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/ March 30, 2011
Community @ NYU: Student Composting Initiative

Note: This is the first in a new NYU Local series that tackles the concerns about community at NYU, explores the diverse communities at NYU, analyzes what makes them and their constituents successful (or not) and acts as a forum  for students’ voices on the subject.


NYU has recently become more outwardly concerned with community-building here on campus. The Center for Student Activities, Leadership and Service (CSALS, formerly OSA) issued a survey this month to better gauge students perspectives on communities within the university and to learn more about potential room for growth in NYU’s activities. This sentiment echoed some of this year’s Local posts about the particular difficulties of going to a school without a campus in the biggest city in America.

Student Composting Initiatives

This is the story all about how my life got twist-turned upside down an NYU student found her community, broadly defined here as something at NYU that provides students with a sense of place and belonging, during a time when the university is rethinking it’s role in the matter.

The Office of Sustainability has already championed composting in the dining halls and in many residence halls, but this largely-unknown-to-students off-site composting project was not tangible enough for a few students.

Caylee Clay, facilities chair at Carlyle Court and Vice President of the Community Agriculture Club, sought out her facilities position after she transferred from a college in Colorado because she wanted to improve Carlyle Court’s recycling system. However, upon realizing that the university had already absorbed that deep into it’s often-stifling bureaucracy, she decided to work on something NYU had yet to successfully pilot: community composting.

Carlyle’s courtyard and a luckily enthusiastic RHAD, RHD and Senior Facilities Manager, rendered a program in which students save their old food and store it outside more palatable to administrators. The previous year’s facilities chair had successfully gotten a small compost bin outside, but nothing really happened.

Caylee, on the other hand, got a new tumbler, (that’s a rotating compost bin, not a blog), and the program is now so successful that she has to reinstall the older bin to handle the overflow before she can request a better system. On top of that, she is now working with the Green Dorm and their compost green grant to propose a pilot network of student-managed dorm composting at NYU as well as with CommAg to create a Carlyle community garden that can use some of the compost produced there. Through her efforts, she meets people with similar interests and is helping form stronger relationships between dorms.

Community @ NYU

So it seems that one way to find your place at NYU is to butt heads with some administrators over an issue that really matters to you. What makes Caylee so much more successful than her predecessor, then? Does finding your niche at NYU, making connections, and starting up cool things come down to personality? Is community at NYU most accessible to people who are already inclined to be super-involved?

There seems to be a trend. Caylee and her partners in crime on the composting initiatives are all officers in NYU All-square clubs and participate in other formal NYU activities. They’re used to dealing with NYU administrators, and they’re refreshingly ambitious (although maybe not uniquely so at NYU). That certainly doesn’t imply causality; it might just be a condition of the scale at which they’re working (inter-residence hall).

Still, it might point to the fact that, by virtue of NYU’s size alone, students have to be self-initiated. While that may be difficult for some students, I think it probably improves the quality of the smaller, generally decentralized communities that students create here. Not all communities at NYU need to or should exist to accomplish anything other than their own entertainment (I’ve hear that there is a weekly Pizza club), but even the tiniest of clubs (and there are a ton of them), came about without the push of administration.

I have a feeling that this series will reveal that no real structural changes are needed in the way that communities are developed and strengthened at NYU. Marketing and branding may be the larger issue for the university than the absence of opportunity. Not only are most students unaware of what is available to them, but there is often a general distaste for involvement (Tear It Up, anyone?). Searching for community at NYU rather than communities might prove problematic for those seeking change.