Pitzer Effort Urges Ecological Unity

Pitzer College students are eating things off of the ground.

Or more accurately, the campus is supporting
foraging. Adin Bonapart PZ ’15 has concocted several published recipes on
Pitzer’s website including Manzanita Cider, Acorn Bread and Black Mustard. The
berries, acorns and mustard seed can be found on campus with the help of
Pitzer groundkeepers, Joe Clements and Nicolas Galindo, or Pitzer’s online
foraging guide.

Foraging, though, is just one element of Pitzer’s current effort to become more connected to
its ecosystem. After the College was awarded the Andrew Mellon Foundation Grant in
2013, associate professor of art Tim Berg, who is also the director of the Mellon Art and Environment program,
connected with the ecological design collective SPURSE. For the past year and a
half, Pitzer students and SPURSE have worked together to create the Pitzer
Multi-Species Commons.

Unlike the
classical artist model, SPURSE allowed Tim Berg’s students in “Art 180: Special
Topics in Art,” to develop the design of the commons. Matthew Friday and Ian
Kerr of SPURSE commenced their collaboration with Pitzer students by
confronting the question: how are we ‘of’ a place? The first step in the answer to this was
the workshop, “Eat Your Sidewalk,” in which students learned about foraging while
trekking the Pitzer sidewalk. 

Claire Bartlett
PZ ’15 and Leonard Schloer PZ ’15 described their Special Topics in Art class
as the seed to the project. Every four weeks Kerr and Friday would visit for
non-traditional workshops dedicated to understanding the
philosophical foundations behind SPURSE and designing the Pitzer Multi-Species

“Citizens today have
to retrain [themselves] and develop the skills to engage with this world,” Kerr said. 

Berg and
his students originally thought the project would only encompass the Pitzer Mounds, but as
the project grew, Berg realized that the Commons could be limitless. 

“As we
developed this project I came to envision the entire campus as a collective
Commons with humans as only one part of the equation,” Berg wrote in an email to TSL. “I think this is an
important distinction because it awakened me to the potential of our campus.” 

Pitzer is
reworking its campus to eliminate the idea of the destination and introduce the
concept of related space. The project aims to bring students and staff outside of traditional gathering spaces like the Mounds and instead to the citrus grove, the Harvey Mudd College field or the median on 9th Street. 

“Now you
can go to Pitzer without an agenda,” Schloer said. “The design allows you to explore the grass,
the trees and the nature that is amongst us rather than some installation.”

While many are in support of the endeavor, Belmont Pinger PZ
’17 prompts the question: How can Pitzer fix an environment where we feel we are the only species? The community could have a taste of Southern California’s true ecosystem only if Pitzer creates a space that can support its native animals, in his opinion. 

“By Multi-Species Commons, they mean we share
the grounds with squirrels, bunnies and happy dogs—none of which are natural to the area,” Pinger said. “We continue to exist in a sterile environment where humans are dominant.”

responds to skepticism by saying the project is not intuitive; in fact, it took
her class an entire semester to understand. Therefore, the student body cannot
be expected to immediately connect with the project. SPURSE hopes that as we
become more connected to the plants and species that surround us, Pitzer will
stop using rattraps, pesticides, lawn mowers and herbicides.

The project is
meant to grow, from the ancient irrigation system at the Negotiation Center to
the wood sorrel that covers the Mounds. In the words of Berg, “It is very Pitzer.” 

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