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Bereans reconnect with activist origins

On the night of February 4, three Bereans spoke at a public air permit hearing in Winchester, Ky.

Carol Davey, '10, Beth Bissmeyer, '08, and Megan Naseman, '07. Davey testifies at the public hearing

Carol Davey, senior double major in Communication and Peace and Social Justice Studies, was joined by Berea College alumni Beth Bissmeyer and Megan Naseman in testifying against the proposed Smith power plant in Clark County.

The East Kentucky Power Cooperative wants to build a new coal-burning plant near the Kentucky River. About 97% of the electricity generated from the plant would come from the burning of coal, with potential environmental and health impacts. The public had 30 days to comment before a decision on issuing the permit.

Among about the 40 people from the region who spoke against the proposed plant were the three Bereans, all of them members of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, an organization that works on social and environmental causes.

Berea College has historically been at the forefront of radical action and discussion around issues like environmental stewardship, multiculturalism and gender equality. Through leadership positions in the Labor Program and other areas, Berea students coming from disadvantaged Appalachian communities learn to become involved community activists.

“In the past students have used their CELTS labor position to work for KFTC, and our student body has always been aware and active on many different issues,” said Davey.

Davey, of Columbus, OH, has worked both on and off campus on issues of environmental activism, diversity and service. She is currently student manager at PeaceCraft, a non-profit gift shop that helps disadvantaged producers in developing countries earn better wages for their products.

She continued about Berea: “At the same time, we have Women's Studies, African/African American Studies, Appalachian Studies, Peace and Social Justice, and Sustainable and Environmental Studies – all of which teach Berea College students about the deficiencies between the powerful and the disenfranchised. This mentality breeds student activism, and Berea even requires that every student take a class that focuses on one or more of these perspectives.”

Impacted by the Berea education is Bissmeyer, ’09, who works for the Student Environmental Action Coalition, a national network of students and youth working on environmental issues.

A Kentuckian from Louisville, Bissmeyer has long been actively concerned with environmental and Appalachian issues. Berea provided her opportunities where she not only made a difference in the community, but also learned valuable leadership skills. As a Berea student she worked with Bereans for Appalachia, helped produce the Appalachian Heritage magazine and was co-chair of the Madison County Chapter of KFTC.

Naseman, ’07, also grew during her student years at Berea. She managed Berea’s SENS House and was the leader of the four students living there. The Anna, OH native established the Berea Chapter of Roots and Shoots, a program that helps children learn about the environment, animals and the human community.

After working more than a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer at CELTS, Naseman now works for environmental lawyer Robert Ukeiley. She reminisces how Berea influenced her passion for activism:

“My courses at Berea, and more so the connection that Berea has to the region, strongly influenced my activism around energy issues.”

By providing leadership opportunities on campus, Berea College is developing the next generation of social change agents who serve their communities in Appalachia and beyond.

“Our institution is one that lets students develop and strengthen as leaders, and as voices for the issues that are not often heard,” agreed Davey.

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