jump to navigation

Campus Activism: Views of a Teacher and a Student June 30, 2015

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

DSC00629

In today’s New York Times:

To the Editor:

The Campus Crusaders,” by David Brooks (column, June 2), reflected my experience as a geology professor. I was nearly prevented from embarking on a study trip with students to Israel and the West Bank in 2014.

I designed the course to engage hydropolitics from a geoscientist’s perspective. It was approved by the college’s curriculum committee. I intended to learn alongside students what could be realized only through travel to regions we explored in our texts. After all, it’s difficult for students from water-rich places to appreciate the reality of villagers sharing meager water supplies from springs or to imagine solutions to these problems without seeing the situation.

Owing to the American Studies Association’s vote to support the academic boycott of Israel, my course became a flash point for campus debate. Protesters held placards and heckled my students outside the classroom, urging them to drop the course. I would have liked protesters to enroll in the course and, as Mr. Brooks says, face the “hard truths.” Instead, they tried to shut down avenues of inquiry and block others’ attempt to examine tough issues.

Still, I stuck to my educational principles: I support protest but won’t boycott ideas. During travel we learned directly from Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians why water issues are central to the conflict. We also learned lessons about principled stances that I didn’t set out to teach but that I am very thankful I learned. I would teach the course again — field trip included — in a heartbeat.­

JILL S. SCHNEIDERMAN­

Poughkeepsie, N.Y.­

The writer is a professor of earth science and geography at Vassar College.

Advertisements

Dear Professor Pessin, I Know How You Feel May 28, 2015

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Dear Professor Pessin,

It occurred to me a few months back to write you a letter expressing solidarity with you. I’d read about the fact that you are on medical leave from your faculty position at Connecticut College owing to the stressful situation at your campus. I understand the strain that arises as a result of unfounded vitriolic attacks by students and weak support from college administrators because it happened to me too. (I’ve blogged about it here and in subsequent posts on my personal website). When I read that students, faculty and staff had gathered for “a forum” on “free speech, equity and inclusion” hosted by the administration, I shuddered. You see, my trip co-leader and I also endured such a ‘forum’ which Philiip Weiss, founder and co-editor of Mondoweiss.net, described as “truly unsettling.”

I wanted to write to you but I kept putting it off. Over time I realized that I was afraid to wade into these fraught waters because the events of last year surrounding my study trip to Israel and the West Bank territory caused me much trauma. But then it occurred to me that my reluctance to reach out to you equated to being silenced by SJP students and faculty who support the BDS movement.  Today I read the New York Times piece about water issues in israel and the West Bank and saw a photograph of the water channel in the West Bank town of Auja where my students learned directly from Palestinians the implications of having no control over groundwater flowing through the aquifer beneath their land.

DSC01337

Palestinians in Auja, West Bank, showing Vassar students Auja Spring, the source of their town’s water supply.

The article reminded me once again of the value of traveling with my Vassar students in Israel and the West Bank to wrap our minds around issues of water justice in that parched region.

In writing to The Miscellany News, the Vassar’s student-run newspaper, my colleague and I attempted to communicate to our academic community the virtues of traveling the length of the Jordan River meeting with young Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians who work collaboratively on water resource issues. Since writing that letter, I’ve been silent about these issues on my campus for fear of being attacked once again. However, having learned as a “gay rights activist” during the AIDS epidemic that “silence=death,” as anti-semitism on college campuses rises I feel it is a matter of integrity to say that I stand with you.

May we work to preserve freedom of speech, at the very least, on college campuses.

Sincerely,

Jill Schneiderman

Losing Ground: A Sad Earth Day Post April 22, 2015

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

This piece is also reprinted at Truthout.

As I’ve indicated here, here, here, here, and here, I’m not a big fan of Earth Day because I believe that every day should be Earth Day. But a recent article in Haaretz moves me to offer these thoughts on this inauspicious day.

Have you read the story in the April 19, 2015 issue of Haaretz “Geologists: Road along Dead Sea coast must be diverted toward nature reserve“? It’s worth paying attention to if we aspire to work towards what theologian and historian of religion Thomas Berry referred to as the Ecozoic Era, a period in which humans and the Earth interact in a “mutually enhancing manner.” That is, a period in which  all beings (human beings, non-human beings and the Earth itself) live together peacefully and in good health.

Or, we could disregard lessons such as those taught by the encroachment of sinkholes from the Dead Sea coast toward the Judean Hills and move towards what the renowned entomologist, E.O. Wilson, at first called the Eremozoic Era  and now speaks of as the Eremocene, the “Age of Loneliness.” “Eremocene”– the term moves me to feel bereft.

Though I wish I felt otherwise, I believe we are on a path to the future of which Wilson warns. Expansion of sinkholes along the Dead Sea coast and proposed solutions are emblematic of the wrong approach to living with the planet and each other. Israel, a tiny country the size of New Jersey, clings aggresisvely to land that ultimately must be shared with Palestinians. And the country, apparently, is trying mightily to avoid losing ground literally in the form of sinkholes along its western edge of the Dead Sea.

Sinkholes form sometimes where rock below the land surface is easily dissolved by groundwater. The dissolution causes cavities to form beneath the land surface. The cavities grow into caverns and become so big eventually that the land surface collapses into them.  In Israel, adjacent to the Dead Sea the sinkhole problem is severe. Why?

Ample freshwater flowing south from the headwaters of the Jordan River has been reduced substantially so that the Dead Sea receives only five percent of its historic water flow. As a result,  this once massive water body is evaporating at a rapid rate of nearly three feet per year.  But Israelis and Jordanians can only blame themselves. Excessive withdrawals for unwise agricultural practices in the watershed as well as political conflict with Syria at the confluence of the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers, (not by Palestinians in the West Bank whose access to water is severely limited by Israel’s Water Authority) together with diversion of water from the Dead Sea for resorts and the extraction of minerals from the briny sea to produce cosmetics and fertilizers has caused the surface of the sea to shrink by nearly 45% since the 1930s. Because the Dead Sea is drying up, decreasing levels of salt water allow fresh groundwater to well up and eat away at subsurface salt layers. Hence the sinkholes.

DSC01337

Palestinians in Auja, West Bank, showing Vassar students the source of their town’s water supply.

DSC01349

Israel Water Authority water well tapping into aquifer. Auja, West Bank.

Last month, a substantial portion of the major north-south roadway connecting Eilat to northern Israel, collapsed between the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi, an oasis with abundant waterfalls in the desert.

DSC01489

Vassar students at Wadi Arugot, an oasis near Ein Gedi, March 2014.

The proposed solution? Build a road closer to the oasis to facilitate movement of residents and tourists in the area. Such action would displace bugs and birds, invertebrate species, not to mention the “charismatic megafauna”– ibex, hyrax, wild boars, desert cats, hyenas, jackals, and wolves–that drink from the fresh water pools in the oasis.

Why not attempt to curtail the water mismanagement? Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli Director at EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East says that restoring water flow to the Dead Sea to at least 30% of its historic amount would be a step in the right direction.

Though we may lose ground along the way, may we step off the road that leads to the Eremozoic Era and on to an awakened path that leads to the Ecozoic one.

Mary Anning: Google doodle celebrates the missing woman of geology May 22, 2014

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in feminism, gender, geology, history of science, science, women in science.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Image

Google doodle celebrates fossil collector and paleontologist’s 215th birthday as reported in The Independent.

And since Google is celebrating Anning, whom I’ve always associated with ammonites, an extinct group of marine invertebrate animals (phylum: mollusca; class: cephelopoda), I’ve posted below a photograph of two of my students from our March 2014 study trip in which we visited the famous “Ammonite Wall” in the Negev Desert.

AmmoniteNathanJoey

Pliny the Elder referred to these fossils as the “horns of Ammon” because their coiled shape was reminiscent of the ram’s horns worn by the Egyptian god Ammon. The photo below shows the remarkable exposure of a laterally extensive sedimentary layer chock full of ammonite fossils. That’s yours truly standing on the steeply dipping bedding plane.

AmmoniteYonatanJill

And note the the great piece in The Guardian about Anning and the other lost women of geology.

Vassar College Study Trip to the Jordan River Watershed and Surroundings March 4, 2014

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,
11 comments

Image 

            One generation comes and another generation goes but the Earth remains forever. So goes the Ecclesiastical statement that motivated me to wade metaphorically and literally into the sullied and diminishing waters of the Jordan.

            I’m about to embark on a two-week journey with 28 Vassar students to the Jordan River valley and its surroundings. I was motivated to propose and teach such a course because from my perspective as an earth scientist, I understand how daily and future access to clean water in ample supply is one of the key issues about which people in the region fight. It is also a problem on which Arabs, Jews, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis have worked together with integrity and compassion.

            And yet, as solid as I was in my commitment to this endeavor before my College’s “Open Forum on the Ethics of Student Activism and Protest at Vassar,” last night I was knocked off-center by a belligerent academic community dedicated to vilifying anyone who dares set foot in Israel. Our trip will take us from the headwaters of the Jordan River near the border with Lebanon down to the shrinking Dead Sea and through the bone dry Arava valley. With assistance from Friends of the Earth Middle East and EWASH (Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene in the occupied Palestinian territory), along the way, we’ll meet with Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians to learn about their perspectives and efforts with regard to the basic human right of ready access to clean water.

            I hope to have the time and energy to use my blog to process and articulate through mind and heart what I learn on this journey.