Unsustainable Activism

When I was a prospective student,
Pitzer College listed only four core values on its website: social
responsibility, intercultural understanding, interdisciplinary learning, and
student autonomy. Starting some time around my sophomore year, the admissions
department started emphasizing a fifth core value that I thought should have been obvious from the get-go.

Environmental
sustainability has been a quintessential part of Pitzer’s reputation in the
Claremont consortium since well before I visited the campuses for the first time
nearly four years ago. For example, our residence halls are certified by Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). West and East Halls
earned a platinum distinction while Pitzer, Atherton, and Sanborn (PAS) Halls earned gold. In addition, Pitzer has no shortages of cacti and
other flora that require less water than the large quads of Scripps College and Pomona College do.

It came as no surprise to me, then an outsider, that Pitzer
students, faculty members, and administrators collectively wished to reduce the
college’s carbon footprint. Back then, I found Pitzer’s
commitment honorable. I still do.

However,
I have observed the following trends in my last three years as a student. A
great percentage of my peers seem committed to upholding the value of
environmental sustainability above all others, and it has resulted in the formation
of an ironically unsustainable number of environmentally conscious groups at
Pitzer alone. When you have five or six environment-focused clubs
competing for a slice of Pitzer’s student activities budget, then not only do
they compete directly with one another for money, but they also take away funds
from other groups on campus that are upholding the other core values
Pitzer markets to the collegiate community.

I think that this is unnecessary,
and it would be advantageous to have all environmentally oriented organizations come together
as one to take on multiple projects simultaneously. Since they have
enough people who are passionate about different methods of being sustainable,
I doubt that anyone’s toes will be stepped on if everyone is fighting for the
same cause.

On top of that, we
have seen an influx of people pushing agendas in the Pitzer Student Senate
that are entirely focused on the environment. This semester saw the proposal of a Green Initiative Fund, which at one point asked for $20,000 to fund
various green projects that could reduce the college’s carbon footprint. That would mean
another $20,000 to support environmental sustainability on top of the money
that the Pitzer Budgetary Committee already gives to the multiple environmental clubs
on Pitzer’s campus. 

More importantly, on April 12, the college decided to
divest 99 percent of its portfolio from fossil fuel stocks. Personally, I have been
skeptical of the divestment movement since its inception, and I hope it does
not affect Pitzer’s ability to give out the necessary financial aid packages.

It
is not that I do not believe in the causes Pitzer stands for. I vividly
remember watching An Inconvenient
Truth
when I entered my teenage years, and recognizing that the issues
surrounding climate change would become one of the greatest challenges of my
generation. But here is my problem: It does not serve the best interests of
Pitzer, as a student body or as an administration, to continue pounding
home the value of environmental sustainability in the media, in the Student Senate,
or in Board of Trustee meetings. Yes, it is important, but there are other core
values in which I believe Pitzer needs to invest its time, money, and—pun
intended—energy.

One of the most
memorable stories to come out of the news during my time at Pitzer was when professor Phil Zuckerman made a curriculum out of secular studies, an
interdisciplinary approach to understanding the political, philosophical, and
cultural significance of secularism. To me, that was a classic embodiment of
what Pitzer represents: creating new paths for students to explore
their intellectual curiosity, rather than conforming to the strict guidelines
of a general curriculum.

I honestly believe
that the environmental sustainability core value should be a subcategory of
social responsibility. By caring for the environment and taking part in actions
to fight for reducing the carbon footprint, Pitzer students are actively taking
responsibility for one of the major social, political, scientific, and global
issues of our generation—the definition of social responsibility.

The bone I am
picking here is that our overemphasis on the environment is diverting attention from other Pitzer students who have taken social responsibility for issues
in the rest of the world. Whether they are actively campaigning for workers’
rights, gender and women’s rights, or LGBTQ rights, or standing against racial and
socioeconomic inequality, Pitzer students do incredible work, and they do not
get the recognition they deserve. The students who fought hard for
fossil fuel divestment earned poetic justice for the work they have
accomplished and the media attention their successful campaign is getting now. But with all due respect, I believe it’s about time for those activists to
cease hogging the spotlight and let Pitzer promote the rest of its core
values. The dead horse has been beaten enough; please bury it with dignity.

Elliott Hamilton PZ ’15 is majoring in economics. He serves as the Pitzer Student Activities Committee (SAC) Representative of the Pitzer Student Senate.

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