Today I had one of my last meetings with Bernadette McNary-Zak. Right after my very last break of undergrad. Right after my last SRC hearing as president. So I’m a tad reflective these days. BMZ makes me feel like thinking and reflecting can achieve the highest of goals. This is my tribute to that conversation and all the ones before it.
So what have I learned? How am I different? I have several answers to those queries, but all I can think about right now is grocery shopping. I had this dilemma before the Ruka. I was environmentally conscious, that’s one of the main reasons I applied in the first place. But with the safety net of a meal plan, the decision was different. Over the last year, however, I’m constantly weighing the decision of being environmentally friendly versus money conscious. Where do I draw the line? I obviously can’t afford to buy everything organic, as much as I’d like to, so what do I sacrifice? You’d think it would get easier, that every time I go to Kroger my choices are reinforced, but I still feel guilty picking up packages that I know are not only bad for myself, they’re bad for the planet.
Then today, BMZ and I talked very very briefly about how the Ruka would function without fellowship funding. Could it function without fellowship funding? Could five women still achieve the same outcomes if they weren’t helped with the environmental component? I mean, I get a stipend for the farmer’s market and Urban Farms, and I still have ethical battles in my head over which milk to buy. That’s with the help from Rhodes. What in the world would I do without it? Would I still feel like the fellowship made an impression? The most identifiable, measurable, tangible outcome from the Ruka is the environmental impact. If you take that away, how do you show its success?
Some of these questions are easier to answer. Of course I know the Ruka would still have an impact. I’ve felt it. I’ll never be able to impress the importance of the community on someone who doesn’t live here, but I know and will always remember that there are plenty of intangible components that make it worthwhile. They’ve helped me and my cohorts grow as people, at least in my humble opinion. We understand the importance of naming our needs, of taking the time to learn how others handle conflict, of empathizing and sympathizing with those in circumstances different than ours, of taking in the support only a community can offer, of taking the time to reflect on our privilege and decide what responsibility we have to the world, of living intentionally, and on and on and on. These are things liberal arts education aims to foster. This is why the Ruka became a fellowship in the first place. So I know it’s important, but what happens when you shove a dose of reality in community’s face? When you say, hey, you’re on a budget, so pick and choose what parts of the environment you want to affect (affect like a drop in the ocean, but it all adds up)? What do you do then? UGH, SO MANY QUESTIONS.
I have a friend whose general outlook on life is that you have to accept the responsibility that you can’t do everything. You need to be aware that when you choose one path in life, you are actively choosing against another – a hard concept to grapple with. But that’s all you can do with limited time and funds. While Rhodes chooses to give us money, we can use that to fuel positive economic and environmental decisions. If that money is taken away, well, someone may have to pick between buying organic eggs or organic milk, but making the decision at all shows success. Being aware of the privilege to buy anything organic is important as well. And if you can’t buy anything organic at all, exploring non-financial ways to implement environmental consciousness is significant too. You accept what you can do, and you make your decisions based off of that, something I intend to continue as a face the next, potentially broke, chapter in my life. Because the Ruka has shown me that the awareness and reflection can hold just as much value as the decision itself.