Williams students marched on President Adam Falk's office to demand the college do more to reduce the institution's carbon footprint.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — About three dozen Williams College students Wednesday took a break from final exams week to press the college president for action on climate change.
President Adam Falk told them that the college is working on the issue but that "patience" is required to make sure the job is done right.
"I want us to set goals we know how to meet," Falk told the students who climbed three flights of stairs to wait outside his office in Hopkins Hall.
"That means getting a process that involves the Zilkha Center [for Environmental Initiatives], students and faculty, that doesn't just have goals but has a path that we understand how to get down."
Wednesday's demonstration was organized by the student group Thursday Night Grassroots, an environmental action organization.
The group met on the steps of the Paresky Center and blew up black balloons symbolizing the carbon dioxide emitted by members of the college community. They then marched to the administration building while three members of the group presented Falk with a petition calling for stronger carbon reduction goals at the college.
The petition was signed by more than 1,000 people.
Wednesday's event had far fewer people, but the students were enthusiastic as they staked out a petition on the grass outside Falk's office in hopes he would acknowledge them at his window. When it became clear that would not happen, the group moved inside to wait near his office for the departure of juniors Alice Stears and Molly Pickel and sophomore Lucy Page.
After they emerged from their meeting, Falk stepped into the hall outside his office to share some thoughts with the larger gathering.
Pickel said the private meeting was encouraging.
"I think it was good," the Mount Kisco, N.Y., resident said. "He was receptive to the idea of reducing carbon emissions at Williams. But he is not ready to make any sort of commitment to that."
The trio said Falk told them what the told the bigger group: The college needs to have a more focused conversation bringing in different experts and interested parties.
"It's sort of slowly moving but in a fragmented way with different groups working independently but not cohesively," said Page of Winchester.
Billings, Mont.'s, Stears said TNG wants Falk to foster a more directed discussion.
"What we're hoping might come out of this is more of a push from, maybe the president's office ... more of an institutional focus on getting that work done at a faster pace," Stears said. "I guess that would be the hope going forward."
Stears, Pickel and Page said they all plan to carry the momentum of the anti-carbon movement through the summer and into next year, since all three will be back on campus.
One student who will not is Zoe Grueskin, one of TNG's leaders who led the march on Wednesday but who will graduate next month with plans to teach in Shanghai.
Grueskin said she plans to continue to stay involved with the college and is excited by the energy she saw from her fellow activists this year.
She provided one of the key elements of Wednesday's protest, a banner carrying a quote from Falk that he gave her and a now-graduated student in January 2013.
"There’s actually no more important issue that the world is facing. Nothing," Falk said then about climate change.
On Wednesday, Grueskin was happy to be able to use Falk's words to remind him of the issue facing Williams College.
"It makes sense that he would say that," she said. "He's a physicist. He gets it."