Hosted by Kate Gilbert ’18, Lizzy Elliott ’16, and Matilda Ostow ’17, Radical Inhabitation, a campus environmental movement, held an event taking place between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning at the base of Foss Hill. This event was following in the footsteps of students in 2010 that occupied Foss to protest energy use on campus. It consisted of three parts: a workshop, which included group discussions, exercises, and activities; a sleep-out in which students slept outside under the stars on Foss Hill; and a human banner in which the group used their bodies to send a message that was captured on a photograph by the drone club on campus.
One of the most striking aspects of the Radical Inhabitation workshop was its unique structure. On any given day at the University, there are multiple events centered on some aspect of bettering the world, whether it be regarding the education system, the government, or the environment. A majority of these events are structured the same way, with a speaker who lectures the audience and then answers a few questions.
One of the main focuses of the Radical Inhabitation events was to bring attention back to the relationship that students have with the land at the University and to strengthen this relationship.
“Radical Inhabitation seeks to reinvigorate our relationship to the environment by fostering a stronger sense of stewardship of the earth,” the Facebook event states. “Come re-envision our relationship to green spaces on campus.”
In part, this idea was fostered by the outdoor environment where the event took place. By having students occupying Foss Hill all night, the event was able to break the normal daily patterns of students.
“Basically we’re trying to bring people to a space on campus that’s not typically inhabited,” Gilbert said. “[We] take them out of the dorms, which consume a lot of energy and don’t really connect to the earth. [We] also acknowledge that this is a human-created space, in the sense that it’s a lawn area on a college campus. But we can still try to connect to it and acknowledge its value as a natural place.”
The conception of this event began within the Anthropology of Social Movements course held this semester.
“A primary component of the class is to design an action,” Gilbert said. “So it’s kind of like the basis of the class on a whole is synthesizing practice and theory. In most conventional classroom settings you wouldn’t be assigned to do a project that is building a social movement in some capacity or contributing to one, but my professor’s really interested in breaking down the boundaries of what academia is, so that’s where [Radical Inhabitation] came from.”
At the beginning of the semester, students in this course split up into different groups depending on their interests. Gilbert joined an environmental group.
“We worked over the course of a month or two to think about ways to approach an issue we see on campus,” Gilbert said. “The big issue we’re trying to get at is that there’s not a cohesive sense of care and stewardship for the earth on this campus. A lot of our readings suggested that the way to generate that is by connecting people to the space they inhabit.”
Radical Inhabitation strove to do just that. The event even had a manifesto that outlined the group’s motives and was read during the workshop. The list included goals such as re-envisioning students’ relationships to green spaces, emphasizing deliberate care for others and the environment, recognizing the urgency of the climate crisis and inspiring action, disrupting daily patterns of complacency, creating a strong sense of environmental consciousness on campus, encouraging environmental collaboration and support, critically discussing the complexities of the environment and its social movement, addressing the issue of who composes the environmental movement, and creating hope and optimism through collective actions.
The workshop portion of the event also included student leaders from environmental groups on campus discussing common issues they had faced while attempting to broaden the environmental movement so that it may include a more diverse set of people.
“That’s something we are really working on: how difficult it is to target a broad group of students when doing an event that is specific to one interest that only certain people might identify with,” Gilbert said. “We tried our best to work with that but still that’s something that all student groups face on campus: trying to broaden their range. [Also] environmentalism can be really alienating to certain groups and certain people, and that’s another problem too.”
Additionally, the workshop included activities such as a ritual where students talked about what they were grieving about in relation to the destruction of the earth and a guided meditation in which students attempted to embody a plant.
The event as a whole managed to accomplish many of its goals. William Halliday ’19 attended the event and felt that he was able to learn a great amount of information about different environmental groups and movements on campus and the struggles they face.
“I thought it was really cool to hear about people who were so passionate about their environmental causes,” Halliday said. “I didn’t know that so many existed on campus, and I’ve always been interested in doing stuff with Long Lane [Farm] but I didn’t really know how to join. So it was nice to hear about groups like that.”
Halliday had not known what to expect coming to the event and enjoyed its atmosphere.
“I really liked how we were all together talking,” Halliday said. “I think it was a really good Wesleyan experience. Foss is so important to Wesleyan, so sleeping out there and being a part of it was really cool. I also enjoyed being with a bunch of people who wanted to connect back with the land. It was also really cool to sleep without a tent under the stars.”