Things can change in 20 years.
Tomorrow I head up to Oberlin, Ohio, where I was a college student in the 1990s, to join my colleague Dimiter Kenarov for talks about his reporting project on shale gas extraction (aka “fracking”) in Poland, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Dimiter’s been traveling for the past month to universities and high schools across the country to present this work; I was with him for a week in Pennsylvania and wrote a blog post about it.
Oberlin has always had an environmental consciousness but, at least to my recollection, identity politics were much more visible when I was a student there. The environmentalists were perceived to be well-off white kids who didn’t have to deal with race or class discrimination.
When I visited the campus last fall, for the first time since my ten-year reunion, there was much more of a sense of urgency and cohesion around environmental issues — none more so than fracking, which despite being a relatively new practice has become big business in neighboring Pennsylvania and is now creeping into Ohio. Anti-fracking graffiti was all over campus; some of the students I met told me about trips they’d made to protest the installation of new wells throughout the state.
So when we scheduled Dimiter to speak at Kent State, where the Pulitzer Center has a partnership, we reached out to the Oberlin environmental studies department to see if there might be interest in bringing him to campus. The faculty responded with enthusiasm, and we set up some talks and class visits for the 22nd.
I hope the students haven’t abandoned all discussion of race, class, and gender — and I bet they haven’t — but it’s getting late climate-wise, and the new consciousness is great to see. So is campus unity.