For part three of my blog series “An Ecovillage, Anywhere?”, I decided to talk to Leila Rezvani, one of my fellow classmates and a resident of Slade. After all, Slade is the other sustainably-focused resident hall on campus, and in our interview Walter Poleman equated this living format closely to that of an ecovillage. Like my previous interview, I first asked Leila to give me a little background on Slade, followed by connections between the environment, the larger UVM community, and ecovillages. Many of the questions I asked Walt I also chose to ask Leila, hoping to see a new perspective on some of the same sorts of issues to draw direct comparisions. Our correspondence began on April 14, 2014 and continued for a few more days via email. (Leila’s words are designated by “LR”, and mine by “SF”)
SF: Can you give me a little background information on Slade? Who lives there, what it is all about?
LR: Slade is UVM’s environmental co-op. we currently have 24 residents including the RA. we have all sorts of different kinds of people, lots of envs majors but also folks study engineering, social work, art, biology, geography etc. more girls than boys i think but it’s almost even. we call ourselves a cooperative because everyone came to live here with the intention to create a stronger community than you find in an average college dorm. “intention” and “community” are vague terms, its that sort of thing where you know it when you feel it. but basically it means we all have a responsibility to each other in terms of attending meetings, cooking on your designated night, keeping the house clean, confronting and resolving conflict when it arises. we’re the “environmental” co-op because we compost all our food waste, use a grey water system, and order all of our food in bulk from local farmers or companies that we have thoroughly researched and found to be socially/environmentally responsible. we also have a garden/greenhouse and try to grow a lot of our food (when the winter doesn’t last the entire school year)
SF: What does Slade provide community members with, that they might not get from the average dorm or downtown living experience?
LR: Slade provides a family, simply put. The relationships I’ve formed here are truly indescribable, and they all arise from sharing this space and philosophy. it can be really chaotic and intense, but that’s what makes it so good. I;m having trouble articulating what exactly Slade is like… I hope my answers aren’t too vague. Slade also provides an open accepting space for people no matter what their backgrounds or views or lifestyles. i also love that I’ve been able to build relationships with local farmers- they deliver food weekly to our house and being able to meet the person who grew your kale or milked their cow for you is incredible. The multi-generational aspect of Slade is great too- because it’s been around for so long, there are “sladers” who are now into their 50s, and we have a lot of sladers who are recent UVM graduates and are still in Burlington come hang out or make dinner with us. it feels like having a huge extended family network that stretches out across the country but is also firmly grounded in Burlington/VT.
SF: Do you think the type of environment and community there can be emulated or re-created elsewhere? And what types of things do you think are necessary in creating and maintaining an intentional community such as Slade?
LR: I definitely think this environment could be recreated anywhere, as long as the group of people are willing to put in the time and effort and self-reflection necessary to make it into a real community. love and respect for the people you’re living with are definitely required to create an intentional community. open-mindedness and a willingness to admit that you are wrong and to think critically about your place in the world and your opinions. optimism, idealism, a drive to change things.
SF: Would you consider Slade to be an ecovillage (under your personal definition) or at least fill the space of an “ecovillage” on UVM’s campus?
LR: I think Slade is an interesting example of an intentional community because it exists within the context of a huge, bureaucratic university. I feel like we’re constantly battling against that but we also don’t realize how much support we get from the instituion in terms of people cleaning our house, fixing our plumbing when it breaks etc. in that sense I don’t think we qualify as an ecovillage. Although we try to be really self reliant, by nature we are plugged into this incredible input/resource-intensive system that renders us pretty dependent.
SF: How do you think the presence of Slade affects other dorms on UVM’s campus, and people who don’t live there?
LR: I hope that Slade has a positive impact on people who don’t live here. We host lots of events, mostly things centered around music/art like open mic and slestival and concerts. Lots of the same people come to these things so we have a kind of extended family within the university. People really love Slade as far as i can tell, but I guess if they didn’t they wouldn’t tell me, haha.
Last comment- for me, the magic of Slade comes from the feeling of mutual aid and support i get from the people I live with. In our society, and especially in a university, it’s so easy to become isolated and to lack meaningful personal interaction. but the ability to be completely yourself (weird, sad, angry, silly, cynical, optimistic etc) and to change your mind and still know that you are accepted is truly amazing. and intention- that word is so hard to describe, but being deliberate about your place in the world and thinking about the ways in which you affect others is so important. Slade makes space for that, or we try to. there is a real revolution that needs to happen if we are to learn to live in harmony with each other and with the earth. living in community is the first step in that direction.
all in all- I wouldnt still be at school without Slade, I;m pretty sure. It’s not all good, and there’s always work to be done, but we’re trying and that’s what makes it worthwhile.