Developing the Ethnobotany Society at Brown

Written by Aja Grande, SEB Undergraduate Ambassador

Every expedition stems from a question, a wonder about the lush and uncharted. Just two months into winter after the election of Trump, the task to unite the biological with the social sciences seemed necessary, yet somewhat of an enigma. Who would dare to start an anomalous group at such a politically tender time? My reason was human curiosity. Inquiry about life outside of my sphere lead me to found the Ethnobotany Society at Brown. When the society became institutionally recognized with over 70 members, I began a journey with other students to connect inside classroom content with the community beyond university walls, in both the physical and intellectual sense. Our outings entailed visiting Lincoln Woods for a mycology excursion, touring the greenhouse of a local farmer from Laos, hosting a seminar on chemical plant extraction, and dispersing botanical knowledge via aphrodisiac cards on Valentines Day, in addition to building an online resource for all things Ethnobotany-related. It was not the abundance of ethnobotanical information in a single place, but the lack of its cohesive presence in my community which set the society in motion.

The greatest learning experiences stem from surrendering what is already known. Confrontation with these inward foundations of truth is coupled with reward. Similar to most innovative groups, building this society’s foundation called for an abandonment of the lifestyle I toiled so hard to maintain – a career as an intercollegiate swimmer. Transitioning from chlorinated pool waters to earthly terrain has not been easy task. Although all goals of competing on a Division I level were buried in the forfeit of athletic merit, the lessons I gained through that experience remain engrained in my character.

Fellow peers, adventure past the safety of the known, for your previous devotion will show through on your next expedition in ways which you will least expect. The key is to pick a direction and commit. Though grueling, the feat of dedicating full attention to the construction of something original will earn distinction among peers.

At the conclusion of the 2017 summer, the Ethnobotany Society tucked away an eight week long summer reading session on the history and development of Ethnobotany in the 21st century, and has collected over a dozen exciting submissions for a Fall journal issue. As I begin to assume the two-year position as student representative under the Society for Economic Botany, I depart advice to other students in the form of three simple actions: leave your comfortable spot, explore the unknown, and share what you learn with others. It is through this process that one is able to embrace and contribute to an extraordinary world filled with people and plants.

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