On a recent Wednesday evening, several students set down their dinner trays on table in a quiet room in Moulton Union to share a meal and a lively discussion about environmentalism.
They were part of the revitalization of a campus tradition students call “grinner,” for green dinner, which will take place every week for the remainder of the semester. Organizers Meredith Outterson ’17 and Courtney Payne ’15 said they were inspired to reestablish the Grinner after attending an all-day environmental justice symposium held at Bowdoin in early February. “I was motivated to keep the conversations going,” Outterson explained.
Outterson and Payne say they welcome any interested student to drop by and join their Wednesday night table between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. In posters and table flyers around campus, they have put out a call for “passionate people” who want to talk about “the environment, justice, farms, current events,” or any topic they wish.
On a recent night, the group began chatting about what it means to be an environmentalist. A question was posed: To be an environmentalist, do you have to connect with the natural world?
Being an environmentalist is not necessarily just about loving nature, said Julie O’Donnell ’17. “It’s about seeing an issue and solving it,” she said. Someone else reminded the group that the environmental symposium’s keynote speaker, Diversity Matters founder Angela Park, had stressed that environmentalism is “everybody’s movement.”
But the environmental movement can seem exclusive, marketed only to certain types, such as the upper class, Alithea McFarlane ’14 noted. “Nowadays, living green is about using the right products,” she said, such as driving a Prius if you want to be environmentally friendly.
Students also talked about the environmental messages they received in high school versus in college. “It took coming to Bowdoin for me to realize how important the environment is,” Lizzie Kenny ’16 said. Others at the table agreed, mentioning that they think schools should offer more environmental classes to younger students. “The message came late for me, too,” O’Donnell said.
The Bowdoin students also discussed some of the stigmas attached to environmentalists, for instance, that caring about the earth means you’re a hippie. “It has nothing to do with conservatism or liberalism,” Outterson said. “It’s about the fact that our children will be affected by this.”
When the discussion turned to anxiety about climate change and feelings of powerlessness, everyone at Grinner agreed that doing something is better than doing nothing. Shannon Grimes ’14 noted, “We can’t be paralyzed by fear.” Her advice is to “take action — when you’re doing something, it makes you feel hopeful.”
Outterson said one reason she wanted to restart the Grinner was because she believes in the power of numbers. “We need to learn and talk about issues before we can facilitate change,” she noted. “We’re hoping to attract a wide variety of people [including professors]. It’s always more interesting to have a variety of views around the table, and it makes the conversation more engaging.”