The power of the pen and the bees

by By Ronada Dominique, Crystal Genduso and Leslie Goetsch

The power of the pen and the bees
Male carpenter bee, with the telltale yellow mark between its eyes, perched on my thumb.

There has certainly been a lot of buzz on campus with the return to face-to-face instruction in fall 2021 after nationwide university closures in spring of 2020. The campus we left was not the campus we returned to for many in the humanities, including the English department. Goodbye Robinson and hello Horizon Hall! While the new building brings great promise, tons of space and collaborative opportunities, there are a few people and small creatures who have been impacted by the campus upgrade in ways unintended.

Crystal Genduso, a student who returned to Mason after a period of serious health challenges to complete her BA in English, discovered that Robinson Hall no longer existed. And as disappointed as she was about it, she was more concerned about the benches stationed outside of the building. Her time on campus before the pandemic included sitting on those benches observing carpenter bees that had made the benches part of their home. She recalls, “Not only are they fascinating, but I also found them to be funny and friendly.” With both the benches and building removed, she had no idea what had happened to the local campus pollinators and sought to find out.

At the time, Crystal was enrolled in the first-year composition course, so she decided to use her first composition assignment, the narrative argument, to do more than make a point; she wanted to use her writing to make actual changes. With an opportunity to write about something she cared about, Crystal wrote with feeling and force about the plight of the carpenter bees. 

As she increased her knowledge about the bees, arguably, she became more aware of their presence even outside of Mason. She recalls observing a carpenter bee who had taken residence in the railing of her home deck. But she also noticed that much of the research on the carpenter bee focused on eradicating, not protecting them. In response she says, “That was when I made it my personal mission to find a way to foster coexistence with carpenter bees.”

Encouraged to send her narrative argument to people at Mason that could possibly do something about the situation, Crystal sent her narrative to the Mason Sustainability Office and received a quick and encouraging reply. Crystal was informed that the carpenter bees were not relocated before the removal of the Robinson benches, but that Mason does have pollinator sites across the Fairfax campus, explore our Sustainable Mason Map and a Mason’s Honey Bee Initiative. This prompted Crystal to start a petition to save the carpenter bees, which she further argued for in her researched argument for change paper assigned in English 101. 

As a result, a representative at the Sustainability Office invited Crystal to apply to the Patriot Green Fund, which awards grants to fund sustainability projects, such as the rebuilding of a habitat for the carpenter bees.  She also put Crystal in touch with the director of the Greenhouse and Gardens Program, who has already found a future home for the new habitat, by the student housing at Potomac Heights. Crystal continues to advocate for sustainability efforts with her writing and actions. 

Crystal’s work this semester illustrates how writing facilitates important changes in people’s actions and thinking. The assignments students engage with in the classroom have the ability to make a difference on campus and around the world with dedication and guidance from faculty who commit to their growth and success. Crystal is an amazing example of the impact we all can make by sharing our stories and experiences.

The GMU Sustainability office was established in 2007 shortly after Mason signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which committed Mason to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

 Volunteer or intern with the Greenhouse and Gardens program across three sustainable food production sites, receive grant funding from the Patriot Green Fund for your sustainability-focused research or infrastructure projects, and live sustainably by participating in Campus Efficiencies program’s composting and Green Residence programs.