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Service as a way of life, Restorative Justice, and what college life is like during a pandemic: A conversation with Audrey Aberg (MSS ‘14)

February 10, 2021 | Abby Liu

Audrey Aberg (‘14) attended Mustard Seed School from Kindergarten to eighth grade. She graduated from Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights. Now double majoring in Environmental Economics and Politics, she attends Bates College.

What difference did Mustard Seed School make in your life?

During my time at Mustard Seed, I developed a love for service. The school instills this in its students from an early age and integrates it into the curriculum. I participated in and saw students leading service projects that helped the local community. For example, we collected baby food for the Hoboken Food Pantry. And students served other students, such as middle schoolers reading to kindergarteners. I didn’t realize how important it was to me until it was no longer a part of my education. I learned that there are an infinite number of ways to serve, and there are ways to align service with doing things you love. In high school, I was part of my school’s choir. One of my favorite concerts was a Christmas concert that we performed at a nursing home in Chinatown. Learning to align your interests with service is an invaluable skill for people who want to help those around them.

What is your major at Bates? 

I’m an Environmental Economics and Politics double major, partially because I want to keep my options open, and partially because I see it as a path to reducing inequality. 

What draws you to Environmental Economics and Politics?

The climate crisis is swiftly approaching, but unlike other types of crises (such as terrorist attacks or recessions), its impacts are not felt as eminently. We feel less urgency to act, leading us to continue our daily lives as normal. Greenhouse gases, on the other hand, are accumulating in the atmosphere faster than they are leaving, a process that takes decades to hundreds of years. It is necessary to act now; not for us, but for the generations to come. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that climate change and its effects disproportionately affect people in developing countries and in underserved communities. While climate change is a global issue, it needs to be remedied in a way that accounts for people’s common but differential responsibilities as well as their capacities for change-making. I hope that by studying politics, economics, and the environment, I can work in socially responsible investing or sustainable development–fields that are trying to find solutions to generate positive economic and social impacts.

What’s it like to study Environmental Economics and Politics?

In my first year of college, I thought I was going to be a biology major, but I quickly realized that working in a lab was not for me. Not wanting to fully give up on science, I tried taking an environmental studies class. I discovered that I could avoid the lab and attend class outside. My major is really cool because students take classes in several different departments (e.g. politics, economics, geology, chemistry) and learn about the environment from different angles. I enjoy the science classes because we do field work and get to explore Maine. My Watersheds class went to Acadia National Park. We hiked and took water samples to help the Parks Department understand how the Clean Air Act affects lake water chemistry.

You are a Restorative Justice Fellow at Bates. What does that mean?

Restorative Justice is a philosophy of justice that prioritizes the needs of victims and focuses on repairing the harm caused by the crime. It has been shown to support community development and prevent recidivism—the likelihood that the offender offends again. For example, say a MSS student writes on a desk or inside of a bathroom stall. Instead of sending the student to time out, or making them pay for the damage, a restorative process might involve having the student have a conversation with a cleaning services or building maintenance member. Together, they could help to repair the damages and going forward the student will better understand how their actions affect others in their community. At Bates, Restorative Justice Fellows are a group of students that mediate conflicts on campus as well as through partnerships with the local school system and afters chool programs. This work is meaningful to me because it gives students the agency to solve problems, encourages them to be more purposeful with their actions, and promotes self-awareness about the issues facing Bates and beyond.

How have your studies been affected by the pandemic? What is it like to be at Bates during this time?

I feel really lucky to be at Bates—a school that is uniquely positioned as a small school in a remote location. As such, Bates has been able to conduct weekly testing, and we have been able to have in-person classes. That being said, campus feels anything but normal. Bates is so small that it’s almost the size of a high school, and I am used to walking around campus and waving to people. Generally, I can go into the dining hall without a plan because there’s almost always someone there that I know and can sit with. Now, everyone is masked up and bundled up. It’s hard to recognize anyone unless they’re wearing particularly flamboyant outerwear. I miss running into people and friendly acquaintances, but it has also been really wonderful to solidify relationships with my closest friends.

What have you been doing to make your life manageable during this time?

I dress warm and go outside as much as I can! Over the summer, I worked as a farmer at a farm that grew produce for people living in public housing and food pantries. I could not have had a better experience! At the time, it was the heat that made it hard to be outside, but getting fresh air and exercise is, in my opinion, the best thing you can do for your mental health. Going outside also opens up opportunities to socialize and try new (or revitalize very old) activities. Some I would recommend: Biking, running, roller blading, playing basketball, and (once it gets warmer) reading.

What is bringing you joy right now?

My dog. Perhaps this is the pandemic really taking hold, but I have probably spent more alone time with my dog than with any other human being over the past month. I find it very comforting—and frankly—a bit of an escape, to be around a being who has no idea that a pandemic has been ravaging the world. She’s just happy that her human family is home all of the time. When reading the newspaper or watching the news becomes too draining, I know she’ll join me in splitting a banana with peanut butter and heading out for a long walk!

Abby Liu

Director of Marketing and Communications

Ms. Liu loves to tell the Mustard Seed story. She’s the parent of two Mustard Seed School alumni. She's seen the impact of a Mustard Seed education from the early preschool days all the way up to eighth grade and beyond.

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