Letters to the Editor / Opinion

Dana Hall helped make me an activist

May Dong ’14, former Co-Head of the Green Team, is now a first-year student at Swarthmore College, currently involved in environmental activism on campus.

I’m writing this from a mattress in the middle of a hallway. The hallway is dim and strewn with pillows, backpacks, and a few sleeping bodies. It’s a Sunday morning, but this isn’t the aftermath of some wild party last night: this is the 32nd and final day of our sit-in.

In case you don’t know who I am or (horror!) have already forgotten, I graduated from Dana last spring. You might have seen me in the hallway or on the tennis court or on the stage in Waldo making an announcement for Green Team. I didn’t leave the rigorous academic standards Dana instilled in me when I left for college. I didn’t leave behind the experience of playing tennis on a team. And I didn’t leave behind my passion for environmentalism.

When I was applying to college in the fall of my senior year, I remember checking off lots of boxes. What extracurricular interests do you currently pursue? I checked off a ton of boxes. Which of these do you plan on continuing in your college career? Hmm, all of them? I said I was still planning on continuing environmental justice, but I didn’t seriously consider how that would happen. And for a while, it didn’t. In the first month of college, I was still trying to figure out how the next year would go and where my place on campus was. I chose classes, made new friends, and joined lots of clubs. Environmental clubs were not among them. After two years with Green Team, I was tired of feeling ineffective at bringing about real changes. I wanted to move mountains, and I felt like I was tossing pebbles in a hole instead.

I went to a training this November that completely changed my perspective on my ability to effect change. It was run by Mountain Justice, the Swarthmore student group campaigning for the college to divest its endowment from fossil fuels. It was a Theory of Social Change training, which made me realize that I didn’t have to be the one singlehandedly saving the world. In fact, that was impossible. As part of a larger group, though, of people who really knew what they were doing, I could contribute to something greater than myself.

Which brings us back to this hallway where I am sitting. I could never have imagined myself as part of a non-violent direct action as a Dana Hall student, let alone a month-long sit in.

But for me, Dana is where it all started. If I hadn’t filled out that application to be Green Team co-head, I most likely would not be part of this international movement. I wouldn’t have helped organize a sit-in that got endorsed by the UN Climate Chief, and I wouldn’t have gotten to meet Bill McKibben, one of the world’s most renowned climate activists. More importantly, I wouldn’t have met the amazing and inspirational students who run this movement.

And so, as Dana is so fond of telling us, take that chance. Embrace the possibility you will be rejected. Run for that leadership position. Because you never know where it will take you.

Photo: Environmentalist Bill McKibben joins the Swarthmore sit-in. May Dong ’14 is at the top left. Photo credit: Swarthmore Mountain Justice.

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