Free flow of ideas and experiences flood student forum

By Shawn Gross, ’12

She said that in Colorado, where she is from, they have droughts. Droughts that sometimes require state officials to set limits on the times people can use water.

Even with those limits, PLU junior Briana Frenchmore witnessed people in her community turning on their hoses to water their yards, just to keep the grass green. But not everyone has the privilege of a green lawn, she said.

Frenchmore shared this story at the opening student session of the 2012 Wang Symposium: Our Thirsty Planet. This symposium  asked students to share what they’ve learned about water from their studies, research and travels. Although there was no explicit theme other than water, the discussion among the 35 people present often turned to how water is a right, not a commodity.

Study abroad student and junior Karin Lee detailed her experience in Samoa as “the effects of globalization on a small Island.” In Samoa, one season of rain isexpected to last a year, but the season is getting shorter, thus less water is coming, Lee said.

“After three days of no water, people will die,” Lee said.

Just before the end of her presentation, Lee choked on her words. On the screen was a picture of young Samoan child holding a sign asking the world  what his people should do when there isn’t any more water and if they will accept migrants from Samoa into their countries.

Students spoke on water issues around the world, discussing the studies, research and people they encountered along the way. The session featured three minute presentations that personalized global events and provided a foundation for the rest of the symposium.

Personal stories were compelling. The audience was drawn into the situation occurring in Yemen – a nation lacking natural resources and financial capabilities to access fresh water, but a county with a steady population growth. Junior Ethan Manthey predicted this to become a dire situation that will spill over and create “water migrants”  which was described as a person who must leave there home country in search of the basic resource of water.

Mathey spoke not once, but twice and during the open mic portion. He decried that although he was an economics major, he did not believe economics was the answer. Instead he asked: “How do we make access to water a right?”

A possible response might be found in an earlier presentation by junior Kenny Stancil that detailed the situation in Mexico, where children are policing their parents’ water consumption because they know it is the right thing to do. Stancil detailed the cultural shift occurring in the region of Tamaulipas. Here water is being viewed as a commodity and water use is reduced by framing the issue as one of  education the population. “Teaching for values of conservation is an important step, but since so much water is dedicated to agriculture, that is an area that we really need to rethink water use.” Stancil has never travel to Tamaulipas. As the former sustainability director and co-author of the bottled water ban on campus, Kenny was asked by the Wang Center  to share his research.

“Amazing what your two hands can do,” senior and current sustainability director Stena Troyer said.

Carrying around two large plastic bags filled with other plastic bags and offering people the alternative reusable bag, Troyer has demonstrated how the multiplicity of trash ruins the environment. She told the story of how she spent a portion of her time in Australia scuba diving for trash. In 15 minutes she and Paul Sharp, founder of the Two Hands project, cleaned up 384 straws off of the ocean floor.

“If you are passionate about something go out and do something about it,” Troyer said.

Other students shared their experiences in and knowledge about Peru, Ecuador, Canada and Switzerland. All presentations touched upon the issue of water rights–who has them and how it is adversely affecting or benefiting peoples’ lives.


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One response to “Free flow of ideas and experiences flood student forum”

  1. Briana Frenchmore says :

    Shawn, thank you for attending the student session! Just thought I would let you know that you might want to re-read the article again as there are several typos. Also I’m a junior not a senior.


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