A Shift in Dialogue: Looking Back at Smith’s Earth Week

Andrea Schmid '17

Assistant News Editor

Smith’s Earth Week events and celebrations, which took place from April 19 to 26, were “widely considered to be revolutionary and noteworthy on campus,” according to Cordelia Fuller ’16. Entitled “The Planet and the People on It: Rethinking Popular Narratives of Our Right Earth,” Earth Week’s programming was unlike any other on campus event in recent memory.

In the past, Earth Week events have focused merely on recycling and abstract concepts such as “sustainability,” while attaching the concept of “green-ness” to a variety of actions and dialogues.

However, the overarching theme of this year’s Earth Week highlighted the intersectional nature of environmental activism. It encouraged awareness of pressing environmental issues like climate change and social justice by reclaiming the relationship between people and the environment as two interconnected and overlapping worlds.

At Smith, this new approach manifested itself in the diverse participation of organizations on campus. Twenty campus organizations held events and celebrations to increase awareness and raise campus dialogue, collaborating to rethink popular narratives of our right to the planet. The organizations Smith Divest, Green Team and the Real Food Challenge. VOX, J-Street U, WOZQ, the Black Students’ Alliance and SpitFire addressed sustainability through intersectional dialogue with CEEDS Earth Week planners Callie Sieh ’17, Corinne Walther ’15 and Emma Kerr. Along with the rest of the Earth Week planning committee, they envisioned Smith’s Earth Week.

“We really wanted to approach the way that Earth Week was celebrated on campus in a more inclusive way that addressed not only the urgency and pressing awareness of climate change and the environment, but that connected it to people and their narratives, too,” said Sieh.

“The Earth Week planning committee had around eight to ten people, and I can’t tell you how much time we spent trying to find a title for the week that worked and really changed the environmental dialogue on campus the way we envisioned it,” said Walther.

The week’s events started with a potluck-style dinner on April 19. Hosted by the Black Students’ Alliance and the recently founded Smith Students of Color in the Sciences, Blythe Coleman-Mumford ’17 and Gabrielle Peterson ’15 invited students from the Five Colleges to discuss the role of food in environmental and social justice as it pertains to the issue of the gentrification of spaces, foods and culture. A number of organizations tabled throughout the week. On Wednesday, VOX held a lecture on sustainable menstrual products. There was a series of outdoor events, such as removing invasive plant species, canoe building, a walk through the Mill River with John Stinton, a TED Talk and a variety of panels.

The week came to a close on Friday with a performance by Frank Waln and the Samson Brothers in the Campus Center.  A Sicangu Lakota, Waln is a hip hop artist, music producer and performer who uses his music and art to raise awareness of the presence and continuously reviving culture of his people, along with the variety of social justice issues that continue to threaten his reservation, such as the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Hailing from the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, Waln touched on the importance of recognizing the United States’ colonial past and its identity as a settler colonial nation and world power. He argued that it is not necessary to be a professional or a member of academia to fight and speak for justice.

“I do not consider myself an activist. I just want the people whom I love to be treated fairly and to be respected, and if that makes me an activist, then what does that say about this society?” Waln asked during the Indigenous Rights and Environmental Sovereignty Panel. His performance and traditional Native American dance performances carried on until nearly midnight on Friday.

For the rest of the weekend, Smith hosted the New England Climate Organizers Summit, which was held across campus, from Seelye to Stoddard Hall and even outdoors when the weather permitted. With a massive network of environmental and social justice activists, the summit served as a resource for collaboration and discussion among activist groups in New England.