Tag Archives: Resident Scholar

Kali Furman, Resident Scholar

During the month of August, the Resident Scholar Program at the Special Collections & Archives Research Center hosted Kali Furman, a PhD candidate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies here at Oregon State University. During her term of residence, Furman conducted a case study analysis of the formation of the Difference, Power, and Discrimination program at Oregon State University. The program was instituted by the university in the 1990s to promote diversity and social justice education in response to a string of racist incidents involving Oregon State students. While conducting the case study, Furman focused on what historical, contextual, and institutional factors come together to enable critical social justice education programs to take root and find success in higher education.

Kali Furman at the OSU Leadership Conference

Furman’s presentation of her research, titled “Student Activism and Institutional Change: A History of the Difference, Power, and Discrimination Program,” provided an overview of the social climate on Oregon State’s campus and the surrounding Corvallis community in the 1990s. Furman specifically documented a span of a few days in 1990, when multiple students of color were verbally assaulted by white students, leading to public protests and other forms of unrest on campus.

OSU President John Byrne responded to these high-profile incidents by tasking a commission to investigate them and to provide him with recommendations for moving the university forward. Furman’s research indicates that student leaders were not satisfied with this course of action, and that they demanded that the university implement required coursework related to issues of multiculturalism and diversity. Initially the administration was slow in its adoption of this idea, but by the 1991-92 school year, the Affirming Diversity Course Development Committee had been formed, which ultimately grew into the Difference, Power, and Discrimination program that exists at OSU to this day.

The creation of the program was a major success for student leaders and concerned faculty, but obstacles remained throughout the course of the decade. In particular, budget cuts enacted for the 1997-98 academic year threatened the existence of the program, which again caused protests and dissatisfaction among the student body. This time around, both students and the community rallied around the DPD program, publicly expressing their feelings about the value that the program brought to the student experience and the broader culture of Oregon State University. In response to this outcry, the OSU Provost’s Office provided interim budget support for the program, which finally received more stable funding in 2002.

For nearly thirty years now, the Difference, Power, and Discrimination program at Oregon State University has worked to develop a comprehensive curriculum that promotes diversity and social justice, while addressing institutionalized systems of inequity. A component of the university’s Baccalaureate Core, the DPD program also sponsors guest speakers, film festivals, informal workshops and seminars, and other special events.

“Accounting for Ecosystems in a Post-DDT Age”

Post contributed by Manasi Vyas, SCARC Student Assistant

Leah Aronowsky, Resident Scholar

Leah Aronowsky, Resident Scholar

Leah Aronowsky is a PhD candidate in the history of science at Harvard University who served a term as resident scholar in SCARC this past August. Her dissertation focuses on the concept of steady-state stability in the postwar American environmental sciences.

At SCARC, Leah examined efforts in the 1970s to develop ecosystem screening, advance the field of ecotoxicology, and introduce the meaning of environmental risk in the post-pesticide age. A particular focus of her work was DDT, a pesticide with detrimental consequences that can extend to an entire ecosystem. In particular, DDT has a tendency to persist in the body of organisms for long periods of time, eventually working its way up the food chain with deleterious outcomes.

In the 1950s, the use of DDT – which was embraced by farmers – underwent a five-fold increase. By the early 1970s, the negative effects of DDT had become more pervasive, forcing researchers to contend with this growing environmental threat. As they did so, scholars also began to highlight the need to construct a new method of evaluating chemical hazards, such as a screening system, that would reveal the relationship between a pesticide and an entire ecosystem.

The ecological microcosm is a mode of thinking that emerged from the post-DDT age. In this context, a microcosm is a small scale ecosystem that comprises different flora and fauna, and that contains a set of processes that can be intrinsic to all ecosystems everywhere. It is a lab-based tool that researchers believed would empower them to amplify chemical and biological processes, with potential applications in screening tests for the effects of pesticide use.

In the late 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency was established to monitor air and water quality at a national level. In its early years, the EPA depended rather heavily on two pieces of legislation passed by Congress: the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and the Substitute Chemical Program. During this period, DDT was banned and four regional EPA labs were tasked with addressing the pesticide problem. Researchers at each of these labs identified the microcosm as a vital method for detecting substitute chemicals and they set out to develop a standardized model that could establish a balance between the pesticide industry and the EPA.

One of the four EPA labs was based in Corvallis and was charged with administering the Substitute Chemicals Program. One of the Corvallis-based scientists, James Gillett, developed a microcosm ecosystem module for pesticide testing. About a year into the program, Gillett’s team ran several trials with this microcosm to make sure that each element functioned properly before initiating any pesticide screenings. They quickly ran into a problem with voles that had been built into the microcosm and which brought a degree of unpredictability that was unacceptable in terms of experimentation. (The team finally concluded that nature refuses to be simulated.) Ultimately, the Substitute Chemicals Program at Corvallis proved to be short-lived. Although researchers identified possible substitutes for a variety of banned pesticides, many of the substitute chemicals themselves were also in consideration to be banned by the EPA.

James Gillett

James Gillett

Although enthusiasm for the microcosm faltered, it was later reinvigorated by new legislation that required the testing of chemical product safety in terms of its effects on both human health and the environment. This, along with increased EPA funding, led new researchers to begin innovating with the microcosm. For instance, instead of constructing microcosms from scratch, the Soil Core Microcosm consisted of materials harvested directly from the field and focusing on a single area of an ecosystem. This new form of the microcosm was endorsed by the EPA and continues to be explored today.

Looking back, the early, general form of the microcosm was plagued by failure in both detecting chemical effects and as a pesticide screening device. The lab and field exist on a spectrum, and the microcosm, which is a hybrid of the two, is stuck in the middle, meaning that the significance of place is lost in the device. In its failure, the microcosm demonstrated that there is something intrinsically valuable to specificity and scale in ecosystems.