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Student Activism at University of Maryland

A guide to researching student activism at UMD using student newspapers.

Environmentalism at UMD

Student activism centered on environmentalism began in earnest in the early 1970s, coinciding with the passing of landmark federal environmental legislation such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. In celebration of the first ever Earth Day in 1970, students joined with faculty and policy-makers to hold teach-ins and bring awareness to the causes of environmental justice. In 1971, the student-led Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), which organized around issues of recycling, toxic runoff, and pollution, successfully proposed and pushed for the university's first campus recycling center; run entirely by student volunteers, the UMD recycling center predates that of the surrounding Prince George's County. Efforts intensified after political activist/reformer Ralph Nader came to speak on campus in 1972, which led to the creation of another student organization, the Maryland chapter of the Nader-backed Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG). From their inceptions, ECO and MaryPIRG emerged as campus leaders on environmental activism, employing a variety of approaches to tackle issues of pollution, waste, recycling, conservation, and the environmental impact of nuclear energy. Over the next two decades, student activists would continue advocating on behalf of the environment, resulting in the adoption of the recycling center as an official division of the University of Maryland. Following the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol—the first international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases—in the 1990s, multiple student organizations advocated for changes on campus, such as divesting from fossil fuels, protecting natural habitats, reducing waste, and stopping UMD expansion that would cause further deforestation. In the years since, student activism efforts have helped shape and inspire progress at the university, including its Climate Action Plan in 2009, the creation of the Office of Sustainability in 2007, and University President Darryll Pines' 2021 commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2025.

Environmentalism Articles

Earth Day Sedative for Planet

April 1970 - UMD takes part in the first national celebration of Earth Day, holding a day-long teach-in con­sisting of a series of workshops, films, displays, and speeches that focus on such topics as air and water pollution, the Chesapeake Bay, freeways, and pesticides. 

Ecology Group Attempts to Clean Up Paint Branch

October 1971 - The Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO) hosts a Paint Branch Creek clean up to protest a proposal by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to “channel” the creek by using bulldozers to dredge the creek bed.

Earthfest and Nukes

April 1979 - Following the near-catastrophic accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear power plant earlier in the month, the campus chapter of the Potomac Alliance protests the construction of the North Anna nuclear reactor in Virginia during Earth Week celebrations at UMD.

Nuclear Engineering Recruiters Draw Fire

November 1981 - Roughly 50 student protesters picket outside Hornbake Library as suppliers of equipment to Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear power plant attempt to recruit students for employment. The crowd mostly made up of members of various student organizations dedicated to environmentalism, including the Terrapin Alliance for Safe Energy, the food co-op, the Progressive Student Alliance, and the Environ­mental Conservation Organization (ECO), set up shop outside to educate students about the dangers of nuclear energy. 

Student Lobby Group Protests Environmental Bill Stalemate

February 1990 - UMD students participate in a demonstration in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. to protest a stalemate in Congress over the Bush administration's attempts to stop the passage of the Clean Air Act.

‘Terrapins Need Wetlands’

March 2000 - Student and community activists from The Coalition for Campus Woodlands, which unites sev­eral environmental organiza­tions from both on and off cam­pus, march down McKeldin Mall toward the Administration Building in hopes of saving a 100 year old floodplain set to be destroyed during the construction of the new Comcast Center. Meanwhile, Student Government Association legislators await the passage of a bill that would have them join in the protest.

Making the Oil Last

December 2009 - Students from Am Ha’Aretz, Hillel’s green initiative student group, operate the Topsy-Turvy Teva bus, a refurbished school bus attempting to run on the smallest amount of oil possible. Powered only by used vegetable oil, the bus will travel across the country teaching students about environmental concerns. 

Community Rallies on McKeldin Mall to Protest Development of Guilford Woods

October 2021 - Students, local politicians, environmental activists, and scientists gather on McKeldin Mall to protest the development of the Western Gateway, a proposed complex of townhomes and affordable housing for graduate students. Threatening to impact nine acres of trees, the development project has seen increased backlash from campus and local communities protesting the university for standing by a development that would cause deforestation.


UMD SGA Passes Bill to Establish Environmental Justice Council

November 2022 - The Student Government Association (SGA) passes a bill to establish an Environmental Justice Council. The council is a collaboration to bring sustainability and cultural organizations on campus together as a means of presenting a united front to university administration when it comes to sustainability and environmental justice.

Related Archival Collections 

Most of the records collections listed below are a part of the University Publications collection, which consists of a wide variety of printed materials produced by and about the various administrative units, academic departments, student groups, and athletic teams on the UMCP campus. Within this large collection are records of hundreds of Student Organizations and Student Publications. For additional collections, search our archival database here

MaryPIRG records & Newsletter 

two male members of MaryPIRG stand in front of a banner reading "We want a cleaner Clean Air Act"

ECO records
man unloading a large green Environmental Conservation Organization truck
Terrapin Trail Club records

two female members of the Terrapin Trail Club stand behind a group of tents in the woods

Diamondback Photos collection

member of MaryPIRG walks through contaminated stream in Greenbelt Park