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Physicist and Environmental Activist Speaks at Design School 'Womxn’s Week' Event

Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian scholar and environmental activist, spoke at the 2020 International Womxn's Day Lecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian scholar and environmental activist, spoke at the 2020 International Womxn's Day Lecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. By Jonathan G. Yuan
By Raquel Coronell Uribe and Elizabeth H. Gellert, Crimson Staff Writers

Physicist and environmental activist Vandana Shiva cautioned against globalization and industrial agriculture while delivering the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s annual International Womxn's Day keynote lecture Tuesday evening.

The talk featured an introduction by the co-chairs of the Design School's Womxn in Design group followed by Shiva’s lecture, which was focused on her environmental activism and advocacy.

“If the whole world farmed through biodiversity, if the whole world farmed organically, we could actually reverse climate change, and we'd have good food and we'd have livelihoods and we'd have peaceful societies,” Shiva said during the talk.

The talk was part of an annual series of International Womxn’s Week events hosted by Womxn in Design. This year’s series is focused on the theme of kinship between humanity and the environment, according to Vaissnavi Shukl, a co-chair of the group.

“It’s just a week of celebration,” Shukl said. “This time we are focusing on kinship and not just limiting kinship to relationships between humans but also relationships between women and the environment, women and soil, women and seeds, and to kind of humanity and other species.”

In her lecture, Shiva encouraged audience members to “celebrate the earth.”

“It's time to put away the arrogance that some humans are above other humans and that those other humans are superior to other species,” she said. “That’s anthropocentrism. Let's say bye bye to racism, to sexism, to anthropocentrism, and celebrate the earth.”

Shiva’s talk comes in light of recent controversy after she delivered a different environmental lecture at Stanford on January 23. A letter published in European Scientist condemned Stanford’s decision to invite Shiva because of her use of “anti-scientific rhetoric to support unethical positions.”

An op-ed written by Students for a Sustainable Stanford and published in The Stanford Daily shortly after Shiva’s Stanford talk defended the decision to invite her to speak. The letter cited Shiva’s global recognition and Students for a Sustainable Stanford’s mission to represent people of color and marginalized groups.

Womxn in Design wrote in an emailed statement that it invited Shiva to elevate a dialogue about “relationship between womxn and nature, and between the patriarchy and environmental degradation.” While organizers are aware of the controversy surrounding Shiva’s invitation to Stanford, they wrote that her invitation was met with “nothing but support and excitement from our own community at the GSD.”

“This discourse is grossly under-explored at the GSD—but critical in light of womxn's historical under-representation and marginalization in/through the design fields,” Womxn in Design's statement reads.

“We are grateful to have had a full auditorium tonight and appreciate the willingness of our community to engage in open discussion,” it continues.

Some attendees of the Harvard talk, however, said they were skeptical of Shiva's remarks.

“What worries me about her position is that it, and I understand for ideological and political objectives, just over simplifies the situation,” Design School student Nicolas Delgado Alcega said. “It tries to sparse out a climate of, like, who's good and who's bad — that, to me, is not necessarily so helpful.”

In response to Delgado Alcega, Shiva wrote in an emailed statement that she “differentiated between fossil fuel based societies, and societies that function as part of nature’s systems, cycles and biodiversity.”

Carter S. H. Smith, a seminarian at the Harvard Divinity School, said she appreciated the chance to hear Shiva speak in person.

“It’s been really cool because I think I usually hear her talk in much more focused ways about agriculture and seeing all of the interactions with so many issues is really exciting,” she said. “And I’m glad these interactions are happening here.”

—Staff writer Elizabeth H. Gellert can be reached at elizabeth.gellert@thecrimson.com.

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