For a university that feels like it needs to advertise on the counters of Shop Red West that this year’s graduation caps are made from recycled material, for a university that so proudly invests in solar compactors and new bike share stations across campus, for a university that boasts about its sustainability efforts and prides itself in Earthstock, a campus-wide celebration of Earth Day that calls for environmental consciousness, it’s pretty ironic that Roth Regatta comes just one week later. And I can’t help but feel strange about Stony Brook clubs and organizations throwing out giant boats made exclusively of cardboard, plastic duct tape and spray paint not even a week after making some sort of an effort to be environmentally aware.
I’m not trying to shut down Roth Regatta; I’m fully aware that it has been voted by Stony Brook students as their favorite campus tradition and I’ve been participating in it myself fervently for the last three years. Admittedly, I was supposed to be inside the boat this year for the very first time, but the profound truth about Roth Regatta really hit me when I was telling a journalist (who had requested some information about our club’s boat) that we were planning on using thirty rolls of duct tape on our boat. For someone who had just participated in Earthstock not even a week before and walked in Saturday’s March for Science in New York City, the sheer juxtaposition of saturating Roth Pond with toxic paint and throwing out an entire cardboard boat after the race (which would have only taken a few months to decompose if it weren’t surrounded by layers of thick plastic tape) was a little too much for me.
I decided to tell the Meteorology Club, the club who I had walked with in the streets of Manhattan for the March for Science just days before, that I wasn’t going to be able to participate in Roth Regatta. There was a lot of internal pressure inside the club to frantically decide whether or not to build the boat after we had spent so much of our club’s budget on the supplies. Disappointingly, it was too late for the club – a club who fully supported me and shared my sentiment but had also, up to that point, spent a lot of time, energy, and money into creating something meaningful for the Regatta.
I had hoped that we could have been able to scramble as an on-campus club to share our breakthrough; that we could have pushed for organizations’ unused material to be recycled, that we could have talked to the heads behind Roth Regatta about how there needed to be a change. But with just a few days until Roth Regatta and most clubs and organizations putting the finishing touches on their boats, the club warned me that my goals were seemingly unrealistic.
My club members might have been right about this year but these goals seem less unrealistic in the long term. Whether it be the mandatory use of environmentally-friendly duct tape during the races or a USG-sponsored ban of all spray paint products, Roth Regatta needs to change. As it stands now, our favorite campus tradition is hypocritical and completely contrary to the values of Earthstock and what the university truly stands for. In those respects, I speak for my friends and fellow students when I say that Meteorology Club will be unable to participate in Roth Regatta in future years until there is real change. We can do better than this. Only by finishing the race and having to hand in our boats have we learned that while Roth Regatta may give us a rush of excitement while we’re there, it feels dirty for all the time we’re not… and not just because there’s Roth Pond goop in our hair.