, Parrett states that “mature trees with large canopies also provide a respite from the urban heat islands we live in.” Multiple comments on the petition similarly address how trees will be essential in helping us cope with increased temperatures due to climate change. As carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise due to our reliance on fossil fuels, we will need trees to remove these pollutants from our atmosphere via photosynthesis. However, if we carelessly cut down trees, we threaten our planet and our very existence. It is especially important to protect large trees like the Grand Fennell Oak, as larger trees are much more effective at removing atmospheric pollutants than small trees.
Additionally, native trees play an essential role in our ecosystem. As Providence College cuts down native trees and replaces them with non-native species, this will threaten the biodiversity we have on campus. For example, Audubon explains that scientists have determined that oak trees are home to more than 550 moth and butterfly species. This means that oaks are not only vital to the survival of these insects, but organisms that rely on caterpillars, moths, and butterflies as food. Audubon adds that in contrast, the ginkgo tree, a non-native species, supports just five species. We need to prioritize preserving these valuable tree species and keeping our campus a natural environment where nature and biodiversity can flourish.
Others add that it is our responsibility to protect Creation and serve as stewards of our environment as highlighted in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Sí: On the Care of Our Common Home. Dr. Lynette Boos from the Mathematics and Computer Science Department emphasizes that we have “been entrusted with an irreplaceable resource for current and future students, and it is our responsibility to be careful stewards and not do anything short-sighted because it seems convenient.” Dr. Joe Cammarano of the Political Science Department similarly adds that these decisions cannot be based on short-term economic gain; rather, they must focus on and prioritize our long-term stewardship of our Earth. When the School of Nursing and Health Sciences opens, Providence College will undeniably grow economically; however, we cannot ignore the long-term consequences of these actions which would endanger the preservation of nature for future generations, he explains.
In his encyclical, Pope Francis highlights that we need to stop treating nature as a resource to be manipulated and exploited to our advantage. To cut down the Grand Fennell Oak would be in direct opposition to the words of Pope Francis. In his encyclical, he explains, “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.” Cutting down the Grand Fennell Oak only perpetuates this trend of human destruction which the Pope is trying to warn us about. We have no right to carelessly destroy and rid our planet of its biodiversity. To do so would be to violate God’s Creation. Dr. Sandra Keating from the Department of Theology echoes this idea, explaining that the Grand Fennell Oak “does not belong to us; it belongs to the order of Creation. These are the types of decisions that have contributed to our current environmental issues.”
As explained in Laudato Sí, we owe it to future generations to preserve and protect plants, animals, and our environment. Providence College Alumni have explained similar sentiments. Beth Ferland ’94 talks about how she has multiple family members that have attended Providence College, all walking on the same grounds as the Grand Fennell Oak. “My dad walked by this tree, many of my uncles, myself, my husband, and now my daughter,” she says. “Looking forward to the future hoping my grandchildren will enjoy the tree and think of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who were witnesses to this grand tree.” Choosing to cut down this tree would erase an important part of history for many alumni, students, and faculty.
Professors also have strong memories associated with the tree. Judd Schiffman of the Art Department, for example, has used the Grand Fennell Oak as a source of inspiration in his ceramics classes. He explains that in the studio, students have been making sculptures to place at the base of its trunk and honor the tree. Schiffman adds that he makes a point to walk underneath the Grand Fennell Oak when he travels from the studio to the art gallery in Smith Center for the Arts, explaining that “it creates an abundance of shade and feels like a wild, natural space in the midst of a very well-groomed and cared for campus.”
Dr. Boos, whose office is in Howley Hall, also has a strong connection to the red oak. Since her first day at Providence College, she has been “in awe of this tree,” something she continues to feel every morning when she walks into her office. Parrett adds that during her field work across campus, she loves observing the tree change from season to season, whether it’s watching the leaves change color or counting bird nests.
Current students have also expressed their deep, personal connections with the Grand Fennell Oak. Lily Alessandro ’24 has lived in Fennell Hall since her freshman year. Although she is sad about the demolition of the building, she hopes that the tree can remain and “coexist” as our campus continues to grow. She explains that she chose to live in Fennell Hall because of its “closeness to nature.” Alessandro appreciates the naturalness of lower campus and this tree specifically, as much of the environment on campus is carefully pruned and landscaped. As a Catholic, she explains that the Grand Fennell Oak serves as a reminder of the beauty and mystery of nature, as well as God’s creativity and love for Creation.
Another PC student, Sarah Klema ’23, lived in Fennell Hall during the pandemic, explaining that during this isolating time, the Grand Fennell Oak, which stood right outside her window, helped her feel less alone. She states that each day, “it became routine to greet the tree before entering [her] dorm, or to stand under its presence in a moment of contemplation when coming back from a walk.” She felt protected underneath its canopy, during a time in which she needed this comfort.
The only question that remains is what can we, as students, faculty, families, and alumni, do to save this historic tree? Dr. Tuba Agartan of the Health Sciences Department explains that sustainability needs to be prioritized more at Providence College, specifically by incorporating sustainability initiatives into the College’s strategic plan and courses. From a student level, one of the best things we can do is speak out and express our opinions. Student support and advocacy has been imperative in implementing some of the most impactful sustainability changes on campus. From composting to reusable to-go boxes, these are successful initiatives that were brought up and proposed by students. By expressing our opposition to the destruction of the Grand Fennell Oak, students can play a critical role in saving this tree.
The Grand Fennell Oak existed long before Providence College was established. It would be careless to cut it down and lose such an important part of history and our ecosystem. As Dr. Keating explains, “At a Catholic College, we should be an example of commitment to protect Creation, not to destroy what is in our way.”
ECOPC Kicks Off Earth Week with Eaton Street Clean-up and Clean Plate Challenge
In the week leading up to their annual Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 22, ECOPC hosted a variety of different events, including their Eaton Street Clean-up and Clean Plate Challenge. For the clean-up, the club recruited eight volunteers to pick up litter on the yards, driveways, and sidewalks along Eaton Street. Supplies such as trash bags and gloves were provided by The 02908 Club, who typically send out their own clean-up crew after weekend parties.
The volunteers spent about one hour picking up litter, primarily cans and bottles, staying away from the significant amount of broken glass that littered the street. They plan to host another clean-up with Bio Society, this time at a beach, to close out their Earth Week festivities.
One volunteer expressed her frustration with the blatant disrespect for the property and the community. “What was surprising to me was how it wasn’t just littering and single-use drinks, but it was also clearly deliberate destruction of property…like a TV, or the fact that people put bottles and cans right under people’s tires.” Many volunteers were similarly disgusted by the sheer amount of trash, especially the shattered TV they came across on the sidewalk and the trash going down the drains.
Another volunteer brought up the apparent lack of concern students have for cleaning up after themselves. “What was really disturbing to me was the parking lots between the houses. They were completely covered in cans, bottles, and other trash. There had to have been thousands that no one had the courtesy or care to pick up. I found it really striking, but I think it’s an unfortunate reflection of the culture at PC, and how we don’t value sustainability as much as we should.”
“My thoughts were more like, wow, people can’t walk their dogs here because of all the glass,” another volunteer said. “It’s not safe anymore because of their littering.” Another added, “It’s disrespectful to people who live and drive on the roads regularly that aren’t just seniors.”
Aside from the clean-up, ECOPC also held their second Clean Plate Challenge of the year in Raymond Dining Hall this Tuesday from 4–8 p.m., where they measured students’ leftovers before they were thrown away or composted. Approximately 162 pounds of food scraps were measured by the club during this short four hour period, about 2.5 times more waste than their last event in the fall.
Through this challenge, ECOPC hopes to raise awareness about food waste, and how it’s easy for students to decrease their waste by taking smaller portions. However, many students expressed frustration towards the dining hall’s large portion sizes given at stations that are not self-serve. This is a concern that Sodexo is currently addressing with their staff.
In addition, on Thursday, ECOPC hosted a worms and dirt dessert table in Ray. They hope to see a large turnout at their Earth Day celebration this Saturday, as well as improve environmental awareness on campus through their events.
Making Earth Day Every Day
Why We Need to Celebrate This Holiday Year-round
The 1960s was a critical decade for environmental policy in the United States, serving as the first time politicians began to recognize how humans play a large role in environmental destruction. Fortunately, this led to important policy changes and legislation to protect our planet. However, this relationship between human activity and ecological degradation was something already well-known among environmentalists prior to the 1960s.
Environmentalists including Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and Gaylord Nelson were essential figures in the environmental movement. Carson’s Silent Spring is arguably one of the most influential texts of the movement. Published in 1962, it revealed the dangers of D.D.T. and pesticide use on both human and wildlife health, accusing chemical companies of hiding these dangerous side effects from the public. The publication resulted in the ban of D.D.T. across the country. With his Sand County Almanac published in 1949, Leopold introduced the term “land ethic” for the first time, an idea that humans need to coexist with nature, rather than continue to dominate and exploit it. This message is still prevalent today, as decades later, it seems as though we still have yet to adopt such a vision.
In 1969, environmentalist and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea for Earth Day, and in 1970, it was celebrated for the first time on April 22. Earth Day was a turning point for environmental awareness and advocacy in the U.S. The same year in 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was formed, as well as the National Environmental Education Act and the Clean Air Act. In the next three years, the U.S. would also go on to establish the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. The first Earth Day was an environmental breakthrough, resulting in some of the most important environmental legislation we have to date.
Still, just over 50 years later, it seems as though we have forgotten the importance of Earth Day and what it means as we continue to act in unsustainable ways that harm our planet. Every year, over one billion people in over 193 countries celebrate Earth Day. Imagine how much of an impact we could make if this many people treated every day like Earth Day.
From what the March 2023 I.P.C.C. report explains, it’s clear that we need people advocating for environmental change year-round. According to the report, we have already caused our planet to warm an additional 1.1 degrees Celsius, dangerously nearing the 1.5 degrees Celsius scientists constantly warn is the tipping point.
What happens if temperatures increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius? In terms of biodiversity, 14 percent of species could be threatened with extinction, and a loss of up to 90 percent of coral reefs is also expected. Additionally, 950 million people could start experiencing drought as well as extreme temperatures, with 45–58 days of the year likely to surpass 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Flooding is also expected to affect 24 percent more people with this increase.
We need to change our habits every day of the year, not just on Earth Day. We cannot combat climate change and other environmental issues by reflecting on our lifestyles and advocating for the planet only one day a year. It’s our responsibility to not only make sustainable choices each day but to push for environmental policy that is crucial for mitigating climate change. If we want to live on a planet that is equitable, sustainable, just, and habitable, this is something we have to do all year.
Close to Home: Friars Celebrate Earth Day
by Malena Aylwin ’22
Earth Day is an annual holiday recognized internationally on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection and wildlife conservation. First celebrated in 1970, it now includes events coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network in more than 192 countries.
In celebration of Earth Day, Providence College, along with WDOM 91.3 FM and PC Go Green held an Earth Day Carnival on Sunday, April 28 from 11-3 p.m.
Thought the carnival was originally planned to be held on Slavin Lawn, but it was moved to Lower Slavin due to the rain.
The event and activities were organized by EcoPC, which consists of 12 EcoReps and their respective hall councils.
There were as many as 22 tables, each with different activities and ideas all honoring Earth Day. Some of the featured activities included decorating clay pots and mason jars, reusable canvas bags, free koozies, lactose-free ice cream, Earth Day trivia to win a metal straw, and other fun activities.
Kailey Humason ‘22, who won a metal straw, said, “It was really nice to see what we can do as college students to help our planet. It can even be in little ways, such as using a metal straw for your coffee, that can have a big impact.”
There were various clubs present like Gaelic Society, Photo Club, Student Congress, American Marketing Association, as well as outside groups like Sunrise, National Grid, Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, Waste Management, Like No Udder, and Glow Smoothie Cafe. Live music was provided by both an outside band and a PC student group. They also had free pizza, popcorn, and numerous giveaways.
Fatima Velasquez ‘22 stated, “The Earth Day carnival was a complete success. They had a lot of fun games and prizes that revolved around the same theme: saving and being aware of our planet. This is an ongoing problem that in 10 to 15 years we will all have to face it and so will our kids, so I think everyone should be more serious and interested because, after all, it is our planet and our lives that are at stake.”
Some students were more concerned than others regarding our planet’s status.
Grace Crowley ‘22 said, “I feel like everyone should be more involved in these types of activities because it’s just so sad how our planet is dying in front of our very own eyes, and half of the people don’t seem to care enough.”
Overall, around 300 students, staff, and families stopped by to participate in the activities and learn how to protect the planet.