Sunday, Feb. 3, marked the third and final day of the First Annual Student Conference for Critical Animal Studies, which was held in Vassar College’s Kenyon Hall. During the international conference, speakers highlighted the importance of discussion and advocacy in furthering animal rights. Additionally, the conference served to launch Students for Critical Animal Studies (SCAS), a network of student activists for animal rights.
“Students for Critical Animal Studies was first thought up last March when former Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) Co-President Kacey Kogachi ‘12, my Co-President Daniel Frank, and I traveled over spring break to Buffalo, NY for the Institute for Critical Animal Studies’ annual North American conference,” wrote Rocky Schwartz ’15, who co-organized the conference, in an emailed statement. “We were inspired and wanted to bring a similar event to Vassar. Anthony Nocella, the executive director of ICAS, suggested we create our own sub-organization, focusing on students. We loved the idea and entered the extensive planning stages for SCAS and the first SCAS conference.”
Schwartz noted that discussions concerning animal studies were lacking at Vassar: “Critical Animal Studies, and animal rights more broadly, are under-discussed by Vassar’s otherwise very social justice-oriented student body. It was exciting to bring a conference to campus that not only raises awareness about animal rights, but also provides context for and lends support to other social justice movements.”
Sunday morning’s program, divided into two workshops, had approximately 20 people in attendance, although about 70 people attended the conference in total. McGill University students Maude Ouellette-Dubé, Agatha Slupek and Isaac Stethem led the first workshop “Internal and External Struggles.” Slupek opened the workshop by noting the degree of absence of non-human animals in our cultural discourse: “The truth is that today, non-human animals are the ghosts of our lives.”
In light of this lack of visibility, Ouellette-Dubé noted the importance of joining together as advocates to further the animal rights agenda. “It is through our collectivity…that we will improve the situation of non-human animals,” she stated.
The first workshop was followed by a discussion break. In one discussion group, Isaac Stethem noted his recent involvement with the animal rights movement. “It was actually only this year that I became involved in this issue and became vegan,” Stetham said, adding that the Quebec student protests inspired him to get involved with animal rights. Audience member Anthony Sorge also became interested in the animal rights movement through an indirect channel: “I was just exposed to this stuff in the late ’90s, early 2000’s, when some of the anti-globalization stuff was heating up…and everyone was very politicized.”
Alan Darer ’14 of VARC led the second workshop “Effective Vegan Advocacy”, in which he noted that a video on the egg industry had inspired him to become an animal rights advocate. In his presentation, Darer discussed the importance of advocacy. “By convincing just one other person to adopt a healthy vegan lifestyle, we can double our impact.” Darer provided tips for how to be an effective vegan advocate, which included being respectful, optimistic and prepared.
After the workshops, Gabe Dunsmith ’15 noted, “I’m really taking away a sense of being compassionate about activism… Activism doesn’t have to be an antagonistic enterprise, it can be very loving.”
The conference also left a positive impression on Moiz Bharmal ’16. “I was not aware of how well known this event was to the general public outside of Vassar and was surprised to see so many adults attend the panels in addition to Vassar students. I was also very impressed by the coordination of students at different colleges and universities all around the U.S.” He added, “It definitely fostered a sense that collective effort is necessary to make a change, whether it be for animal rights, women’s rights, or activism in general.”
After the enthusiastic response that they received from the attendees, the organizers of the conference are already planning on a second annual conference. “Overall, we were very pleased with how the conference went,” wrote Schwartz in an emailed statement. “Many great discussions took place and attendees expressed interest in furthering exploring the intersectional topics covered. I’m glad we were able to host an event that brought together such a diverse group of presenters, with undergraduates, grad students, professors, many women, [people of color] and disabled speakers from across the U.S. and Canada speaking.”