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To Bryn Mawr Women: a Report on EcoLit ESem

Barbara's picture

For Bryn Mawr women who want to have an impact on shaping what BMC is like, ecological thinking is a relevant field to explore. Ecology is literally “the study of home”. Do we really know much about our home? What elements did we miss out in our home? How could we make sustainable decisions for our home? These are all about ecological thinking, which essentially brings a difference when we approach to a problem.

Our Emily Balch Seminar, Ecological Imaginings, is an ongoing experiment about the development of ecological literacy. Here I am eager to share with other Bryn Mawr women about what our tight group has experienced so far and invite more people to think ecologically and give a hand to spread this awareness. Ecological literacy is not confined to academic discussion, but can be applied to bring about significant changes on the campus. How we shape Bryn Mawr College is up to each one of us.

Ecological literacy is the ability to understand the world from a holistic perspective. Consider the fluidity of the world when you see, feel and think. Recognizing the interaction process of each component of an action is essential to holism. I want to share some class experience, in hopes that it will be helpful for my fellow Bryn Mawr women to implement this ideology.

  • Reexamine the relationship between the College and us and bring up the background

What is your image of Bryn Mawr? If you were to pick one picture to represent the college, what would be in the frame? Some part of the picturesque campus? A famous person associated with the college? Students (i.e. yourself)? Please take a moment to think of your choice.

This is an exercise that our class did in the very beginning of our ESem. Strikingly, none of our class members picked an image of us – typical Bryn Mawr students (check out our picks @ /exchange/our-visualization-bryn-mawr). Mostly, we focused on the buildings around campus. We discussed extensively why each representation we picked might be appropriate. On the other hand, we also imagined the College without us and laughed at our unanimous choices of not choosing ourselves.

Three months later, I return to our choices and realize that the class started with one very important dimension of ecoliteracy: none of us picked a self-centric image, none of us revealed a human-centric ideology. I also finally see the trick in this exercise: in addition to picking this image, we also had to identify its foreground and background. I was not aware, at the time, that whatever image we picked would not be able to fully represent the College. By identifying the background of each image, we foregrounded the importance of what had been ignored in that representation. This was a very subtle way to help us think ecologically, to think about the fluid interdependence of the components of the ecosystem that composed our home.

  • Reconstruct our knowledge about the College: get to know the dimensions previously unknown to you

Once we were aware of the connectivity of our ecosystem, we needed to get some hands-on experience of this idea. In our class, two representative activities helped us explore the various “layers” of our world. First, we went outside both in and after class. Struggling to expand mentally, our class also decided not to be confined physically. Going outside is relevant to ecological action because it immersed us in dimensions beyond a familiar zone, invited us to make discoveries. Second, we learned to see stuff that is not obvious through guided historical, geological and botanical trips across campus and to Harriton House, which are super informative and engaging! Be curious, and check out our course notes and relevant posts on Serendip. You will be amazed how ignorant you could be even in your home. Be informed about the background is the next step after recognizing it.

  • An Example for Remodeling the Future : Decisions on Residential Halls at BMC

Now that we recognize and get to know much of what we used to miss out when we looked at our surroundings, how might our new understanding be practiced in action? One very concrete application of such thinking may be what we see about the future of the Berry House.

Berry House scenario:

Foreground (where I started with) – a Black Cultural Center; cost for renovation

Background (what I am not aware of) – the exact history and value of this hall

A statement about the progress on relevant planning was sent to us students by email at the beginning on November from the administrative. The statement explained the choice between renovation, which is less financially draining, and new construction, which fails to preserve the college’s historical heritage. The viewpoint from the administrative seems to be quite ecological because they did not single-mindedly pursue economic reward. However, what I saw un-ecoliterate about the statement is its preoccupation with monetary concern; the argument is constructed upon stressing the limited financial resources and historical heritage is only discussed marginally. This statement may be incorporated into our ecological approach; however, it is not ecological itself.

To redirect to a more ecological point of view, finding out the backgrounded information is essential. Knowing that Perry House is the Black Cultural Center on campus, but what about it? The article “Perry House residents speak out” in “The Bi-College News (Volume 46 Issue 3)” provided a lot of omitted information about BMC’s past lack of diversity and Perry House as an essential medium to erase the barrier among races. Instead of only a vague idea “historic”, such information reveal that this functional building symbolizes respect, equality and revolution, which is a indispensable value for Bryn Mawr.

Only in hearing from the administrative and Perry House residents, both of which speak for their own particular concern, we are able to understand this issue more holistically. The historic heritage is essentially a sentimental need about equality instead of an absolute demand to preserve the Perry House itself. Therefore, restarting Perry House does not necessarily conflict with financial budget. The Harriton House, for example, is a great model for sustaining the philosophy or the sentimental value of a historic site. We may change the function of the building, for example, as well as addressing more on the core hidden issue – erasing barriers caused by skin color.

Nevertheless, my access to relevant information is highly limited. But I hope that through such an example of my application of ecological thinking, other Bryn Mawr may see how ecoliteracy is applied. Different scenarios will always come up, but the basic logic is the same: figure out the background, learn about its value and make a holistic and balanced choice.