AN old stone and shingle windmill, atop a bluff near the breezy far end of Long Island, is the symbolic heart of the State University of New York’s newest campus. Built around 1713, the mill once harnessed wind to generate power. Later, it was a guest house where Tennessee Williams spent a summer in the 1950s. Now it is undergoing reconstruction, its rotting beams replaced and huge blades rebuilt, as the campus takes shape around it. Aptly, Stony Brook Southampton is dedicated mind and body to the pursuit of sustainability.
In recent years, just about every campus has made some commitment to learn anew how to co-exist with the natural world, to use less energy and to reduce the carbon emissions it contributes to global warming. But Stony Brook Southampton is building not only an environmentally friendly campus but also a curriculum in which nearly every course deals with sustainability. It is a public-education experiment being watched across the country.
“Stony Brook Southampton will certainly be among a limited number of campuses with this level of commitment to sustainability,” says Judy Walton, acting executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. “Sustainability is really a change in the mind-set of how we operate. It’s like seeing the world through a new lens.”
There were only 200 students on campus this past school year, the college’s first; 350 are expected for the fall, and officials hope to reach 2,000 students within five years. If all goes according to plan, they will live in harmony with nature on a campus with geothermal technology and some wind-generated electricity; they will eat local produce in a cafeteria that does not have to figure out how to dispose of used cooking oil because it does not serve fried foods. In fact, it does not have a deep fryer.
But most significant is how Southampton, a part of Stony Brook University, is writing into its courses the concept of sustainability. Students study it when they study literature, economics, architecture or statistics.