Student discusses faith and activism at Brownbag

By Tara Kadioglu

Discrimination was one of the issues that took center stage last Thursday as a handful of students and faculty members met in the South Lounge of the Reynolds Club at noon to listen to Ella Hereth, a fourth-year in the College, lead the brownbag forum “What Matters to Me and Why.”

Hereth, a Gender Studies concentrator, serves as a student-labor solidarity activist, working with groups such as Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) and Students Organized for United Labor (SOLE) to address issues of discrimination.

The series, in its third year, includes a student each year.

Hereth’s talk focused on issues of discrimination in gender, race, and social issues, especially as they relate to the gap between laborers on campus and the rest of the University community. She also spoke about her own life, specifically addressing three key areas: faith and justice, love and relationships, and accountability.

A Unitarian Universalist, Hereth said her personal beliefs played an important role in shaping her attitude toward and activism in social issues, such as student-labor solidarity.

“My faith definitely made me constantly question life; it brought me into the fields of social justice and workers’ rights,” she said. “I was raised to believe everyone has an inner worth and dignity. My faith holds me accountable for my role in my community and in society.”

She also noted that she was greatly influenced by her politically active upbringing. “My parents were part of the new leftist movement in the ’60s. Political conversations were always big in our house,” she said.

The talk was informal, with occasional questions from the attendees.

On love and relationships, Hereth discussed her “polyamorousness,” a phrase meaning “many loves.” It is a term she uses to describe her style of affection.

Hereth said that the love and support she has received have increased her faith in the world.

This past September, Hereth traveled to El Salvador with Pastor Daphne Burt, associate dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel; sociology professor Christina Gomez; and 13 other students. The trip was for a delegation in human rights that studied the political parties and the guerilla movement. Burt, who introduced Hereth at the talk, said the trip was “appropriately disturbing.”

Now that she’s back, Hereth is trying to build student influence on trade issues and increase student political activism at the University. “There’s no legacy here of student activism, and we need to start building one,” she said.

On the subject of “accountability,” Hereth said that the school is responsible for making the campus workers feel like part of the community. Formal invitations and systematic ways of including the workers in campus events, she says, are not enough.

“People need to treat the workers differently,” she said. “Have conversations with them, or simply introduce yourself. It’s the little details that affect the big picture the most.”

After she graduates, Hereth hopes to become fluent in Spanish and to work in the day-labor movement.