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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Sustainability meets activism at Connecticut College Earth House

    Connecticut College Senior Ben Jorgensen-Duffy walks down the stairs at his residence, The Earth House on the school’s New London campus, on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. The dorm houses seven students interested in issues of sustainability and the environment. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Connecticut College Senior Ben Jorgensen-Duffy carries a box to the recycling bin at The Earth House on the school’s New London campus on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. The dorm houses seven students interested in issues of sustainability and the environment. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Connecticut College Senior Ben Jorgensen-Duffy walks through the living room at The Earth House on the school’s New London campus Wednesday, March 8, 2023. The dorm houses seven students interested in issues of sustainability and the environment. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    “This house is one of the remaining symbols of what Connecticut College could be” reads paint on the wall at The Earth House on the school’s New London campus, Wednesday, March 8, 2023. The dorm houses seven students interested in issues of sustainability and the environment. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Connecticut College Senior Ben Jorgensen-Duffy shows the compost containers at The Earth House on the school’s New London campus, Wednesday, March 8, 2023. The dorm houses seven students interested in issues of sustainability and the environment. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New London ― Each year, seven Connecticut College students are selected to live in Earth House, Connecticut College’s sustainable living dorm.

    Students are chosen based on their commitment to environmental living and sustainable practices.

    “Earth House represents a space where students can practice sustainability in all its forms: social justice, economic well-being, and environmental stewardship,” Assistant Dean of Residential Life Sara Rothenberger said.

    During a visit to the dorm in March, light reflected on the hardwood floors in the living room, where the walls are painted with murals of nature and poetry that challenges authority.

    “Mostly, we compost and the people who live here tend to be involved in sustainable things around campus. I’m into outdoor adventures,” senior Ben Jorgensen-Duffy said.

    He leads the Outdoor Adventures Club at the college.

    Some of the Earth House residents work in the college’s Sprout Garden, planting, growing and maintaining crops for distribution to the college dining services as well as the New London community.

    In 2013, the students won a battle with the college administration to keep the painted walls, which were originally slated for removal.

    “It’s been historically an exception to the rules of not painting on walls. In 2013, they were trying to paint over them. They got some blow-back, and since then they let us do whatever we want in here,” Jorgensen-Duffy said.

    Earth House has served as a space where students can bring together sustainability with activism. Alumnus Juan Pablo Pacheco Bejarano was a senior when he lived in Earth House in 2014.

    Coming from Columbia, he said living in the dorm allowed him to become part of a community in the U.S.

    Pacheco Bejarano said finding Earth House allowed him to belong to a community that cared about sustainability and took action.

    “In Earth House, we had parties and dinners, but we also organized activism on campus. It was a meeting space for connecting with the Earth and soil, but also to intentional ways of building communal living and mobilizing to demand climate and social justice at different levels through collective action,” he added.

    In both Pacheco Bejarano’s and Jorgensen-Duffy’s experience, the house that sits on the north end of the campus was home.

    “It’s fallen apart a little bit but it’s still very pleasant to live in,” Jorgensen-Duffy said.

    Pacheco Bejarano’s activism at the college began as a sophomore when he grew concerned over the dining hall purchasing Chiquita bananas, formerly the United Fruit Company, which has a history of alleged racial discrimination, toxic pesticide use, and even pleaded guilty to “engaging in transactions with a specially-designated global terrorist” in 2007, according to the Department of Justice.

    “I became concerned that the dining hall was serving Chiquita bananas, a company formerly called United Fruit Company, known for funding military dictatorships in Caribbean countries, including Colombia, where I’m from,” he said.

    Pacheco Bejarano and his classmates initially faced backlash from students.

    “I found a lot of resistance,” he said.

    A 2014 film, “Grown to be Sold,” created by him and his classmate, Phebe Pierson documents the history of Chiquita bananas and the journey they and their activist classmates took of raising awareness among the student body.

    Throughout the movement, Earth House was where students gathered to strategize and plan action.

    “Earth House became the meeting space for a series of collective actions we organized to raise awareness,” Pacheco Bejarano said.

    Today, Earth House residents still share that sentiment for radical change, both politically and environmentally.

    Assistant Dean Rothenberger’s vision for Earth House would strengthen the dorm’s commitment to sustainability. She believes that both the building should practice sustainability, along with the students.

    “In the future I'd like to see renovations to the space that make it more economically and environmentally sustainable. For example, low-flow toilets, weather efficient windows, rain catch systems,” she said.

    With two months until his graduation, Jorgensen-Duffy sees student protests happening in response to the resignation of former Dean of Equity and Inclusion, Rodmon King, and calls on Katherine Bergeron to resign, as a pivotal moment in the school’s history but also his and Earth House’s legacy at the college.

    “I think that what’s happening on campus right now is really important, and I’m hoping that when I graduate, I feel like my class, me personally, and the people I’m working with right now have rounded off this year doing something that actually leaves a tangible difference and creates some kind of institutional progress to continue to build and change the systems we have,” he said.

    t.wright@theday.com

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