A petition circulating around the University of Nebraska-Lincoln hopes to put an end to the red balloon release at Husker football games and replace it with a more sustainable tradition.
The movement is led by a committee within Sustain UNL headed by sophomore environmental studies and natural resource and environmental economics double major Drew Havens. Havens said if the petition gets enough signatures, the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska student ballot will vote on whether to replace the balloon release.
“We understand that this is a tradition that’s been around for a lot of years,” said junior accounting major and Sustain UNL member Tyler Anderson. “But, simply put, it’s just not sustainable in today’s world.”
At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Balloon Tradition Civic Discussion will be held in Louise Pound Hall Room 141. According to Havens, all students are welcome to attend.
The discussion will be a town hall-style meeting featuring three panelists. According to Havens, ASUN President Emily Johnson will provide a student’s perspective, an Office of the Chancellor representative will provide an administrative perspective and a conservation biologist from the School of Natural Resources will provide a scientific perspective.
“It will be getting into the facts of the balloon release, the waste it has created, its effects and trying to find more sustainable traditions,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he and fellow Sustain UNL members want to ensure students’ wants are at the center of the conversation regarding what will replace the balloon release.
“We’re not trying to straight up cut off [the tradition],” he said. “We’re trying to find another tradition and let the students vote on it as much as possible.”
According to a Google Forms survey done toward the end of 2019, Havens said the most popular idea to replace the balloon release is rally towels that would be reused at each game.
Before anything is set in stone, however, the petition to ban the balloon release must make it to the ASUN student ballot at the beginning of March. To make it on the ballot, a petition must be signed by at least 1% of the student population, which is about 250 signatures, according to Havens.
The petition has approximately 240 signatures to date, but Havens said he would like to see 300 or more.
“We want to have as many as we can to make a statement,” he said.
If the ban does receive the majority vote, Sustain UNL will take that information to the Athletic Department and use it as an argument for officially ending the balloon release.
This is not the first discussion surrounding an end to the balloon release. Last year, former Husker football player Michael Decker championed a petition to ban the balloon release. According to Anderson, the proposed ban made it to the student ballot but was just shy of a majority vote.
“You face those roadblocks,” Anderson said. “We always knew we were going to continue on next year, and here we are building that momentum again.”
Havens said UNL’s balloon release is one of the largest balloon releases that still occurs in the United States.
“This creates a mark on our university,” he said. “Our university is about progress, education and doing the right thing. The balloon release says we are stuck in the past, we are not willing to change and not willing to move forward.”
Anderson said he understands the balloon release is a tradition many people don’t want to see go.
“I thought the balloon release was really neat my freshman year and was a really cool showing of Nebraska pride,” he said.
However, he said the aesthetics of the balloon release do not outweigh its environmental costs.
“I think we need to take it upon ourselves as a university to kind of lead the momentum into the sustainability movement,” he said.
Anderson compares the balloon release to littering and encourages people to do their research about its effects.
“Evidence of balloons have been found all across the nation,” he said. “There’s even an argument for the helium shortage because doctors could be using the helium that is put into balloons instead.”
Overall, Havens said he wants what’s best for the university.
“We’re not anti-tradition at all. We love our school and the football traditions, we just want them to be more sustainable,” he said. “We want a better future for our children and grandchildren.”