Climate Change Reinterpreted
Lauren Dimock ’13 went to Peru to help a community build more efficient stoves and explore a pressing spiritual dilemma. She came back with a new view of her place in the world.
For residents of Media Luna, one among many small communities that share the captivating landscapes of the Peruvian Andes, a source of spiritual livelihood is slowly disappearing.
The prevailing local belief system, which is partly rooted in a heritage shared with the Incas, holds that elements of the landscape — in this case, vast deposits of ice that rise above the green valley in which Media Luna is built — are religious figures. The glaciers are said to have wide-ranging impacts on daily life: Aside from providing fresh water runoff for farming, cleaning and sustenance, they also show their influence by warding off thieves who might steal crops or other property.
Unfortunately, the glaciers are shrinking because of recent changes to the climate. To outsiders, at least, this seems to pose a troubling question: Are these anchors of the indigenous religious system gone when the ice melts away?
Dimock pursued the issue a semester ago while studying and working in Peru. She was there on a Willamette College Colloquium grant because issues of climate change and indigenous cultures had piqued her interest while she was completing her firstyear introductory work on campus.
“People call the glaciers ‘Apus.’ This nomenclature designates them as deities,” she says. “You could also say that the word translates to ‘mighty’ in the indigenous Quechuan language. One woman described a nearby glacier to me as the god of farming and livestock — if you have faith in the Apu, she said, and do the yearly blessing in August, it will take care of your cattle.”
A man drew Dimock a sketch of what the glacier coverage used to look like on the landscape and noted how massive amounts of mountain rock, previously covered by ice, are now bare and dry.
“When I asked people what they would do when the glaciers melted, I got a wide variety of answers,” she says. “Some people said that they would have to leave and go somewhere else; some said that they would have to find a different water source. One family looked at me like I was crazy and said that the glaciers would always be there.”
Dimock confronted the fact that issues like climate change affect people around the world in ways that many of us might not imagine. “The drastic changes in the climate are uniquely obvious to the people here,” she says. “They, like us, are seeing and experiencing climate change first-hand. Their views on these issues can teach us something.”
Get a Research Grant (As a Freshman)
Dimock’s experience in Peru was facilitated by a College Colloquium grant, which allows freshmen to extend academic work they began in their opening seminar.
“I went into anthropology Professor Rebecca Dobkins’ office one day,” she says, “and said basically, ‘I want to write a grant proposal so good that the committee will have to choose my project.’”
So began the grant-writing process, which Dimock had never gone through before. With Dobkins’ mentorship, the proposal was accepted and Dimock was soon making arrangements to go to Peru through a study program called ProWorld. It was her first trip outside the U.S.
The challenges didn’t end when she returned, either. Just as Dimock wrestled with reentry to her own culture’s norms (“What to do with all of my stuff?”), she had to prepare an extensive report, which she submitted to an academic journal.
“This program surprised me,” she says. “Where else can freshmen get grant money to go spend a semester in Peru? When I arrived at Willamette, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Now I have direction and a passion for something.”
Say No to “Silos”
By Hayley Hill ‘13
Students at Willamette hear the word “interdisciplinary” a lot. But what does that really mean for us?
If you ask current undergrads, they’ll give you a variety of responses. Many simply think that “interdisciplinary” refers to the liberal arts and the fact that, in the interest of being wellrounded, we are required to take a handful of classes here that (on the surface) have nothing to do with our majors or our post-Willamette plans.
That’s definitely part of the answer. But surely it’s broader than that — what about this concept is unique to Willamette, and what does it mean for us students who chose to come here above other liberal arts universities?
According to Dean of Campus Life David Douglass, being “interdisciplinary” is not just about sitting in on random
classes. It’s about learning to communicate across disciplines to solve problems we wouldn’t be able to solve otherwise. “The core of interdisciplinarity is the intersection of different perspectives, methodologies and assumptions,” he says. It’s not enough for them to exist peacefully side-by-side. They have to mingle.
This is illustrated in part through the Liberal Arts Research Collaborative (LARC), a program that Douglass helped design. The idea is to encourage both faculty and students to break out of their methodological “silos” (as Douglass put it) and learn how to use their disciplinary differences more productively in research. There are other programs, too, like timely majors in international studies, women and gender studies, and American ethnic studies; these blend disciplines even more formally. And students can still make their own majors through a proposal system — if they’re committed enough.
Matthew Bateman ’14 is undertaking this task. The major he is creating, called complex systems analysis, combines biology, physics, math and computer science in a way that explores “the science of complexity” — how large-scale, organized and adaptive behavior emerges from simple interactions among large numbers of individuals. “It’s not exactly a new science, but it is a new perspective, and it is the ultimate interdisciplinary major,” he says. “I think that offering the ability to tailor one’s own major is huge for an institution that wants to stay ahead of the game.”
As students, we have to understand the concepts behind our education. We must try to extend our horizons as far as we possibly can during our four years here at Willamette, and while “interdisciplinarity” is already an integral aspect of any liberal arts education, there are plenty of ways for us to take it further here. We just have to meet the challenge.
Hayley Hill ’13 is a religious studies major in the College of Liberal Arts.