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Arboretum looking for financial contribution from students

A new mandatory undergraduate student fee of $2.50 a semester is being proposed

The University of Guelph's Arboretum and an on-campus student group are hoping students are willing to pay a compulsory fee as part of their student fees to help fund activities in Arboretum.

The Arboretum and the U of G's Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots chapter are proposing an undergraduate student fee of $2.50 per semester to support 'student engagement.'

An online petition in support of the student fee has been established. If that petition get 1,000 signatures before Sept. 16 it will go to the compulsory fee committee to be reviewed. If approved there, a student referendum would be held where undergraduates could vote yes or no, which would likely happen during the winter 2023 semester. 

Arboretum sustainability coordinator Natasha Brooks said the fee would help cover the creation of events like student walks and courses.

"Part of it would support a student position, which would be paid through the Arboretum, that person would be in charge of increasing the connection to the Arboretum with the campus," said Brooks.

Information about the joint fee has been posted on the Arboretum Facebook page.

Arboretum executive director Justine Richardson said the fee was initially thought of by students in a business course last fall.

“The students in that course workshopped a whole bunch of different ideas for long-term support of the Arboretum, connection with student engagement and looking at ecological sustainability as a model around business practices, so that was sort of their theoretical focuses for the course,” said Richardson.

Richardson adds there has never been a student fee for the Arboretum, but there have been conversations in the past. The area uses a multi-stream budget model, which includes university support for core staff and operations. The rest comes from grants, sales, event revenue, donor support and volunteers.

Cora Soda, president of the U of G's Roots and Shoots chapter, said it became involved after being approached by the Arboretum. The chapter was reinvigorated in 2020 and is working towards Jane Goodall's calls to action, which includes tackling biodiversity loss, environmental inequality and climate change. There is also a Roots and Shoots Peace Garden in the Arboretum, which was founded by Jane Goodall following a visit to U of G in the early 2000s. 

“We've just been working together all summer trying to create this referendum and now we're trying to get the signatures and such,” said Soda. 

While the Arboretum has provided employment and research opportunities for students, Richardson notes it also became a place for them to go to help support their mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic. The Arboretum does not charge an admission fee for people to access the site, making it accessible green space for both students and the general public. 

"There have been a lot of ways that we have connected, but really recognizing during the pandemic, is the importance of the role (the Arboretum plays) and maintaining that connection," said Richardson.

Brooks adds students they have been able to engage with about the petition have responded positively.

“Groups that we've connected with are really excited about it, and recognize this would be helpful to them and helpful to us as well," said Brooks.

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Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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