Logo for the Students Taking on Petrochemicals. Magenta stop sign with text underneath that reads “Reflections from our Student Organizers”.

The Students Taking on Oil & Petrochemicals Fellowship is a paid opportunity for students located in the Ohio River Valley that are interested in learning about and taking action against the petrochemical industry in our region. Learn more about the program in these reflections from previous cohorts of Fellows.

Danielle from West Virginia University:

During the spring semester of my first year, Rachael (WVU’s previous STOP fellow) came and encouraged our Student Sierra Club to work towards eliminating single use plastics on campus. I remember feeling as though I did not have the experience or knowledge to work on a letter to Chick-Fil-A asking them to break away from styrofoam. This is the moment that I gained one of the most important lessons from my experience in organizing– the only way to learn is to try.  As you put yourself in new organizing situations, you are always going to learn something. All this work led to our grouping launching  a Break Free From Plastic campaign during PLAN’s Day of Action 2021 Day in March. On this day, we launched the Break Free From Plastic Pledge Petition, sent a letter to WVU’s President (I even received an email back from him), and did a social media campaign. This gained a lot of attention and was a great campaign moment for our club! Students from all over the university were noticing and spreading our work.

In September, I had the honor of being chosen for the STOP fellowship and continue the work I was already doing on campus. The main projects I have worked on include the following: a West Virginia University waste audit, the reusable to-go container program at the dining halls, the Break Free From Plastic Pledge petition, Marvin the single use plastic dragonfly art display, a Break Free From Plastic resolution for our student government, and  a panel about the Petrochemical industry effect in Appalachia. The biggest success that I had this year, in my opinion, is that our BFFP Petition has reached over 1,000 signatures in less than a year. Making connections with administration, faculty, staff, and students has been rewarding and keeps me passionate about the work I do. The STOP program itself has allowed me to collaborate with fellow passionate organizers and get guidance on how to best make change at my campus.

Delany from University of Cincinnati:

We dove right into the deep end of organizing, and I had no idea what I was doing. Although I had held some leadership positions before STOP, I have never organized or been exposed to organizing. This was very out of my comfort zone. Learning how to organize around a topic I was still actively learning about was very challenging at times, but also rewarding. I have learned the ins and outs of the petrochemical industry, and where and how I want to target the cycle of plastic pollution. During the fellowship, I have learned to effectively organize around an issue, through multiple mediums, tactics, and exercises. This includes the way I interact with my surrounding community, how to effectively lead an organization or campaign, and how to advocate through different types of action like petitioning, social media, art, protests, and canvassing. These are only a few things I have learned at my time with STOP.

Natalie from Washington & Jefferson

Throughout my time with STOP, I have been empowered to try and to learn many new things. Over the course of the program, I have become more and more confident in organizing on my campus. My first real event on my campus was a screening of the Story of Plastics along with three panelists from CCJ, FrackTracker, and Rachael Hood from STOP. I also launched an activist club for my school at around the same time. I was motivated to create a new group on campus because all I saw from the green club and sustainability committee was performative action. A lot of the time those groups would not hold any environmentally productive events or meetings to better the school other than during Earth Week. They did not educate the students or go out to the community and engage. I wanted a club where we could go out into the community of Washington and work with local organizations to better the community as a whole through disciplines like social justice, advocacy, and volunteer work.  Those were my ideals for starting my club. Today, the club is relatively new and still growing. We are hosting a book tour for Leah Thomas’s new book, The Intersectional Environmentalist, as our first event, and we are looking forward to activating campus around Earth Day events. My journey with STOP has shaped me into a better leader, ally, environmentalist, and organizer. Luckily, I have two more years at W&J to solidify my impact.

Kenlee From Marshall University

Marshall University was the first university in the state of West Virginia, and all of Appalachia, to sign the Break Free from Plastics campus pledge. Former President Jerome Gilbert signed  the pledge in the spring of 2021 after Marshall’s former STOP fellow, Baleigh Epperly, petitioned campus for it. Since then, the citizens and students of our town, Huntington WV, have been more eager to introduce new environmentally friendly ideas and actions.  Marshall University has been a leader for these new initiatives around the city, as the department on campus have been actively and directly working with the community to better the environment.

One thing about West Virginia and all of Appalacha is that its people are a force to be reckoned with. This region of the United States has a narrative written about it by people who do not live here. This image that they have created is why the fossil fuel industry continues to feed off the people and the environment of this region. Activists and organizations have banded together over the course of decades to establish new potential policies and strategic initiatives in Appalachian states as a form of resistance against fossil fuels and the petrochemical industry.

Huntington, as well as many other college towns across the state, has student organizers readily available and looking for a cause. At Marshall University, students have rallied against the petrochemical industry and proposed corridor. The sustainability department and clubs on campus are actively working to bring awareness on petrochemicals, plastics, and sustainable energies. The people of Appalachia are hopeful that change will occur for our states. The hard work of these environmental activists has generated new conversation and legislation that previously did not exist. An example of this would be House Bill 3310, which gives the state the solar power purchase agreements. I am proud to be among the innovative youth and students pushing this progressive attitudinal shift in Appalachia. The fight is ongoing, but will not be leaving until Appalchians are no longer being extorted by corporations at the expense of our environment and health, for their gain.