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Re-thinking the trees (like the lorax)

rppatel's picture

Rina Patel

Paper 9 - re-thought


Too submerged verses literally chained off


My senior year of highschool I had received many brochures for many different universities. Bryn Mawr college, where I ultimately ended up, had almost the same image on all of their brochures. The image is a view of the Thomas Great Hall through some tree branches. Throughout my senior year I got this image in various forms. One in which the tree branch had cherry blossoms, one in which the tree branch had fall colored leaves and Taylor hall also visible in the background, and then the one with the snow covered tree reminding me about the deadline to apply. This image of the tree served the college well, as I did end up choosing it mostly based on the perceptions of these postcards. However, I compared Bryn Mawr’s solicitations of me to Columbia University’s solicitations of my sister. Columbia’s postcards all feature a similar image of a ‘diverse’ group of students in front of Columbia’s admission building with lady Alma Mater. The students themselves might have changed which each postcard but the composition of the group was usually the same. This image also served the university well, as my sister, like me had chosen her school mostly based off the impressions from the postcards she received.  

I am now currently a first-year student at Bryn Mawr college. Since coming to Bryn Mawr I have noticed the abundance of trees on campus. Compared to other campuses I was familiar with, it felt like there were trees everywhere. Bryn Mawr’s campus, like other liberal arts colleges, is classified as an arboretum. Before arriving at Bryn Mawr, the only college campus I was familiar with was Columbia, as I had visited my sister a few times. Compared to Columbia Bryn Mawr felt more warm and welcoming. At Columbia, every patch of grass and organized row of trees was roped off with black chains. Overall, aesthetically, Columbia’s campus was stunning. However walking through campus I couldn’t help but noticed I was limited to brick path. At Bryn Mawr, however, trees, are everywhere and so is grass. Students sit and study beneath the trees and walk on the grass to get to class and other buildings. There are even parts of the lawn that have naturally become paths by students wearing away the ground walking to class. It makes me smile seeing the “path” to the deans office building because I think about all the students and how often they must have gone to this building to permanently alter the environment. It’s kind of funny that an aspect that adds to Bryn Mawr’s overall quirkiness is what Columbia aims to avoid by chaining off the grass.  At Bryn Mawr its feels as if the earth is animated and responded to our action. Columbia is removing this opportunity to mingle with the environment. By chaining students off from the natural world, Columbia removes the chance for students to be ecologically aware of their surroundings.

In his piece, Agency in the time of the Anthropocene Bruno Latour anthropomorphises the world to paint a picture of what the  earth has to say and how the earth feels about humankind. In terms of Humankind’s relationship with the environment I definitely feel more immersed in the environment at Bryn Mawr than I do at Columbia. At Bryn Mawr, trees play an integral role in liberal arts education. For me personally seeing the trees on campus gives me a sense of comfort. I feel encompassed in my community here. The presence of trees out in the open on campus encompusses us, the students, into the environment. In some cases, for example with my english class, we even enter the landscape and learn within the trees. By having trees openly present students are given a different way to think about learning. At Bryn Mawr we are almost forced to be ecologically aware of our surroundings. Whereas at Columbia, though trees do have a presence on campus, students are quite literally chained off from them and the rest of the natural environment. Their daily interaction with the environment is limited by the red brick paths. To me, Bryn Mawr looks and feels more natural than Columbia which feels mechanical. However as Latour says, “The Earth is neither nature, nor a machine. It is not that we should try to puff some spiritual dimension into its stern and solid stuff [...] but rather that we should abstain from de-animating the agencies that we encounter at each step.” Latour is saying that we can not treat earth as inanimate,the Earth is responding to our actions. However Earth can not be expected to hold spiritual reasoning. At Columbia the campus has de-animated earth and removed the opportunity for agency. At Bryn Mawr we are so immersed in our environment that we can take into account agency on both parts.

Latour warns against forgetting the animated world and replacing it with the deanimated. The trees being on campus at Bryn Mawr encloses us ecologically and allows us to think more about our role in the environment and world. At Columbia students are removed from the environment and address it only at moments they are forced to such as their tree lighting ceremony. Bryn Mawr students are more ecologically educated than students at Columbia because we are constantly in tune with our environment. Though students at Columbia may view their campus as more “practical” and “realistic” for them to be adequately prepared for the world, they de-animatte the best parts of earth. They remove themselves completely. Bryn Mawr students though unable to constantly “practice” their education in an urban setting, exit campus with a more holistic understanding of the role of people and the environment.