Madeleine was a Fall 2014 Student Activist Winner!
Name: Madeleine Lifsey
School: Smith College
Year in school: 4 (senior)
Major (if college): Philosophy
Club name: Animal Advocates of Smith College
Position with club: Chair
Why are you vegan? Why do you promote veganism?
This is at once a very complicated and very simple question. I’ll give the simple answer – there is far too much suffering on earth already without my contributing any more to it than necessary. That in and of itself is plenty of reason for me to avoid contributing to exploitation, but there are a million more reasons that more and more people around the world are making the choice – environmental impacts of the animal agriculture industry, intersectional feminism, human health and workers’ rights are just a few.
What are your hobbies outside of the veg club?
Teaching, cooking, reading, writing, hiking, world travel, and yoga. I’m particularly drawn to Jivamukti yoga, which is closely integrated with the principles of ahimsa (no-harm) and veganism.
What are you studying in school and what do you want to do in the future as a career?
I am a Philosophy major, and I love working with kids. The plan is to go into teaching in the humane education and Philosophy for Children movements, getting kids excited about critical reasoning and ethics (especially animal ethics!)
How did your family react to your veganism?
My mom has been incredibly supportive of both my personal life choices and of my animal rights activism. She’s driven me all over the country for advocacy events, and she visited me multiple times during my internship at Farm Sanctuary, getting to know a lot of my four-legged and feathered friends herself. Last summer she even flew across the country to join me at the National Animal Rights Conference in LA! Even though she is not 100% vegan herself, she has incorporated far more plant-based meals into her lifestyle since I went vegetarian as a young kid, and she spends a lot of time thinking about and working on the issues. I’m grateful to have such an open-minded and supportive role model, friend, and lifeline.
How do your friends react to your veganism?
Most of my friends are either veg*an themselves or are positive about it. A lot of people at my school who still eat animals sometimes generally prefer to eat at the vegan dining hall, because the meals are so much more healthy, varied, and flat-out delicious!
How is the vegan scene at your school?
Great! Smith College has two all-vegetarian, mostly vegan dining halls, and every hall is vegan-friendly. We’re excited to see veganism becoming a more accessible choice for many students across the country.
How long has your club been around?
We started AASC in the fall of 2012.
What types of events and activities have you planned?
We try to keep a really varied range of activities rolling through to raise awareness of animal rights issues. At the same time, the club is a safe space and community for people who care about non-human animal rights and don’t want to see them on our plates. We host speakers, film screenings, community bonding events, trips, and more. In our first year, some highlights were getting Dining Services to stop supporting battery cages, hosting a discussion of feminism and animal rights, vegan cooking workshops, Professor James McWilliams’ speech on the environmental impacts of animal farming, and David Coman-Hidy of The Humane League’s talk on effective activism. In our second year, pattrice jones and Mark Devries came to campus for public talks on speciesism and intersectionality, and this spring Marisa Miller Wolfson, creator of Vegucated and Smith alumna herself, will be coming to speak about her film. As soon as the weather warms up, we’re hoping to take a group to volunteer at a farmed animal sanctuary to connect in a meaningful way with some of the extraordinary individuals who have survived factory farms.
Since animals raised for food comprise the overwhelming majority of exploited animals across the world, and because leaving animals off our plates is the most immediate and effective way that any individual can make a difference for the animals, we focus largely on veg-activism. However, we give due attention to related issues, such as animal experimentation, as well. This semester we are screening Maximum Tolerated Dose and Project Nim, a documentary about a chimpanzee subjected to a lifelong psychological experiment, with post-film discussion with Bob Ingersoll.
What have been your biggest challenges?
One of our biggest challenges was just getting started with a large active membership on campus – at first it felt like few people were aware we existed. But don’t be discouraged – consistently planning a variety of events and staying active with a combination of education and lots of free food and smiles gets people interested eventually! 🙂
What has been your biggest mistake?
Probably the times we’ve gotten discouraged and the early times of low membership. If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed as an org leader, just come to your board and ask what everyone else wants to do. Make sure every active member has a role, so the club’s activities reflect what everyone is passionate about, not just a few people’s ideas.
What was your favorite activity or event?
Getting Meatless Mondays officially started in the dining halls this semester has been exciting! We spent most Mondays last semester tabling in the Campus Center giving away vegan desserts and chatting with folks about why plant-based meals are fantastic for the animals, our bodies, and the earth. There’s generally a lot of positive reception when it’s approached in a positive way. It’s wonderful to witness little steps like these helping to make veganism becoming much more accessible and mainstream among today’s youth.
What has been the club’s biggest success?
Since we’re a pretty new org, I’d say overall the thing I’m most happy about is seeing the animal rights community flourish on campus. We grew from two of us writing letters to Dining Services in our dorm rooms to a strong community with a core group of six board members devoted to keeping events running smoothly, supporting each other in our activism and lives. We have first-year and sophomore board members now as well, so as a senior I’m happily confident that I’m leaving the org in capable hands for years to come. They’re my org members but first of all my friends, and it makes all the difference in the world to have them in my life.
Who has been your biggest inspiration? Have any books or philosophies or people been important to you?
Too many people to name! My mom has been my first inspiration in life in general, teaching me to stand up against injustice and to take risks even when yours is not the most popular position. In the animal rights community, the mentors I was privileged to work with during my internships at Farm Sanctuary and The Humane League made a huge impact – Susie Coston and David Coman-Hidy in particular. Some of my many favorite authors include Zoe Weil of the Institute for Humane Education, A. Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan, pattrice jones of V.I.N.E. Sanctuary, Gene Baur and Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary, and Peter Singer.
Why is in-school activism important?
Activism within an educational system, whether it be a primary or high school, homeschool group, university, playgroup, or anywhere where people learn together is grassroots activism at its best. Since we’re all here to learn with and from each other, we’re much more receptive to messages that come from our peers in our community space.
Do you have any tips for youth who want to go vegetarian or vegan?
Jump right in! My favorite “going vegan” quote comes from Erik Marcus, who says that instead of “cutting out” animal-based foods, he just crowds them out with the delicious array of plant-based options that opens up! Vegan potlucks with friends are a great way to try and share new foods. Also, make sure you educate yourself on nutrition and cooking balanced meals. The VegYouth website has great resources for this!
What advice do you have for other youth activists?
Connect with other people! Spend a lot of time on relaxed bonding sessions with club members, and never be afraid to reach out to other seasoned activists for support. My experience has been that the vegan animal rights community is warm, enthusiastic, and unbelievably generous. Older/more experienced activists are, in my experience, always excited to help out younger activists, and having a strong community on campus is really important for motivating each other and keeping activism fun and effective.