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How Audubon on Campus Students Marked Earth Month Across the U.S.

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On a sunny Friday in early April, a group of students from Rust College in northern Mississippi traveled to a local Black-owned farm called Foxfire Ranch for the weekend. This annual trip was planned by the school’s Audubon campus chapter, with the goal of inviting students to experience the outdoors. For the chapter at Rust College, a private historically Black college (HBCU), the weekend at Foxfire Ranch is one way that students are making sure that nature is for everyone.  

Campus chapter president Sa’kinah Williams had never really thought about birding until she met faculty adviser Dr. Anna B. Scott during her freshman year at Rust College. “I think bringing it to an HBCU to let Black students engage in being in nature and seeing the birds and understand what they do to our environment—and in turn how they help us—has been so important in really just recognizing who we are as people and the way that we treat the earth,” she said.

According to owner Bill Hollowell, Foxfire Ranch has been passed down through his family for five or six generations, with his ancestors living there and working the land as far back as the 1840s. “I’m totally proud and delighted to see Rust College students out here, getting in touch with the land,” he said. “We appreciate that very much.”

The Audubon on Campus program provides college students with opportunities to exercise leadership skills while offering mentorship and pathways to sustainable careers. Since it was founded in 2018, more than 90 chapters have been established at college campuses across the U.S., with many marking Earth Day this year. Here are just some of the Audubon on Campus events that took place during the month of April:

Rust College’s Audubon on Campus chapter visits Foxfire Ranch in Waterford, Mississippi during their annual campout on April 5, 2024. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Rust College’s Audubon on Campus chapter visits Foxfire Ranch in Waterford, Mississippi during their annual campout on April 5, 2024. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Rust College’s Audubon on Campus chapter birding during their annual campout at Foxfire Ranch in Waterford, Mississippi on April 6, 2024. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Owner Bill Hollowell (right) guides students while horseback riding during Rust College’s Audubon on Campus chapter annual campout at Foxfire Ranch in Waterford, Mississippi on April 6, 2024. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Students participate in horseback riding during Rust College’s Audubon on Campus chapter annual campout at Foxfire Ranch in Waterford, Mississippi on April 6, 2024. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Rust College’s Audubon on Campus chapter during their annual campout at Foxfire Ranch in Waterford, Mississippi on April 6, 2024. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Wildlife Art Garden Installation—Xavier University of LouisianaAt Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA), a private HBCU in New Orleans, students transformed the Art Village on campus into a vibrant wildlife garden with a service-learning opportunity that was free and open to the public. The students incorporated a variety of plants, trees, and student-crafted sculptures, while also integrating bird feeders and creating dedicated spaces to promote biodiversity. 

For Keziah-Yvonne Smith, political science and pre-law student and vice president of campus chapter XULA Geaux Green, the event was an opportunity to give back to the community while also helping to raise awareness in a fun and interactive way. “We really want to get students to understand the depths of environmental issues while also understanding that they can do something about it,” she said. “From the outside it can look like the environmental issues are out of the hands of young people and there’s not much you can do, but we wanted to emphasize the importance of doing what you can.” Nicholas Ellis, a biology pre-med major and the co-sustainability chair for Xula Geaux Green, said that the garden installation gave him an increased appreciation for nature. “These events are important because they help spread environmental awareness and promote sustainability,” he said. 

Xavier University of Louisiana Audubon on Campus chapter in partnership with Keep Louisiana Beautiful hosts a native wildlife garden planting through a service-learning initiative at the university’s Art Village in New Orleans, Louisiana on April 27, 2024. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Xavier University of Louisiana Audubon on Campus chapter in partnership with Keep Louisiana Beautiful hosts a native wildlife garden planting through a service-learning initiative at the university’s Art Village in New Orleans, Louisiana on April 27, 2024. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Xavier University of Louisiana Audubon on Campus chapter in partnership with Keep Louisiana Beautiful hosts a native wildlife garden planting through a service-learning initiative at the university’s Art Village in New Orleans, Louisiana on April 27, 2024. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Xavier University of Louisiana Audubon on Campus chapter in partnership with Keep Louisiana Beautiful hosts a native wildlife garden planting through a service-learning initiative at the university’s Art Village in New Orleans, Louisiana on April 27, 2024. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Wild Visions Planting Day—University of MarylandThe Audubon Student Chapter at the University of Maryland established a vibrant native wildflower garden on campus. With donations from Garden for Wildlife and in collaboration with the UMD Community Learning Garden, 17 for Peace and Justice, and the UMD Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, the project aimed to enhance local bird biodiversity through the cultivation of native plants. The garden will foster a sense of community engagement and environmental stewardship and serve as a living classroom, with educational signage highlighting the crucial role of biodiversity in urban ecosystems.

Julia Wells, public health major and vice president of the UMD Audubon campus chapter, was impressed to see everyone’s passion for environmental stewardship during the event. “Our garden was a collaborative effort and it brought together people from diverse backgrounds to work together for conservation,” she said. UMD Audubon president and ecology and evolution major Evan Powers added that it’s important to give students an outlet to promote positive change. “I hope that students have a better understanding of what we can do as a community to promote biodiversity in urban environments,” Powers said. “It can be intimidating to approach a conservation issue as an individual, and we hope that our event created a sense of community on campus by bringing together organizations and passionate students who can continue to collaborate and create change in the future.”

Native Garden Rejuvenation Earth Day native garden planting event organized by the Audubon on Campus Student Chapter at University of Maryland (UMD) on April 22, 2024 at UMD in College Park, Maryland. With plant donations from Garden for Wildlife and in collaboration with the UMD Community Learning Garden, 17 for Peace and Justice, and the UMD Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, the garden will aim to enhance local bird biodiversity through the cultivation of native plants. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Native Garden Rejuvenation Earth Day native garden planting event organized by the Audubon on Campus Student Chapter at University of Maryland (UMD) on April 22, 2024 at UMD in College Park, Maryland. With plant donations from Garden for Wildlife and in collaboration with the UMD Community Learning Garden, 17 for Peace and Justice, and the UMD Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, the garden will aim to enhance local bird biodiversity through the cultivation of native plants. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Native Garden Rejuvenation Earth Day native garden planting event organized by the Audubon on Campus Student Chapter at University of Maryland (UMD) on April 22, 2024 at UMD in College Park, Maryland. With plant donations from Garden for Wildlife and in collaboration with the UMD Community Learning Garden, 17 for Peace and Justice, and the UMD Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, the garden will aim to enhance local bird biodiversity through the cultivation of native plants. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Native Garden Rejuvenation Earth Day native garden planting event organized by the Audubon on Campus Student Chapter at University of Maryland (UMD) on April 22, 2024 at UMD in College Park, Maryland. With plant donations from Garden for Wildlife and in collaboration with the UMD Community Learning Garden, 17 for Peace and Justice, and the UMD Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, the garden will aim to enhance local bird biodiversity through the cultivation of native plants. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Native Garden Rejuvenation Earth Day native garden planting event organized by the Audubon on Campus Student Chapter at University of Maryland (UMD) on April 22, 2024 at UMD in College Park, Maryland. With plant donations from Garden for Wildlife and in collaboration with the UMD Community Learning Garden, 17 for Peace and Justice, and the UMD Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, the garden will aim to enhance local bird biodiversity through the cultivation of native plants. Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Environmental Justice Summit—San Diego City CollegeThe San Diego City College Birdlife Club, with support from San Diego Audubon Society, hosted the fifth annual Environmental Justice Summit on campus at San Diego City College (SDCC). This free event included talks about water pollution, ocean conservation, and jobs in the environmental field, with featured speakers like former mayor of Imperial Beach Serge Dedina and Keith Lombardo from Conserving Our Ocean Resources. 

Birdlife Club campus chapter president Juan José Londoño and former president and current member Samantha Hughes were both amazed that so many like-minded and passionate individuals came together to discuss environmental impacts affecting the world and their community. “It was great to see the amount of people that came and wanted to volunteer or be participants of any activities,” Londoño said. 

At SDCC, a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), the chapter has made environmental justice central to its mission and focused on ecological restoration work in underserved communities across the San Diego area. For both Hughes and Londoño, environmental justice is a vital component of Earth Day, and this year’s summit emphasized that with a focus on issues impacting the San Diego area. “We must strive for environmental justice on Earth Day to diminish the inequality and discrimination that affects the marginalized people of our communities,” Hughes said.

Beyond Earth Day, Audubon on Campus staff work throughout the year to support the next generation of birders and conservationists. This includes equipping students with tools for creating inclusive spaces and getting involved in places where decisions are being made, while also learning more about the benefits of feeling connected to the natural world. “I think being in nature gives you a clearer vision,” Sa’kinah Williams said. “You’re allowed to relax, you’re allowed to see everything around you and take it in, and when you take in the things around you, you slow down, you’re able to live life, you’re able to live in the moment.”

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