Vassar Agrees to Stop Spraying Toxic 2,4-D Pesticide!

Small yellow flags marked the areas where pesticides had been sprayed.
Small yellow flags marked the areas
where pesticides had been sprayed.

By Gabriel Dunsmith

On Thursday, May 9th, the Vassar Greens scored a huge victory in a joint forum between Vassar’s Buildings and Grounds department (B&G), the Committee on College Sustainability (CCS), and the student body. Responding to tremendous student pressure, B&G agreed to stop applying a noxious pesticide that contains the neurotoxin 2,4-D.

The first few weeks of spring on Vassar’s campus saw a surge in the amount of pesticides sprayed. Whenever pesticides were applied, small yellow flags cropped up all over campus to fence off the areas that had been treated. (The yellow flags were so widespread, however, that they kept few people from these areas.) The smell was nauseating. Meanwhile, faculty children were running around outside and students were trying to take advantage of spring by lounging on the lawns. The entire campus was saturated.

Though yellow flags are a good way to alert people to the presence of pesticides, they do little to stop exposure. Students, faculty and staff received no warning that pesticides would be sprayed, and there was no notification of the hazards such chemicals presented to Vassar’s population. By the time that the yellow flags appear, the pesticides have already been sprayed—and students, children, and pets are already breathing in 2,4-D.

The yellow warning flags cautioned people not to enter treated areas for 24 hours, but when 2,4-D was applied outside residence halls and academic buildings the pesticide became impossible to avoid. After suffering dizziness, headaches and coughing fits, many students became concerned that the pesticides were directly impacting their health.

Bags of Vassar’s former pesticide product, with 2,4-D info highlighted.

One morning, upon seeing a fresh crop of yellow flags on lawns early in the week of April 29th, Greens member Gabriel Dunsmith ’15 decided to follow B&G’s golf carts to find out what pesticides they were spraying. Stumbling upon a cart outside the Shakespeare Garden, he found empty bags of ProScape with a 2,4-D warning right on the bag. He snapped several photos and snuck away unseen.

This was the beginning of a massive public pressure campaign that mobilized concerned students, faculty, and activist organizations to get the College to stop applying 2,4-D and recommit to a low-spray policy that would take health concerns as B&G’s utmost lawn care priority. Soon enough, the Greens, working with President of Vassar’s Democracy Matters Adam Eichen ’15, plastered flyers up on bulletin boards in the Deece, Rocky, Main, and most other dorms and academic halls warning of the toxic nature of 2,4-D and calling on students to email administrators with their concerns. 2,4-D, the flyers pointed out, was an ingredient in Agent Orange, and has been linked to brain tumors and birth defects. Moreover, Vassar’s 2,4-D product has been banned in Suffolk and Nassau Counties in New York State.

Posters like this one went up all over Vassar's campus in early May to warn the campus community about VC's pesticide policy.
Posters like this one went up all over Vassar’s campus in early May to warn the campus community about VC’s pesticide policy.

Soon enough, dozens—if not hundreds—of students were volleying off emails to Vice President for Finance and Administration Betsy Eismeier, who directs B&G, as well as B&G representatives themselves, noting health concerns and asking the College to halt application of the chemical. The Greens, the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC), the Grassroots Alliance for Alternative Politics (GAAP), and the Environmental Studies Program all conducted email campaigns to raise awareness of the toxicity of the pesticide and to demand that the College stop spraying.

Within a week of this massive student mobilization, Buildings and Grounds agreed to stop spraying 2,4-D.

Kevin Mercer, Grounds Manager at VC, showed this image at the May 9th forum below the headline, "We Heard You!"
Kevin Mercer, Grounds Manager at VC, showed this image at the May 9th forum below the headline, “We Heard You!” Thanks, Kevin!

At the May 9th forum, B&G also committed to more transparency, all-school notifications of pesticide application, and a reevaluation of its pesticide policy to take place over the summer of 2013. Grounds Manager Kevin Mercer also signaled a willingness to work with students to incorporate health concerns into B&G’s lawn care practices. The campaign against 2,4-D, he believes, will be the start of open communications between B&G and the larger Vassar community, including students, faculty and staff. Moving forward, B&G is expected to form closer ties to the CCS, and may hold another forum on lawn care and pesticide use in the fall.

Profs. Janet Grey (PSYC/STS) and Miriam Rossi (CHEM), as well as other faculty, raised concerns about students’ health and brought to light a former commitment on the part of the College to go pesticide-free. Several students raised concerns about the health impact for workers who were spraying the chemical.

The Greens expect a strong relationship with B&G going ahead, and plan on holding B&G and the Administration accountable. As it is, we are incredibly grateful to both B&G and the Administration for their willingness to listen and respond to our demands.

This pushback against Vassar’s pesticide policy, however, was much more than a campaign against 2,4-D. In rallying students together around a common cause, this generation of Vassarites is shaping the College into a safer, healthier place. We could not have succeeded had we not cared for this place in which we not only study, but live. And part of students’ ability to thrive at Vassar is our ability to determine our own future. In stopping 2,4-D from being sprayed, we take command of the College into our own hands.

This is not just a victory for the Greens, but for the entire Vassar community. It shows a collective conscious that is geared towards the wellbeing of others—it is not just students’ or workers’ health that matters, but B&G’s willingness to listen. In the exposure of one problem on Vassar’s campus, people at all tiers of the institution resolved collectively to shape a better future for Vassar.

Indeed, in safeguarding our own health, we prevent 2,4-D from wrecking the health of future generations of Vassarites. B&G’s decision to stop spraying protects the Vassar community now and untold years into the future. And if we can stop one pesticide on Vassar’s campus, we can shape a relationship with the earth that sees the land as something not to be conquered, but to live with. In stopping 2,4-D, we promote more life.

It is a profound victory, to be able to do such a thing. After all, the protection of one small community in upstate New York is the protection of us all.

On Divestment: An Open Letter to the Board of Trustees

To the Vassar College Board of Trustees:

I write to you today with a great hope: that you, as esteemed trustees of Vassar College, will act promptly to secure a sustainable campus, economy, and climate for the 21st century by divesting the College’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry. 2012 was the warmest year on record, and tragedies such as Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the catastrophic social consequences of global warming. There is no better time than now to divest—and to show Vassar’s commitment to a sustainable world.

Divestment is not only the morally right thing to do to secure a world free of mountaintop removal, hydraulic fracturing, and deep-sea drilling, but it would furnish Vassar with innumerable benefits. Among those benefits:

  • Positive press (Imagine the headlines! Vassar would become a national leader in the fight against climate change.)
  • The established initiative to lead peer institutions in environmental actions
  • A bolstered commitment to sustainable development in the 21st century
  • A new selling point for the Admissions Office (divestment could attract many more potential students to the College)
  • A champion in the fight against hydraulic fracturing here in New York State

Clearly, Vassar has much to gain. With an endowment re-invested in renewable energies and in our neighborhood of Poughkeepsie, the College can simultaneously promote local, human-centered development and provide a pivotal shift towards the wind and solar energies that America will need in the coming years.

Vassar’s endowment has also shown remarkable growth in the last few years, and re-investment in sustainable energy should only improve that growth. Between 2008 and 2011, the endowment grew from $700 million to $814 million—an increase of more than sixteen (16) percent in just three years. As such, an investment plan that favors renewables and local investments may make Vassar’s endowment all the more stellar. Vassar has much to gain from riding the wave of renewable energy.

And though the endowment brings obvious monetary advantages to the College, Vassar should also keep in mind the health of future generations of students and the environment they will depend on. Vassar cannot afford to become complacent with climate change as the earth continues to bake and more hurricanes slam into our shores.

In the long term, an endowment divested of fossil fuel makes sense—it allows Vassar to project a vision of a healthier earth long into the future, and it builds a safer world for people all across the globe. Vassar will thrive all the more when the global environment, too, is thriving.

A world free of global warming is the world that future students will need. For the past few months, students all across the nation have been organizing for divestment because our future depends on it. Already Unity College and Hampshire College have divested; Middlebury is considering divestment; and strong student-led campaigns have cropped up at Vassar’s peer institutions like Columbia, Harvard, and Swarthmore.

Vassar students are ever more attentive to climate change—an issue that will define our generation. We know, too, that just as Vassar divested from apartheid in the 1980s, so too can it divest from Exxon, Massey, BP, Halliburton, and the other dirty corporations holding our planet hostage.

Vassar has a tremendous opportunity to lead the nation in fossil fuel divestment. It is time to build a brighter world—and, with your help, Vassar can take charge.

I hope you will join me, hundreds of concerned Vassar students, and thousands of students across the United States, in shaping a fossil-free future.


Gabriel Dunsmith

Co-Coordinator, Divestment Campaign

Divestment Campaign Pushes Vassar to Get Out of Fossil Fuels

The Vassar Greens’ Fossil Fools action saw Dick Cheneys passing out dirty dollars and hosted several speakers to talk about the importance of divestment.

The Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, which the Vassar Greens launched in September, is quickly gaining traction on campus.

On Tuesday, December 4th, Dick Cheneys marched through the Retreat passing out dirty dollars, and Vassar students and national environmental organizers spoke about climate change, Hurricane Sandy, the fossil fuel industry, and why it’s so important that Vassar divest. This action, called Fossil Fools, encourages Vassar to separate itself from coal, oil, and natural gas companies–the very companies polluting our air, water, and land, wrecking our climate, and endangering our future.

The Campaign is encouraging Vassar to fully divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. The endowment, which sits at over $800 million, is the College’s pool of assets that are held in the stock market and other funds. Unfortunately, Vassar–like so many other colleges across the country–invests in the fossil fuel industry, and is therefore profiting on practices like mountaintop removal, deep-sea oil drilling, and hydraulic fracturing.

The fossil fuel industry’s business model is one of destruction: as these energy corporations keep extracting coal, oil, and natural gas, climate change will only worsen. Super-storms like Hurricane Sandy could become a regular occurrence.

As youth activists, our goal is to prevent the total decimation of communities around the world from the fossil fuel industry’s abusive practices. And the best way to do that is to target the thing these companies care about the most: money.

Vibrant divestment campaigns are springing up all over the country, with Unity College and Hampshire College already voting to divest, and strong student-led efforts rising up at Harvard, Swarthmore, and Middlebury. The Vassar Greens stands in solidarity with its peer institutions, and is encouraging the College to lead the nation in a full divestment from fossil fuels.

Just yesterday, the New York Times ran a cover story on the college divestment movement.

Vassar’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign has met several times with Marianne Begemann, Dean of Strategic Planning, as well as Stephen Dahnert, Director of Investments, to discuss the Campaign’s proposal. The Campaign has also met with the Campus Investor Responsibility Committee (CIRC), the Student Life Committee of the Vassar Student Association (VSA), and has an upcoming meeting with President Catharine Bond Hill.

The Campaign has received endorsements from the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC), the Feminist Alliance, the Grassroots Alliance for Alternative Politics (GAAP), ProHealth, Vassar Democracy Matters, and the Vassar Young Democratic Socialists.

So join in and tell Vassar: we don’t want our money in the pockets of Halliburton, BP, Exxon, and Massey. It’s time to divest now.

Read about us in the Miscellany News here!

And visit the Campaign’s facebook page here!

Greens Flourish on Campus, Across Nation!

After a series of stunning successes last year, the Vassar Greens are moving full speed ahead to tackle environmental issues this school year.

This past school year, the Greens loaded up in cars and encircled the White House with 12,000 others in protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline. We demonstrated against nuclear power and nuclear weapons in New York City and brought a nuclear activist to campus to speak. We engaged the Poughkeepsie community with a protest to shut down the local incinerator, where all our trash is burned and subsequently released as toxic fumes. We traveled to hearings across New York State to speak out against the environmentally detrimental practice of hydrofracking, where thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals are pumped into the ground and into people’s water supplies to extract methane from deep within the earth. The Greens also met with Amtrak officials to discuss and change the train company’s trash policies.

However, the Greens aren’t just focused on the statewide or national stage. In fact, the most important work of Vassar’s environmental organization centers around issues on Vassar’s own soil.

Perhaps our largest accomplishment last year was when the Greens’ Tap That campaign banned bottled water in Vassar’s Dining Services. The student-led campaign energized and mobilized the student body, raising awareness of bottled water’s downsides: tons of plastic waste, depleted aquifers, inadequate health regulations—not to mention the global commodification of a resource all people depend upon.

On the heels of that victory, Tap That also encouraged the Administration to give stainless steel water bottles to the incoming freshmen to promote and hydration and use of tap water at Vassar. This year, this burgeoning campaign of the Greens is pushing forward this year to get bottled water out of the college’s vending machines.

Last April the Keep It Clean campaign ran the Dorm Energy Challenge, which encouraged Vassar students to lower their energy consumption and compete to see which House could lower their electricity usage the most. For the upcoming school year, Keep It Clean will be targeting dirty energy on campus, encouraging Vassar to invest in renewable energies and turning students’ attention to the sources of the college’s heating and electricity.

Zero Waste, the Greens’ third and final campaign, runs the Free Market in the College Center (room 235) where Vassar students can exchange clothes, books, and other goods for free. Zero Waste is centered around the idea that very few of our goods need to be thrown away—they can almost always be reused or recycled—and, in reducing our waste, we save trash from piling up in landfills or being burned in incinerators. Zero Waste champions and seeks to expand composting and recycling on campus.

With Governor Cuomo pushing for fracking in New York, Obama pushing for offshore drilling, and the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the earth unabated, the Greens are sure to have a lot to fight for in the future. But one thing’s for certain: by banding together, we can work to protect the fragile biosphere that we all inhabit. When we link hands around the White House, hoist signs condemning fracking, or hike together through the woods, we empower each other and we empower ourselves. And that is what the Greens are all about. No matter the ills that plague our land and our wellbeing, we hope to foster a relationship with the earth based on nurturing our planet, not dominating it.

Both on- and off-campus, the Greens promote a vision of a more socially and environmentally just world.

The Greens meet every Wednesday at 8 PM in the Jade Parlor. Follow us on twitter @vassargreens, and like us on facebook at

Success! Our Very Own Vassar Bottles Abound!

Vassar bottles are all over campus!

After the Vassar Greens succeeded in banning bottled water in Vassar’s Dining Services last spring (see, Vassar has started off the school year by giving stainless steel water bottles to all the freshmen.

These water bottles will encourage the use of tap water throughout campus, which is safer, healthier, and better for the environment than plastic bottled water! Many of the freshmen are already carrying around their bottles.

Bottles are also available in the Vassar Bookstore.

Tap water often has less contaminants in it than bottled water. Bottled water also leaches chemicals into water from the plastic container—so reusable, stainless steel bottles avoid these problems!

The new Vassar bottles also encourage students to stay hydrated.

This year, the Tap That campaign (the body of the Vassar Greens which worked on the bottled water ban) is pushing forward with getting rid of bottled water in the vending machines. (Though bottled water is no longer offered at the Retreat, the Kiosk, UpC, or Express Lunch, it remains in vending machines.)

To get involved with environmental initiatives on campus, including the Tap That campaign, join the Vassar Greens here!

This year, Greens meetings will take place at 8 PM on Wednesdays in the Jade Parlor (Main Building).

Bottled Water Banned on Vassar’s Campus!

Due to an energized and powerful initiative led by the Vassar Greens’ Tap That campaign, bottled water will no longer be offered through Vassar’s Dining Services. In only its second year, Tap That galvanized student support around the issue of banning bottled water–many members of the Vassar Student Association (VSA) received more student input on Tap That’s initiative than they’d ever received before! For all members of the Greens, Tap That’s momentum was inspiring and shows that we can make real change occur on campus!

Bottled water is detrimental to the environment for many reasons: private water companies drain aquifers and other natural water sources; it takes so much oil to make one bottle of water that the oil could fill up a quarter of the bottle; and bottled water is poorly regulated, meaning that many toxins can easily contaminate our body from bottled water.

From an economic and social standpoint, the Vassar Greens rejects the notion that water, a resource that is vital and necessary for all human life, can be commodified and sold on the global marketplace for means of corporate profit.

By reducing bottled water usage on campus, the Vassar Greens seeks to change the way that students think about bottled water and hopes to contribute to a world with less plastic waste and more clean drinking water for all!

Furthermore, tap water is free! That’s why we Tap That!

For more information, see the following article, “Rethink What You Drink”:

Here’s a cool graphic on the problems with bottled water:

And to read the Vassar Miscellany News’s coverage of  the bottled water ban, see

Congrats to Tap That, and to all in the Greens!

Dorm Energy Challenge 2012

The Vassar Greens’ campaign Keep It Clean is hosting a dorm energy challenge for the month of April. Keep It Clean is a new campaign whose ultimate goal is to reduce and eventually eliminate the campus’ dependence on dirty energy sources.

The goal of the dorm energy challenge is to encourage dorms to reduce their energy usage by 5%. The dorm who reduces their energy usage by the greatest percentage will be rewarded with a pizza party.

We’ll be tabling in the College Center and Retreat for the month of April with the Greens. Stop by to sign a pledge to reduce your energy usage. The dorm with the most pledges signed will also win a pizza party. Additionally, all pledges will be entered in a raffle to win a gift certificate to Babycakes.

Here are some easy ways to reduce your energy usage!
– Turn off your lights when you leave your room!
– Unplug unused electronics!
– Wash your clothes in cold water (bright colors) and try to reduce or eliminate your use of dryers.
– Try using the stairs instead of elevators when possible.
– Don’t leave the water running when brushing your teeth.
– Try to take shorter, cooler shower.

Fun facts!!
– If chargers are left plugged in they waste up to 20x more energy than they actually use for charging.
-15% of household energy is used on artificial lighting.
– Leaving the faucet on while brushing your teeth wastes about four gallons of water.
– The average American uses seven trees a year.

Tap That resolution up for VSA vote

The Vassar Greens campaign ‘Tap That’ has been working to push an initiative through VSA to ban bottled water on campus for the past year and a half.

THIS Sunday the resolution to ban bottled water on campus is up for a vote at the VSA meeting. Please show your support by emailing your representatives on campus and showing up to the VSA meeting this Sunday, March 25, at 7PM in the College Center MPR at Vassar College. The more the merrier. Come out and support the Vassar Greens on this important initiative!

Energy Awareness Week 2011

The Vassar Greens invite YOU to see if you can reduce energy use in your dorm by 5% for one week!

Brought to you by Keep It Clean – the VG campaign that aims to reduce dirty energy use on campus, Energy Awareness Week (HAPPENING RIGHT NOW) is a call to action for all members of the student body to work towards reducing energy use and to increase awareness of the wasteful practices happening every day in the places where we live. These are our homes! Don’t you want them to be as efficient and waste-free as possible? Please take a few seconds to make your living space as energy efficient as possible.

The possibilities are endless, but here’s just a short list of what you can do to reduce your energy use this week:

– turn up the temp on your mini-fridge
– take the stairs instead of the elevator
– turn off all lights when they’re not being used
– unplug your power strips when you’re not using them: anything plugged into an outlet is using energy!
– instead of putting your computer on ‘sleep’ mode for the night, turn it all the way off
– open your shades during the day to let natural light and heat into your room
– and so much more! Get creative!

Brought to you by the Vassar Greens’ Keep It Clean Campaign.