Beth Blissman

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Beth Blissman

Interview by: Shavonne Stanek

Beth Blissman

Q: What excites you the most about connecting students to the community through all the programs that the Bonner Center has?

A: It is an invaluable part of any Oberlin College student's education. I wish [learning] occurred more in the community, or outside, or in nature than it does in the classrooms. I would love to see engaged learning as part of every division in the college and the conservatory of music. But the piece that makes me really enthused about the programs we have to offer is that students are bringing the classroom into the community, and it makes their education come alive.

"I live in one of the most hopeful places in the country."

Q: What do you love most about the Oberlin community?

A: There are lots of things I love about the Oberlin Community. I love our farmers markets, I love that we now have an indoor winter market where we can get fresh fruits and veggies all year round. I think that was a brilliant idea. Oberlin is very walkable and very bikeable. I love the fact that we now have new places to park our bikes downtown and some of city council members are very passionate about alternative transportation on a full spectrum, from biking and walking to hopefully a re-emergence of public transportation. I appreciate that our educational system is K-12 IB (international baccalaureate). I think that is a brilliant move to be the first school district in the state of Ohio to go fully K-12 IB. That helps open the world. I think our Oberlin students have more worldview literacy than many other students their ages in other parts of the country. I love the creativity all of you bring into Oberlin College with students from all around the world. But I don't necessarily appreciate all the germs that people tend to bring back after winter term. Iappreciate the interest and willingness of many Oberlin students to learn about the eco-social context of Lorain County, of Oberlin, and were moving in a direction of being more intentional through the BCSL of teaching more about that. I am thrilled we have a living machine here. I love that building. It'sone of the things I love about Oberlin, and is one of the things that influenced me to take this job and come here. It is a fabulous place to teach and is nowoff the grid. Watching thewhole thing unfold was one of the most hopeful things. I think I live in one of the most hopeful places in the country.

Q: There are so many projects here at the Bonner Center, but are there certain projects that you feel are connected to the environment or helping the environment?

A: I see everything as interconnected. We need to be looking at both the environmental andsocial justice ramifications of everything we do. That being said, I think there are great opportunities for students who are passionate about environmental justice to get involved in any of our programs. We have George Jones farm, we have opportunities to do research through the city of Oberlin, or the Oberlin Project that are ecologically related. But itdoesn't mean you couldn't be working for Oberlin Community Services and still be involved in their farm helping people who are in living in poverty and need fresh food learn how to grow their own.

"Oberlin is very walkable and very bikeable."

Q: In what ways to do you feel that Oberlin has been ahead of the curve environmentally?

A: Certainly the [AJLC]; I would use that as the primary example. I cannot believe how few college campuses have anything like that on their campus yet. I love the building as a teaching tool, as someone who is passionate about community engaged pedagogy. The fact that we have that building, I would love to see us integrate all these things that we are doing into our teaching, into our academic curriculum. Like for economics courses we should be walking out to see the solar panels and talking about the economics of it, now that green energy matters in terms of the changing economy. These big picture things. I would love to see that be integrated more with the curriculum.

Q: Do you think thecommunity as a whole is committed to environmental change, not just the campus?

A: More so than other communities our size and our type. That being said i don't think it is on everyone's mind. I think we still have a whole lot of work to do to see the integration between social justice and environmental justice. I think those of us involved in the environmental movement who have white skin privilege, for example, need to do a lot more work and learn a whole lot more about anti-racism work and what it means to be doing that on a daily basis and have our institutions following suit. So I think there is a lot more work to be done so we can see the environmental justice that occurs when you combine race, class, poverty, and environment. It is a given statistic in this country and especially world wide that people of color and those without money and without resources are so many times more likely to live next to a point source or an end source [of pollution]. Itis a daily reality with many bad human health effects. I think in order for everyone to be knowledgable and to care about environmental issues, we need to see them not as environmental issues, but we need to see them as human issues. But they are not just human issues either because we wouldn't be here without the trees; they give us our oxygen and we give them our carbon dioxide. It is a totally symbiotic relationship that we never recognize or talk about. And all these other species of life- we would not be here without them. We all have work to do to see these issues and the most pressing of our time. But by that I mean not just climate change, but the human destruction that goes along with [climate change], that fuels it. Until we do some shifting to see these things as all interconnected, I don't expect all my friends and colleagues or relatives in town to be on board with the environmental message.

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