Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
In the recent novel Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart, OC ’95, a character at “Accidental College” (Shteyngart’s see-though parody of his alma mater) throws all his possessions out his dorm room window in an attempt to be more Russian.
Although the action does pinpoint Oberlin’s characteristic anti-materialism, reading this inadvertently brings up thoughts of all the things that Oberlin students absolutely do throw out.
For example, trash. Obies have a narrow definition of what may pass through into the garbage can. And I’m not just talking recycling. Food, for example, is covertly saved by CDS student workers. If co-ops didn’t have a health code to abide by, every last morsel of quinoa would be consumed before a new batch was made. We are even known to dive into the dumpster after the food has been thrown away. The year I lived there, Harkness actually had to pass a proposal that dumpstered food not be brought into the kitchen.
Many of these resourceful humans who are eating out of the trashcans are also wearing the clothes of a colorful rag doll, made up of patches and broad, noticeable stitching. We stubbornly wear the same pair of pants for months and, in some cases, years. We clutch backpacks that long ago lost their top straps and don’t buy a new pair of Converses until the last pair is no longer recognizable as footwear.
It’s probably a good thing that ResEd requires students to live on campus as long as it does. Images of igloos and run-down houses with no heat come to mind when I take into consideration the Obie standard for living space. Some years upperclassmen have been known to camp out in the Arb during first-year orientation, when they’re not yet allowed to move in to their rooms.
This might sound like I’m convicting Oberlin of some terrible crime — I’m not. I think that it’s endearing, the way we save plastic baggies and carry leftover food around in Earth Balance containers. Even those of us who don’t subscribe to the extremes of frugality have our quirks. For some, it’s reusing a paper coffee cup once, and for others, it’s waiting until the paper gives out and hot coffee leaks all over your hands. It’s just one little thing we all seem to have in common.