The Oberlin Stories Project

On the Big Swap

Stacia Thompson ’11

“We are sustainability royalty for the week. Who else would skate home wrapped in a down comforter and carrying green alligator pillows under their arms all in the name of re-use and resource conservation?”

People looking through a rack of clothes.

We hoist a refrigerator onto the overflowing bed of the Resource Conservation Team truck. Sticking out of this heap is a scraggly trash bag filled with uniform, black, “Support Obama” alien tee-shirts, an amphibian tank, three full-length mirrors, a record player, and a stack of foam mattress pads that remind me of the Princess and the Pea. I scramble up to the top and sink into its softness.

This is the Big Swap: a once-a-semester frenzy of free. At the end of each semester, students are encouraged to leave any gently used, functional items they might otherwise throw away in specified locations throughout their dorms. No item is too strange and fantastic for the Big Swap: clothing, kitchen appliances, books, fabric, shoes, bedding and furniture are all accepted. Once a day, we, a squad of RCT members, visit these locations and whisk the treasure away to Wilder Main Space, where campus and community members are invited to peruse, acquire from, and donate to the endless selection of wonders.

We do run after run, north campus from south campus; loading and unloading, dorm after dorm after dumpster. By the end of Commencement, our triceps are toned and upper backs sore. On one trip, I salvage a bookcase, a new suitcase, and a skateboard. The Free Store becomes a point of no return, our heads peeping out from behind the towering piles as we attempt to sort our treasure. At the end of the week, we donate all items to Cleveland Goodwill and other local community organizations

We are sustainability royalty for the week. Who would frivolously toss off an old hat for a bright orange one, drape on two crumpled ties, and devour an oozing chocolate Easter bunny while lounging among the piles? Who else would skate home from work with glittered cheeks, wrapped in a down comforter, and carrying green alligator pillows under their arms all in the name of re-use and resource conservation?

I joined the Resource Conservation Team, formerly the Recyclers, to continue work I had done in high school to improve and expand the recycling system on campus. Born in western Massachusetts, I’m a third year Comparative American Studies major and Environmental Studies minor. I play rugby and am also a head cook for Old B co-op. As solely “recycling” has become limiting to environmental activism, it inspires me to see the RCT’s mission expand into source reduction and ecological regeneration.

This past summer, I interned at the George Jones Farm, learning permaculture design; two other RCT members as well have been involved in permaculture and gardening. Through closed-loop systems, such as composting, we strive to expand the very notion of sustainability into regeneration. We are not just sustaining humanity to a bare minimum, but creating resources that can enrich the Earth and its ecosystems.

*This article was co-authored by Catie Wilkinson ’12.