The Environmental Science and Policy Student Association is circulating a petition this semester to rename the Plant Sciences Building after prominent ecologist Rachel Carson to recognize more women’s achievements on the campus.
The University of Maryland has about 36 buildings named after prominent figures, said Logan Kline, the president of ENSPire, a group focused on uniting environmental science and policy majors to better the environment. Four of these buildings — Marie Mount Hall, Adele H. Stamp Student Union, Preinkert Field House and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center — are named after women. None are named after women in STEM fields.
“There isn’t even one woman in a STEM field that’s being honored on campus — a campus that’s known for STEM studies — and that just seems like a glaring hole,” said Willem Klajbor, an ENSPire member.
[Read more: Breaking the STEM glass ceiling]
Carson became a member of this university’s zoology staff in 1931 and taught at the college level until 1935, according to Maryland State Archives. In 1962, she wrote the book “Silent Spring,” which warned against the use of chemicals and their ability to disrupt nature’s balance. She also helped “launch the environmental movement,” said Marcia Shofner, assistant director of the biological sciences program. Much of her work was conducted in Maryland, said Klajbor, a junior economics and environmental science and policy major.
“People hadn’t really started considering how much of an impact they could have on life and on our planet,” Shofner said. “That was something no one had done before.”
Women comprise 47 percent of the nation’s workforce but make up 39 percent of chemists and material scientists, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists, 16 percent of chemical engineers and 12 percent of civil engineers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Kline, a sophomore environmental science and policy major, has been sending the petition to large classes, such as BSCI160: Principles of Ecology and Evolution, and posting it on Facebook to create interest. As of Wednesday, the petition garnered almost 400 signatures. Once ENSPire hits its current target of 500 signatures, group members plan to bring their proposal to the University Senate, said Kline.
“We’re hoping that at least [the administration] sees that there’s interest in it and … decide there’s actually an issue here,” Kline said. “We’ve done a lot of research on it, and we can show them how women have been neglected from the dedications on campus in STEM fields.”
Shofner, who circulated the petition in her class, said Carson was an “ideal name for the building.”
Honorific building names “should be named for scholars and other distinguished individuals who are preeminent in their field of endeavor” or “have contributed meaningfully to the University System of Maryland,” according to the system’s code.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who studied environmental policies that wouldn’t say she kind of catalyzed the environmental policy movement of the 1970s,” Klajbor said.
After University President Wallace Loh recommended in 2015 for Byrd Stadium to be renamed to Maryland Stadium, he put a five-year moratorium on changing honorific building names. However, Kline argues this only applies to changing building names that already have honorific dedications. The Plant Sciences Building does not fall under this category, she added.
Many of the scientific buildings, such as the Chemical and Nuclear Engineering Building and the Bioscience Research Building, do not have honorific dedications, creating an opportunity for more designations, Kline said.
“I hope this movement essentially gets the larger message across campus that there are still opportunities to name buildings after women, especially in the different sciences and STEM careers,” Kline said. “My goal would be that … there’s more recognition of women and especially [women of color] in the STEM fields.”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly titled Rachel Carson’s book as “Silver Spring.” The book is titled “Silent Spring.” This story has been updated.