The Collegian
Sunday, July 12, 2020

Students upset as Earth Lodge begins transition

I know what I want to do with my life because of Earth Lodge.

I joined Earth Lodge my sophomore year and learned more from it than all the other classes I had that semester combined.

My interests have swiftly grown from a limited curiosity about environmental policy to a dedicated student of green philosophy, which I plan to study further through a Ph.D. in political theory with a focus on green political thought.

Many Earth Lodge alumni can share similar stories. The thought-provoking novels, open discussions and encouraging professors bestowed more knowledge, friendships and happiness than anything else I have experienced on campus.

Earth Lodge is the best thing that has happened to me during my time at Richmond, and it has played an important role in my life.

As some readers may already know, the Earth Lodge Living-and-Learning program will be changing significantly for 2011-2012.

For those who are not familiar with Earth Lodge, it is a residential program to which students apply, and if accepted, take a class called Natural Reflections in Literature and share a living space together.

The class, while an excellent literature course, also acts as an interdisciplinary exploration focusing on man's relationship to his natural environment, or the nexus of humans, nature and technology.

Though most of the reading is done on environmentally related topics, calling Earth Lodge an environmental literature class hardly encapsulates the depth or breadth of the coursework.

While the program certainly attracts people interested in environmental issues, the focus rests on man's relationship to nature rather than science or policy making.

History, psychology and philosophy also play important roles in the Earth Lodge syllabus.

Yet the most engaging and thought-provoking component of an Earth Lodge experience is the personal touch of our instructor, Lee Carleton.

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A senior-student project suggested the idea of developing living-learning programs on campus and student development officials contacted Carleton about developing a program originally called the Outdoor House, which started as a co-ed housing option in Pacific House for students who enjoyed the outdoors.

The success of this pioneering effort led to the development of other living-learning options on campus and Carleton eagerly worked to reshape the Outdoor House into Earth Lodge, a program with a uniquely inspiring curriculum.

Unlike the Sophomore Scholars in Residence program, Carleton wanted juniors and seniors to have access to this program, too, and insisted that he could provide a compelling, dynamic program without the expense and complication of other Living-and-Learning programs.

His intellect, passion and interests have shaped Earth Lodge to be what it is today -- a program that has changed the lives of many students at Richmond, including myself.

When we received the news that Carleton's assistant director position in the Writing Center had been eliminated, the news was met with both anger and tears.

Within the very first day of hearing the news, Earth Lodge students and upperclass Lodge alumni, along with students eager to apply to Earth Lodge, met in the lounge of the fourth floor of Lakeview to discuss what had happened.

In one room there were more than 40 students: three generations of Earth Lodge, enthusiastic freshmen and other advocates of education in sustainability.

I'm not sure how to describe the immense sadness we feel for what happened to Carleton, or how this will affect our program.

Andy Gurka and Geoff Cox of the Living-and-Learning office have since assured us that they will continue to support Earth Lodge as a program, citing high interest among first-year students.

We hope to work with their office to help guide the future of Earth Lodge. However, none of us think that the program will ever be the same.

The students of Earth Lodge wanted to collectively express why this program is so important to us.

Earth Lodge has been a haven for many students who have had a rough freshman year.

A quick straw poll at our meeting demonstrated that more than 80 percent of Earth Lodge students/alumni were seriously considering transferring, but stayed because of Earth Lodge, which provided the attraction and inspiration of a tight-knit community.

And while there are many programs on campus working to promote racial, sexual or religious diversity on campus, Earth Lodge is a rare beacon for diversity of thought.

And so, we want to close with a modest plea: that other students be allowed the same amazing experience we had. We hope to work with the Living-and-Learning office to keep the Earth Lodge true to its founding principles.

We will never be able to thank Carleton enough for what he has done in our lives, but we will diligently act upon what he taught us: that creative and committed people can accomplish whatever they set their minds to if they have the courage and are given the support to think and act creatively.

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