So where do Wesleyan students go once school lets out? To Kenya to work at Shining Hope for Communities? To New Orleans to research the Gulf Coast oil spill? To work at their summer camps? To Russia/the South of France/Sweden? Yes, Wesleyan students will go to all of those places this summer, but first, they go to New York City, the home of a plethora of students and the future home of many more.
This summer, as I return home to the city, I find myself reuniting with friends from school. Last week, Emily Klein ’14 and I went to explore the latest installment of the High Line, which goes from West 20th to West 30th Streets. Originally constructed in the 1930’s for the elevation of freight trains, it was resurrected in 2009 with the opening of Section 1, which goes from Gansevoort to West 20th Street. It is an elevated park that features public art and an aerial view of the city.
The High Line is known as one of the rare places where New Yorkers go to do nothing. For two Wesleyan students, it is the equivalent of Foss Hill during finals week, an oasis in the midst of chaos. And it even looks like a campus in the sky, green and fresh plants balancing out the concrete we walk on. As we crossed the newest section of the High Line, we talked about the year to come and how we didn’t know why, but the experience of how being in the relaxation epicenter of New York reminded us of being at Wesleyan, surrounded by interesting people who spend their time in some of the most creative ways possible. What a great segue from a first year on campus to a summer in the city!
The students will present an open rehearsal of their works in progress, which have developed out of their research in the Gulf, on Friday, July 1, 2011, from 1pm to 3pm in Woodhead Lounge (Exley Science Center).
Seven students of the class The Deepwater Horizon Tragedy: A Scientific and Artistic Inquiry traveled to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana to explore the Deepwater Horizon oil spill almost a year after the spill occurred. The class was structured as an investigation – a scientific, artistic, and human investigation into Louisiana’s relationship with the oil industry, how it led up to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, and how the people of Louisiana deal with it a year after.
The students interviewed over twenty people who were involved with the oil spill: An oysterman whose ninety-year-old family business was wiped out by the governor’s actions during the oil spill. A woman who would abandon her beloved Louisiana in order to save it. One biologist who concludes that we have turned the page since the spill, and a different biologist whose experiments conclude that there are lasting effects from the oil spill. The politician who dealt directly with President Obama during the spill. The first female oilrig worker in Louisiana, and many more passionate, interesting and conflicting voices of the story that is Louisiana, the oil industry, and the oil spill.
The class explored the southern-most rural areas of Louisiana and went to the coastline that was first affected by the spill. We talked to professors and experts at Nicholls State College and Louisiana State University. In boats, the students went out to the wetlands where oil is still caked on the coastal sands, witnessing first-hand the power of the substance to destroy land. Out in the Gulf, we saw the clean-up crews still slowly working to clean the wetlands. The class got into the Gulf and helped professors from the University of New Orleans troll for shrimp and fish to take data on the ecosystem. The class explored New Orleans, and enjoyed the Gulf seafood that Louisianans are so passionate about. Through all of out explorations, we learned how deeply embedded the oil industry is with Louisiana’s history and culture and the complexity of the story.
Perhaps one of the most powerful moments for the class was when we met with a New Orleans-based artist and activist. Her art has examined the environment, the oil spill, and how nature is trying to recover. She looks at the fragility of the landscape and humans’ role in shaping that. She told the students, “make art about what pisses you off and what blisses you out.” This artist demonstrated to the students how powerfully art can communicate the environmental issues taking place along the Gulf coast, exactly what this class is striving for.
As the teaching assistant for this course, I was able to watch the students delve into this subject with curiosity and sensitivity. As the trip went on, the students became more involved and invested and came to understand the intricacies of the science, human, and political sides of the story. It was an incredible experience for all involved and it is clear to me the students’ dedication to telling the story of the oil spill with accuracy and thoughtfulness.
Jeremy Finch ’09, one of Eiko’s former students at Wesleyan, wrote a beautiful review in the Brooklyn Rail of “Naked”, a 10-day living installation and marathon-like live performance at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.
Submitted by Erinn Roos-Brown, CFA Program Manager
On June 5th, seven Wesleyan students arrived in New Orleans for a 10-day trip that will include interviews with local scientists, fishermen and rig workers. The goal is to learn from these perspectives about the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which flowed for three months in the summer of 2010. They also plan to take a boat into the bayou to see the lingering effects of the oil spill, including a location where dolphins and other wildlife were reported dead from the toxic exposure. This trip is part of a Summer Session course The Deepwater Horizon Tragedy: A Scientific and Artistic Inquiry. It’s designed to provide the students with a toolbox for exploration of the science behind the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and began that process prior to leaving by spending four days on campus learning artistic and scientific tools.
By asking the questions: what is oil? How is it processed into energy? Why is it still the leading energy source? The students will hunt for answers that will enable them to understand the science at a deeper level, and make their research more visible to an audience through their art, which will be produced at the end of the course as final projects.
The class is co-taught by the chair of the College of the Environment Barry Chernoff and playwright and director Leigh Fondakowski. Leigh was the Head Writer of The Laramie Project and has been a member of Tectonic Theatre Project since 1995. She is an Emmy nominated co-screenwriter for the adaptation of The Laramie Project for HBO. Her latest work, The People’s Temple, has been performed under her direction at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Perseverance Theater, and The Guthrie Theater, and received the Glickman Award for best new play in 2005.
This course is made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Come back later to read more about the final projects and hear from the students about their experience!