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Students for Compassionate Living
May 12, 2005

A new student organization at Calvin College is examining the idea that animals are fellow creatures rather than mere resources to meet human needs.

Students for Compassionate Living or SCL, chartered in February 2005, works through lectures, potlucks, films and cooking lessons to foster a redemptive attitude toward non-human animals.

"What does it mean to share the earth with all of these creatures which have their own imperative for existence?" says Calvin junior Amelia Hicks, an SCL co-chair, of the group’s philosophy.

There are a variety of answers to that question and a variety of lifestyles that emerge from it maintains SCL’s faculty advisor, philosophy professor Matt Halteman.

"There's no one set commitment that defines compassionate treatment of animals," he says.

For instance, the group's 40 members embrace a range of eating habits from vegan (Halteman's adopted lifestyle) to omnivore.

They meet weekly and host bi-monthly "Compassionate Comestibles" potlucks, where the offerings range from coconut curry to elk stew, featuring elk meat that was hunted to "thin the herd" (to avoid starvation due to overpopulation.)

What the group's members do hold in common is a desire to redefine the terms on which human beings relate to non-human animals. They explore subjects like sustainable agriculture and animal rights advocacy.

At the group's kickoff celebration on Friday, April 8, Michigan beef farmer turned farm animal advocate Harold Brown spoke on compassionate treatment of animals.

The kickoff also featured local artisans who produce raw milk dairy products and representatives from Clothing Matters, a Grand Rapids store that sells hemp alternatives to wool and leather clothing. There also was a potluck, where every scrap of food (including the vegan cheesecakes) was eaten.

The kickoff crowd also screened "Peaceable Kingdom," a heralded animal advocacy film.

"Other local animal advocacy groups showed up too," says Halteman. "For us, it was invigorating to have the opportunity to discuss common interests with people from outside the Calvin community."

"Peaceable Kingdom" is also the title of an interim class Halteman taught in January. He says he was surprised upon coming to Calvin two years ago that there were no existing animal rights initiatives.

"It seemed to me that an interim course on stewardship of the animal kingdom would be a perfect fit with Calvin's commitment to restoring fallen structures," he says, "especially since this stewardship was the first dignity bestowed upon human beings by God."

One of the goals of the "Peaceable Kingdom" interim was to found a student organization, and the SCL grew quite naturally from that class, Halteman says. The class, in turn, had grown out of conversations he had with Hicks.

The SCL is planning several practical ways to live compassionately, including talk about forming a food cooperative and teaching compassionate cooking and laundry workshops in Calvin’s residence halls beginning next fall.