In classrooms and lecture halls across Bowdoin’s campus yesterday, many faculty, staff and students engaged in a one-of-a-kind event at Bowdoin — a daylong “teach-in” devoted to exploring difficult issues affecting our world today. The event was organized by a group of faculty and students calling themselves IP3, for Intersections: People, Planet and Power.
The teach-in’s organizers said the day was designed to stimulate conversations about the dual threats of systemic inequity and climate destabilization. “Across the globe, from Ferguson to the People’s Climate March, from the water wars of Bolivia and Detroit to the fight against discrimination right here on campus, people are standing up to resist injustice,” the organizers explain on their website. “The accelerating climate disaster, which threatens to destabilize all aspects of civilization within the next century, intensifies these conflicts and creates a new urgency for collaboration and unified action.”
IP3 offered more than 35 events, panels and classes on climate change, racism, social justice and more. Many professors — from physics, biology, economics, earth and oceanographic science, sociology, dance, music, history and other departments — shared their expertise by giving relatively short, pointed talks, followed by Q&As. The topics they addressed were diverse, ranging from analyzing the the U.S. political system and the Black Lives Matter movement, to looking at the effects of climate change on fisheries, polar bears and human populations around the world.
The core faculty organizing the teach-in were Mark Battle, Nadia Celis, Hadley Horch, Mary Hunter, Madeleine Msall and Roy Partridge. Core students were Amina Ben Ismail ’17, Carl Boisrond ’16, Briana Cardwell ’17, Kelsey Freeman ’16 , Maria Kennedy ’16, Diamond Walker ’17 and Heather Witzell-Lakin ’17.
There were too many classes and panels to cover here, but below are videos of the Welcoming Plenary and the Concluding Plenary (at the bottom of the story), along with brief summaries that give a sense of the material covered in some of the sessions. To see a detailed schedule of the teach-in, go here.
Is the U.S. Political System Broken?
John F. and Dorothy H. Magee Associate Professor of Government Laura Henry (moderator); speakers Jeff Selinger, Andrew Rudalevidge and Cory Gooding
Andrew Rudalevige, Bowdoin’s Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government, said the U.S. political system is not broken, it’s just meant to work in a certain way. “The government is fundamentally conservative,” he explained. “It’s designed to not act. Its default is the status quo.” The nation’s founders built this lumbering system to ensure the new government was strong enough to “do things for you,” but weak enough not to “do things to you,” he said. Rudalevige then pointed out the government acts only when consensus can be built across constituencies, and he used this point to urge greater participation in the political process. “The government can only do something when a wide range of people participate,” he said. “It is not a broken system, but it calls for participation and action.”
Assistant Professor of Government and Legal Studies Jeff Selinger argued that early framers of the U.S. government built an exclusive system. He reminded the audience that in the country’s early days, only white men with property could vote. “When [the framers] thought of democracy, they thought of mob rule,” he said. The founders decided it was best for the country to cut out unruly, impatient people from the political process. Much of this architecture remains, Selinger continued, shaping our current political system. “The Constitution was an anti-democratic, anti-political instrument, for good and bad,” he said. However, he offered social activists a few “survival tips for political life in an anti-political regime.” His first tip was “be patient — policy change is a long game.”
CFD Postdoctoral Fellow in Government Cory Gooding said that for many people in the country the U.S. political system is broken, because it is not advancing their interests and has routinely failed to protect them. Too often, he continued, money is the deciding factor in whether people have a voice in and access to the political process. When disenfranchised people are at last heard, he continued, they are often responded to with a “sharp, heightened political vitriol.” People historically have dealt with unresponsive political systems by standing outside the “halls of power” and engaging in social movements, he said. Social activists can generate a sense of urgency, demanding that politicians address certain problems more quickly.
Oceans and Climate Change: Impact on Humans and Ocean Communities
Moderators: James R. and Helen Lee Billingsley Professor of Marine Biology Amy Johnson and Biology Laboratory Instructor Janet Gannon; speakers Damon Gannon, Dan Thornhill and Ta Herrera
Climate change doesn’t just lead to rising ocean temperatures, it also makes oceans more acidic and impacts marine organisms, weather patterns, fisheries and coastal communities. New England is warming faster than much of the country, Janet Gannon said, and the Gulf of Maine is getting warmer more quickly than any other ocean body in the world.
Dan Thornhill, a marine biologist who specializes in coral reefs and a program officer at the National Science Foundation, spoke about the devastation that ocean warming and acidification are wreaking on reefs around the world. “Corals face an inhospitable future,” he said. “Most people are estimating that these ecosystems will disappear in a very rapid course of time, a few decades on the early side, a hundred years or so on the long.”
Director of the Bowdoin Biological Field Station Damon Gannon discussed the future of marine ecosystems around Maine. Data show the water in the Gulf of Maine has been warming since 1905. In response, marine organisms will either move, adapt or die. Some fisheries, including Black sea bass, have already begun shifting northwards. Unfortunately this fish eats lobster, which is worrisome because lobster landings currently make up more than 70 percent of Maine’s fisheries revenue. Lobsters, too, are more susceptible to disease in warming warmers, Gannon said, as are Northern shrimp, whose stock has collapsed because the shrimp cannot reproduce in present sea conditions.
Associate Professor of Economics Ta Herrera specializes in fisheries, in particular small-scale fishing communities, such as those found in the Caribbean and coastal Africa. Traditionally, many small coastal groups have managed their resources for generations without much government interference. Yet these localized regulation systems are threatened by exposure to the world market, technological changes and the injection of capital from aid agencies. In the last 15 years, economists, resource managers and policy makers have recognized the importance of incorporating local communities into the development of sustainable management plans. Many small communities have also turned to ecotourism rather than resource extraction to support themselves. These innovative solutions could, though, be undermined by climate change. “While humans are finally figuring it out, these underlying themes are threatening to pull the rug out from underneath them,” Herrera said.
Imagining Futures: Readings from Science Fiction on Identity and the Environment
Rayne Sampson ’18, Noah Dubay ’19, Elena Schaef ’16, Adira Polite ’18 and Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literature Arielle Saiber
By Talia Cowen ’16
In a packed classroom in Searles, Rayne Sampson ’18 read an excerpt from Samuel Delany’s “Aye, and Gomorrah,” a tale of de-sexed astronauts called ‘spacers’ and the ‘frelks’ who fetishize them. Delany’s story was one of four snippets in a diverse sampling of science fiction read during the afternoon panel.
Literature offers a lens to view issues such as climate change and racism, and few genres are as adept at addressing these issues as science fiction, according to the panelists. Professor Arielle Saiber said, “I am personally interested in science fiction because it problematizes present realities…but also imagines solutions. It can inspire us to change our paradigm.”
The panelists, led by Sampson, read stories from several authors that deal with issues of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic identity and environmental degradation. Along with Delany’s work, the reading list included Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” Silvia Monero-Garcia’s “Maquech,” and Lavie Tidhar’s “The Smell of Orange Groves.”
Closing the session, Sampson concluded that science fiction is a vehicle to imagining the solutions for present and future problems in the environment and society.
Stop Killing Us: Power, Violence and Extinction
Scott MacEachern, Patrick Rael and Randy Stakeman
By Elina Zhang ’16
Professor of History Patrick Rael, Professor of Anthropology Scott MacEachern and Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies Emeritus Randy Stakeman gave short presentations about racism and violence and how these issues intersect with climate change.
Rael discussed “the architecture of violence” and how racial oppression becomes gendered throughout different eras in history. “For every Sandra Bland, there’s a Michael Brown, an Emmett Till, a Trayvon Martin,” Rael said, observing that the conversation around police brutality today represents predominately African American male victims rather than female victims.
Through an archaeologist’s lens, MacEachern spoke about environmentally stressed areas, beginning with the Mayan lowlands, where the environment led to collapse of the Mayan civilization. He compared this nonhuman-induced climate change to the impact that human-induced climate change has had on Syria today. He suggested that violence in the Syrian civil war may be indirectly related to environmental changes.
Stakeman began by using the phrase “environmental racism,” which he argued kills more people than police brutality. “The process in which environmental decisions and policies are made result in racial discrimination,” he said. Where neighborhoods are located have a direct impact on the inhabitants’ lifespans, he continued. He then noted that 80 percent of African Americans live near coal-fired power plants, and how African American children are four times more likely to tie from asthma as white children.
Bookmaking, Humans and Nature
By Katherine Churchill ’16
Visiting artist Nicole Pietrantoni taught a mix of students, faculty and staff about the usage of bookmaking in disseminating social justice information. Pietrantoni stressed bookmaking as an exercise in visual expression that contributes to visual literacy, or the capability to interpret and understand the implication of symbols and pictures. Pietrantoni discussed the use of bookmaking to create Zines, independently published multimedia pamphlets that often offer alternative perspectives from the predominant narratives of mainstream news. Following Pietrantoni’s presentation, the workshop participants had the opportunity to create their own books. Pietrantoni demonstrated how to make three different types of books: a folding book, an accordion book and a stitched folio. She then helped students to create their own using colored paper and cardstock. As workshop participants worked on their creations, they discussed the kinds of social justice issues that visual art such as bookmaking can most adeptly address.
#BlackLivesMatter vs. Climate Change?
Mary Hunter and Mark Foster
By Kiraney Loving ’19
Had Hurricane Katrina affected wealthy white citizens of New Orleans, would the government have done more to help? Questions like this were raised in Associate Professor of English Mark Foster and A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Music Mary Hunter’s class during Thursday’s Teach-In. The goal set out by Foster and Hunter was to convey the connectins of these seemingly unrelated social justice movements. Students care about #BlackLivesMatter; students care about climate change. Can students care about both? According to Foster and Hunter, racism and climate change are not mutually exclusive ideas. In fact, talking about them together helps to strengthen both movements.
A Heritage of Greed: Colonial Enterprises’ Past and Present
Moderator Nadia Celis; speakers Greg Beckett, Connie Chiang, Sarah Childress and Hanetha Vete-Congolo
By Elina Zhang ’16
Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Nadia Celis organized a presentation featuring Assistant Professor of Anthropology Greg Beckett, Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies Connie Chiang, Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Hanetha Vete-Congolo, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies Sarah Childress. The presentations provided an interdisciplinary look at colonialism and its repercussions.
Celis began by defining colonialism and how its practice has been backed by intellectuals for generations. She emphasized how the logic of colonialism has continued to sustain itself to this day, citing the Thanksgiving holiday as a practice that continues to touch our lives.
Vete-Congolo discussed the doctrine of colonialism and how it gave way to slavery. She talked about how slavery was “outside of the human paradigm,” labeled individuals as “animals” or “objects,” and was seen as justified by divine law. She called on political apparatuses today to ascertain the long-standing human and economic damage of slavery.
Chiang discussed Japanese internment camps, describing them as “internal colonialism.” She argued that the colonialism at work in this example was embedded in the land and the environment, noting the particulars of the camp locations. Given the pretense of creating a cornucopia and making the Japanese Americans self-sufficient, the U.S. government made them irrigate the land to develop farms that would eventually be given to white settlers, which Chiang argued replicated colonialism by exploiting the labor of the less powerful and the non-white.
Beckett began with a warning. “If you’re a senior looking to do good work post-graduation, wanting to do humanitarian good, I’m here to break your heart,” he said. He discussed how humanitarianism has begun to replicate a form of power, drawing from his experiences in Haiti. He called the country a “humanitarian colony,” where its people are dependent on a temporary situation that is “fundamentally anti-democratic.” Beckett deconstructed the humanitarian as wanting to save the “suffering subject” but only one with the “right kind of suffering,” a rhetoric that only welcomes some into the “sphere of humanity that can be saved.”
Childress examined the documentary Manufactured Landscapes, which profiles the photographer Edward Burtynsky and his photographs of industrial landscapes, drawing out what she called “the colonial gaze” of the movie. She introduced many film and photography techniques used to affect the audience. The access to immensity, Childress argued, allows Burtynsky to show the human cost of these landscapes, yet simultaneously turn something terrible into something beautiful. “Perspective and viewpoint mean something in art and in politics; these landscapes represent power structures,” she said.
Sonic Environments: Composing Analogies to Social and Natural Processes
Frank Mauceri and Music 2551
By Cordelia Zars ’17
In Senior Lecturer Frank Mauceri’s open class yesterday, 15 Bowdoin students sat in an open circle on the Studzinski Recital Hall stage. If you were to observe the class through a window, it would appear as though nothing were happening. Stationary students. No musical instruments. No performers. Only one laptop computer and a pair of large speakers.
Walk into this open class, however, and your perception would change. The recital hall was filled with sound — sounds ranging from the bubbling of rivers to the chugging of machinery, chirping crickets to cacophonous traffic. These were the sounds of student compositions, written to comment on the social, political, and environmental issues of today. The compositions were part of the curriculum for Mauceri’s Intro to Electronic Music class. Students organized field recordings from the surrounding Brunswick and Topsham areas into short compositions that told a story about the themes of the Teach-in. Using the computer program Logic Pro X, students manipulated their recordings — looping, fading, pitch-changing, splicing — to create an intriguing sonic landscape, evocative of images and sensations.
Mauceri said he hopes the students’ compositions will make a difference in how listeners perceive their world. Listen to two of them here.
Writing After Katrina
By Katherine Churchill ’16
Anthony Walton, a writer-in-residence at Bowdoin, began his workshop with a discussion of silence and its role in writing and social justice. He encouraged students to ponder silenced stories, why they have not been written, and whether and how to ameliorate these unspoken stories. Walton noted that prior to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, many scientists, bureaucrats and citizens knew of the structural problems in the Ninth Ward. Despite this knowledge, he said, they remained silent and so failed to prevent the tragedy. Following Walton’s remarks, workshop participants wrote about silences they perceived in their own communities and then shared their poems, statements, thoughts and stories. Together the group discussed the stakes of writing as representatives of demographics other than their own, and for their own group.
Globalization: Wealth, Poverty and Climate Disruption
David Vail, Allen Springer, Rachel Sturman, Susan Kaplan
By Kiraney Loving ’19
We live in a time of rapid global integration. Globalization benefits so many, but at the same time, millions of people are still suffering. There have been major surges of wealth in some countries, while in others, millions continue to live in extreme poverty. Climate change is the defining and dividing issue of our generation. We may share one world, but poor people in poor countries are most vulnerable to the effects of global warming.
Photos by Dennis Griggs