Symposium Brings Wide Spectrum of Environmental Activists to Campus

Students rode the vegetable oil-powered Solar Bus to a D.C. rally. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kunze.
Students rode the vegetable oil-powered Solar Bus to a D.C. rally. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kunze.

During the week of Oct. 19-24, the Nitze Scholars Program presented “What Democracy Looks Like: A Symposium on Environmental Action.” The symposium was organized by students Chelsea Howard-Foley, Jennifer Kunze, Travis Lear, and Emily Saari.

The four began to organize the symposium after deciding that they wanted to help the college and the community think about environmental issues and their roles in helping to solve them in new ways.  “Emily, Chelsea, and I are very involved in the Student Environmental Action Coalition on campus and had just attended Power Shift, a national youth conference on environmental issues,” said Kunze, “and Travis is active in the administration’s Sustainability Committee.  We thought a project about this common interest would be a good fit.”

The students contacted a variety of organizations and speakers and brought together a mix of people for the symposium.  “Climate change and other environmental issues cannot be viewed as isolated problems,” saidEmily.  “Their impacts can be seen in every aspect of society, from global, political, and economic decisions to the food on your family’s dinner table.  We aim to reflect this breadth with the diversity of our guests.”

Though the first speaker, Elisa Young, arrived too late to give her scheduled Monday night talk, she held a discussion with students at breakfast the next morning. Young is a coalfield activist who founded Megis Citizens Action Now! and in 2006 received an international award from the Women of Peace Power Foundation.

On Tuesday, Oct. 20, political science professor Sahar Shafqat gave a talk entitled, “Turning the Tides: The Fisherfolk Community of Pakistan.” Her talk was followed by “Take Action,” a discussion led by Ethan Nuss, the Maryland Campaign Coordinator for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).

Shafqat described her work in Karachi, a seaside city in Pakistan and her hometown, during her time on sabbatical. While there, she helped the fisherfolk community organize against government oppression.

“I took Politics of Protest with Sahar Shafqat last spring and thought that she would bring a great perspective to the symposium,” said Howard-Foley.

Nuss, who worked as a student Regional Director and National Campus Coordinatior for 2020 Vision before joining CCAN, encouraged students to take action on environmental issues.

He showed pictures of a mountaintop removal site and asked students to “think of that one climate system that has sustained all of human history. That’s what we stand to lose.”

“He got everyone excited about what’s happening,” said junior Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall. “He spoke about how much hope he had… and he gave examples of why that hope is justified.”

On Thursday, Oct. 22, Chris Haw lectured on, “Renewing our Minds: How the Environmental Crisis is a Cultural Crisis and How We Might Change.” Haw is a theologian and a member of

Camden Houses, a multi-house community in Camden, New Jersey, and is an adjunct professor of religious studies at Cabrini College. He spoke about faith-based environmental initiatives and explained how environmental concerns fit into his every day life in his intentional Christian Community.

On Friday, Oct. 23, St. Mary’s alum Eric Hoffman discussed, “Democratizing our Food System.” He talked about the dangers associated with genetically modified foods and passed around a piece of genetically modified corn. Most of the talk was focused on the company Monsanto and the company’s monopoly on genetically modified seeds.

Hoffman wrote his senior thesis on U.S. food aid and policy and is currently a Policy Assistant for the National Family Farm Coalition and the Community Food Security Coalition. He works on Farm to School policy and local food politics.

On Saturday, Oct 24 about 15 students took the Solar Bus, a bus powered by vegetable oil, to Washington D.C. to participate in the international day of action. After traveling to Malcom X/Meridian Hill Park for a rally that included speakers and music, students marched alongside hundreds of other protestors to the White House in pouring down rain. Over 5,200 actions occurred in different communities across the globe to raise awareness about the unsafe levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.

The symposium ended Saturday night with students watching the Pixar movie Wall-E in the Aldom Lounge.

“I think [the symposium] went really well,” said Kunze. “It felt really empowering to be part of something that big.”

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