Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Bryn Mawr Lies on Our Ecological Intelligence

haabibi's picture

Essay #12

December 3, 2015

Bryn Mawr Lies on Our Ecological Intelligence

             A long history of Bryn Mawr College that had been shaped based on race or economic status, the incident with confederate flags that happened last year in the campus, the slippage of Black at Bryn Mawr tour and the poster incident that happened very few weeks ago show the desperate need of ecological intelligence in Bryn Mawr community. Having ecological intelligence does not mean that we can eradicate the problem of racism in a sudden. But it may hold a very integral key to set a very strong and effective foothold to solve the problem by paving a way for new paradigm to settle in at Bryn Mawr. To acquire ecological intelligence, students at Bryn Mawr need to think in two dimensions: one about our innate sense of being (microbiome-level) and the other about being responsive to what nature is telling us (macro-metaphysics level). Between what seemingly looks like two distinctive parts of nature that can never be merged together, with a great effort we can find a commonality, which lies in us, human beings.

             In her article Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality, Alaimo defines “body” as any entity that exists regardless of scale. She further says how our bodies are composed of all different kinds of entities –microorganisms- that all have different “aims” and how all the entities are connected due to porosity that makes human to feel intimacy with the world beyond the boundaries (Alaimo 2012). Viewing the world in such microbiome perspective, human will start to feel the ultimate connection to one another and start to appreciate how we had simply disregarded the micro-size entities that kept us live and going. For example, human usually do not realize the importance of air –an entity that cannot be seen, but keeps us alive –until we feel the urgent need to breathe fresh air. Some people, personally like me, who had very few opportunities to get connected with plants, normally do not thank the plants for providing air to life beings in daily lives. But as soon as human starts to think ecologically in micro-perspective, the boundaries made by the skin color or economic status would start to break down. The boundaries that had been set by the differences between the skin colors should not be a social obstacle that hinders people from getting united; because we, as human beings, are all composed of millions of microorganisms, and the mechanism for how the bodies work is exactly same for all of us.

             Latour, on the other hand, suggests another striking perspective toward the nature and human beings. He contends a total subversive view of a conventional idea, by suggesting human should not be regarded as the powerful subject and as the only entity that can change the world. He regards nature as a subject because he believes anything that moves and acts shows its existence, thus having each own meanings. Taking his philosophies into action, we should try to move ourselves off from being hyper-subjects, but to realize that “all agents share the same shape-changing destiny” and that we are only one of entities that share destinies with so much other agents around us (Latour 2014:15).

              Latour’s metaphysical ecological intelligence holds a very important lesson to students at Bryn Mawr College, where it had been, and undoubtedly still is, dominated by white-supremacists. Throughout the history, the majority of the students have been hyper-animated that they were actually restricting themselves from thinking other constituents of nature for they have prioritized and put themselves in the middle as the only subject being. However, with metaphysical ecological intelligence, students would start to accept the fact that this diversity around the campus makes Bryn Mawr unique and each individual, regardless of race and social background, has their own meanings of existence. And when they start to place other races of students in the middle of their world along with themselves and interact with one another, Bryn Mawr would take a lead to change the unremitting and pervasive racist ambience in colleges in America.

             The efforts from the top(the institution) and the bottom(students) are both needed to let Bryn Mawr students to be exposed to such ecological intelligence that holds a key to promote race and social integrity. The email that Kim Cassidy, the current president of the College, had sent to all students and faculties on December 3rd shows how this institution is trying to produce an environment where all voices of color can speak and be heard. She began her e-mail by affirming that Bryn Mawr is committed to promote diversity that can create excellent and rich learning environment. She also added that this institution has responsibility to let all students to get access to all the resources and to promote welcoming and inclusive environment. Thus like a community meeting that was held on November 19th and the upcoming community listening session on December 9th, the college should frequently provide students more agoras where diverse opinions of students and faculties can be spoken, heard and respected.

             Also, efforts from the down are needed too. When students have gained ecological intelligence by trying to see the world into two different levels, they should not remain statically, but take real actions by applying it into our real little diverse community. Students should realize that categorizing students by their difference in skin color or in economic status is useless and that we are all same entities and are only small parts of this huge dynamic nature. The students should try to voice their opinions and try to listen to the voices and respect them regardless of students’ skin color or economic status.

The importance of students taking real actions can never be more emphasized. Even if the institution tries its best by holding frequent community meetings, the community would not change if the students do not show up or remain silence. The future of Bryn Mawr lies on the current students, who are already being a part of the long history, but are potential beings of opening a new chapter of Bryn Mawr history.

Works Cited

 Bruno Latour. Agency at the Time of the AnthropoceneNew Literary History 45, 1 (Winter 2014): 1-18.

Cassidy, Kim. "Issues of Diversity: Reflections and Moving Forward." 3 Dec. 2015. E-mail.

Larval Subjects (Levi R. Bryant), Stacy Alaimo: Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality (May 24, 2012).



Anne Dalke's picture

I'm smiling broadly as I read your paper, haabibi, because it so neatly names the complete 'arc' of this class, from 'Shifting Identities' to 'Altering Environments.' Your recognizing that ecological intelligence holds a key to altering the racial history of this college, and your suggesting a beginning intervention in that dynamic -- by acknowledging the porosity of the "boundaries that had been set by the differences between the skin colors," the "millions of microorganisms, and shared "mechanism for how the bodies work" among us all -- just makes me shiver!

I also very much like your bringing in Kim Cassidy's December 3rd letter, with its acknowledgement that we need to be even more thoughtful about what it means for our students to enter into an environment that … reverberates with symbols and images that call up the historical issues of race, wealth, and privilege that have plagued the U.S. from its founding.” She is recognizing here, along with you, the dangers implicit in our historical vision of ‘achieving women’ that rest on segregating and specializing, on power and privilege.

Do you want to do a revision of this paper, in which you start to explore the ways in which the sort of alterations we need might begin to happen, "from the bottom up?"