Effects of oil spill seep onto campus

Bold, black letters on dozens of white crosses read “R.I.P. to fishing, crabbing, sunbathing, swimming, sailing, sea turtles, sand between my toes.” The new graveyard is grounded in Louisiana where on April 20, about 40 miles off the coast the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 workers and leaking about 62,000 barrels of oil per day into the ocean, according to www.restorethegulf.gov. To some, the disaster does not seem so far away. In the fall of 2009 UVM was home to two undergraduates from Alabama, three from Mississippi and 45 from Florida — all of which have coastlines damaged due to the spill, institutional studies professor Keith Coutu said. There were also graduate and medical students from the each of those states, as well as from Louisiana, he said. The 2010 data is not available until the add/drop period of this semester is over. However, it is safe to say that the UVM community has multiple student connections to the heart of the spill, Coutu said “I think a lot of Americans are just now starting to realize the gravity of the situation and are taking it seriously,” sophomore environmental science major Teddy Kirkinis said.     “I expect to see university students making trips down there to help with the cleanup and perform other community services for the people living there,” he said. “I would expect UVM students to be more involved than most other student bodies.”         Former SGA president and State Representative Kesha Ram visited the site of the spill this summer and said she hopes UVM students do not forget about those affected. “All the people of Louisiana asked when I met them, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, is that they not be forgotten yet again. If I had not visited the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and seen the devastation with my own eyes, I may have been one of the many members of the general public who are allowing this tragedy to slip from their consciousness,” Ram said. Some professors said that they are planning on integrating information on the oil spill into their courses. “One point I focus on is how complex ecosystems are as they respond to human impacts,” environmental science professor Alan McIntosh said. “The gulf spill is a great example of how difficult it is [to] assess the cumulative effects of such a spill. I suspect that other courses, certainly ENVS 001, will look at the political and policy aspects of the spill as well.” Ram has been working with students from the Gulf Coast region on planning presentations of the images and stories from her trip and to think of fundraising ideas to help rebuild the Gulf Coast, she said. “When people have asked what it was like to visit Louisiana, I remember the good people of the Gulf Coast that I met and ask Vermonters to imagine this: All of our cows drop dead, our maple trees run dry and Lake Champlain turns black — and the country goes on with business as usual,” Ram said. “This is not just their livelihood, it is their lives and their futures that are imperiled. They need our help.”