Title to come…
By, Rockwell Schwartz, Co-Founder of Students for Critical Animal Studies and Co-Leader of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition
In 2009, Vassar College announced plans to reduce the size of the local deer herd, at the time numbering approximately 70 individuals, through the use of sharpshooting at the 527.5 acre Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve. This plan came as the result of ecological studies performed at the VFEP that purported the deer had an adverse effect on biodiversity and their size should be limited to between 10 and 15 individuals. Despite its scientific grounding, this plan—which would ultimately be carried out in January 2010 and claim 64 lives—was met with public outrage and widespread opposition. Following the 2010 killing the herd size ultimately increased to above its pre-shooting count, as the decimation of the herd set off a compensatory rebound. Despite this, Vassar College moved forward with plans for a second and third round of killing, in January 2013 and January 2015. The kills are intended to take place every other year for an as yet undetermined period of time, demonstrating their ineffectuality as a sustained solution to supposed overpopulation.
Two female ecology professors and the female Field Station and Ecological Preserve Manager initiated the killings. The female Dean of Strategic Planning and female president of the college signed them off on them. All five decision-makers are white women. Yet, throughout the plethora of documents regarding the killings are references to practices employed at substantially larger and white male-managed ecological preserves. Notably, the victims of the shootings were overwhelmingly and intentionally females, with those presently pregnant as particular targets.
Drawing on the work of ecofeminist thinkers, such as that of the late Marti Kheel, I attempt to provide an analysis of the events at Vassar College by situating them in a larger history of masculinist, white conservationism in the United States. The historian Matt Cartmill states that “the connection of hunting with masculinity runs deep and hunters and their critics often comment on it. Hunting has been a historically male activity throughout most of Western history.” Kheel, author of Nature Ethics, states that in the latter half of the 1800s, middle-class America saw manhood and the environment as at risk. From there came “virile impulses” that established how men should engage with the natural environment and emerged the gentleman hunter. He blamed “the lower classes and nonwhite races for the destruction of wildlife” and “sought to portray their form of hunting as uniquely civilized, in contrast to instinctual, uncontrolled hunting of the savage ‘races’ and lower classes.” These white men would go on to establish conservationist policy and agencies, institutionalizing violence as science.
By drawing on this history, I seek to explore how white women operating in a traditionally male field and draw on male-dominated policy came to initiate and carry out repeated deer shootings at the small property at Vassar College.
Rockwell Schwartz is a senior majoring in “Science, Technology, and Society” at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, where she co-organized the first Students for Critical Animal Studies conference in February 2013 and helps lead the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition. She is also involved in human-centered social causes, working with hunger-relief and domestic violence services in Poughkeepsie. She lives with two rescued chickens, Tabitha and Letty.