W&E: Opening Luncheon Honors Women and Discusses Key Issues

On Thursday, March 29, at the Eberhard Center of Grand Valley State University, the Symposium for Women and the Environment commenced. The Symposium began with a luncheon held to honor certain  influential women in the environmental field, who have devoted their careers and lives to furthering environmental interests and goals.

During the luncheon, WMEAC director Rachel Hood honored the achievements of these women, many of whom were present at the event. The luncheon ended with a discussion based on key current issues: what inspires women to protect the environment, what are some important current issues facing women with respect to the environment, and what action can be taken, to name a few.

One frequently echoed idea was that people draw inspiration to protect the environment from childhood experiences that exposed them to nature. “What got me started with my passion for the environment was a lot of family vacations that gave me a passion for being outdoors,” said attendee Rachel Beukema. “The way I was raised taught me to conserve resources: turning off lights, turning down the thermostat when you’re not there, and so on. It made me want my children to grow up in a place that they think is beautiful too.

Many at the luncheon agreed that exposure to toxins and chemicals is a critical environmental concern for women, as well as reproductive rights, the right for women to choose whether they bear children. “Women in a lot of cultures around the world don’t have the right to choose whether or not they reproduce,” said Nancy Finney, an intern at WMEAC and a grad student in public administrations at GVSU. “In some cultures it’s a point of pride for men to have a lot of kids, but they don’t necessarily take care of all of them.

Marta Swain, an honoree of the Symposium who led her table’s discussion with great enthusiasm, said, “It is so important to reach the disadvantaged and those who don’t understand that they themselves are nature. We are the species with the largest brain and the only species that destroys what we need to survive.”

“Why should we care?” asked attendees. “It’s common sense: this is where we live and breathe. Simplifying our lives will allow us to give more thought to what can be done for the environment. Some actions we can take include finding an environmental organization to become involved with, getting people together with similar ideas, leading by example, and making good personal choices. Education is also very important, hearing all the things that are being come up with and spreading that education to others.”

The symposium emphasized that action can and is being taken through local environmental leaders and up-and-coming leaders in the field. Holly Wright, illustration intern at WMEAC, talked about her work with Beehive Collective, a graphics workshop that creates socially, environmentally, and politically conscious illustrations. “We use art to relate important issues, inspire change through visual images and interpersonal connections, and get people talking about these issues,” said Wright.

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