On Texas Arbor Day, November 6, 2020, Southwestern University students and staff members planted a 22-year-old live oak in its new home next to the historic story stone in front of the A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center. The 3,500-pound tree was funded through a Green Sustainable Advancements Funding Endeavor (SAFE) Grant. The fund supports campus projects that promote the environmental, social, and financial sustainability of the Southwestern community. Last spring, the Sustainability Committee awarded Facilities Management $2,200 to plant trees to maintain the university’s Tree Campus Higher Education recognition for its fourth year. The Arbor Day Foundation program acknowledges college and university campuses that effectively manage their campus trees; develop connectivity with the community beyond campus borders to foster healthy, urban forests; and strive to engage their student population in service-learning opportunities centered on campus as well as community forestry efforts.

Southwestern’s newest tree is named Hokey after the song “Hokey Pokey” because when it was young, the oak was known to give a poke to many passersby with one particular extended branch. A tradition soon developed when someone got poked: they’d call the owners of the farm and the groundskeeper and sing the nursery song up to the line, “And you turn yourself around, / That’s what it’s all about”—something that never failed to spread laughter. Hokey grew for more than two decades until it was dug up and replanted here at SU. 

Southwestern University has been recognized as a Tree Campus Higher Education
(previously known as Tree Campus USA) institution since fall 2017, when an environmental studies capstone project, designed by students Rebecca Huteson, Alexandra Morris, Colleen Nair, Olivia Ruane, and Vallery Rusuas, with support from Facilities Management; the Sustainability Committee; and the students’ advisor, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Joshua Long, accomplished this feat. To be recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Campus Higher Education institution, universities are required annually to observe Arbor Day and to lead service-learning projects to educate the campus community on the benefits of the trees on their school’s property and in the community. Past service-learning projects at Southwestern have included establishing a Campus Tree Nursery, hosting a tree hike and sustainability tour, and leading campus-wide tree planting events. The planting event on November 6 will go toward the 2020 renewal application for recognition.

Tree plantings, such as the one held on Friday, help improve the environmental and social sustainability of the campus. “From an environmental perspective, trees are critical in sequestering carbon dioxide and providing oxygen. A mature tree absorbs carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds per year. Planting trees is one of the many actions needed to reverse climate change,” says Veronica Johnson, sustainability coordinator at Southwestern University. “From a social and well-being perspective, nature exposure helps decrease stress and anxiety.”

“It was a relatively brief, somewhat intimate event where everyone was working towards the same goal, and even though I only knew a couple of people, it was so nice to feel connected to something as beautiful as a tree.” 

Elena Welsh ’23 decided to participate in the planting event because she believes it’s important to take time for the environment, taking a step back from what’s happening in the world today and the many anxieties that come with it. “I went to this event because I love trees,” she shares. “This particular tree has a history with SU, and I wanted to be a part of the process of bringing it onto campus. It was a relatively brief, somewhat intimate event where everyone was working towards the same goal, and even though I only knew a couple of people, it was so nice to feel connected to something as beautiful as a tree.” 

The planting of this oak tree was originally planned for National Arbor Day last April but was postponed to Texas Arbor Day because of COVID-19. Facilities Management has more tree planting events planned for National Arbor Day in April 2021. 

To learn more about Southwestern as a Tree Campus Higher Education recognized institution, visit www.southwestern.edu/about-southwestern/sustainability/recognition-and-reports/tree-campus-higher-education. To learn more about future sustainability events at Southwestern, please visit www.southwestern.edu/about-southwestern/sustainability.