The Association for Animal Rights (AFAR) is an on-campus organization dedicated to raising awareness of animal cruelty, educating the William Jewell College community about environmental issues and providing a safe space to talk about animal rights.
The organization was founded by Brielle Buntin, senior English and interactive digital media major. During her junior year of college, Buntin found herself in great distress after attending God, Nature, and Science, a CTI course at Jewell, adopting pet rats and reading about environmental concerns such as climate change and animal cruelty in the agricultural industry.
All of these influences revealed to Buntin how people tend to categorize life hierarchically, which has negative effects on the environment. For example, one of the leading causes of global warming is animal agriculture, which contributes 14.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. But most people don’t know about this fact, and those that do find the language that people use to refer to animal rights and other environmental concerns to be inadequate.
Buntin believes that to be fully able to understand issues concerning animal rights, people need to adopt a new way of communicating ideas. Buntin calls this “building a critical foundation.”
When she communicated her distress to a friend, the friend suggested creating a group to ensure that people could have a safe space to build this critical foundation and engage in activism and debate. A few days later, Buntin contacted this friend to bounce ideas off of them. Thus, the concept of AFAR was born.
Unfortunately, the process of actually creating AFAR as it is known now was quite long and laborious. The paperwork took a year and a half to be approved, and there were lots of tweaks that had to occur during that time. This has to do with the fact that most people, including Jewell administration, tend to be cautious when dealing with environmental activist groups like AFAR. There is a misconception that environmentalist groups are “ecoterrorists” that engage in all sorts of disruptive actions such as burning down biology labs, but that is not the case. Buntin says AFAR promotes productive action in furthering environmental causes, not destructive or offensive actions. Furthermore, AFAR has two advisors, one of whom is Dr. Rose Reynolds, an associate professor of biology and chair. The other is Dr. Jennifer Cotter, an associate professor of English.
AFAR has been up and running for a year. Much of the initial meetings involved building up a critical foundation. Members read and discussed essays written by philosophers like Descartes addressing the question of “What is an animal?”
Buntin believes this critical foundation is crucial to understanding the ideology behind the division of animals from humans. This adversarial system wherein humans are prized far above animals can lead to animal cruelty and abuse. This division is made worse when coupled with things like nationalist sentiment because there is a social side to animal abuse. Much of the narrative surrounding animal inferiority also informs systems of race and gender inferiority.
This kind of discussion can sound intimidating to the Jewell student. Buntin realizes that many of us have very busy lives, so critical reading is not mandatory. Furthermore, Buntin wants to make it clear that AFAR is a safe space. No one is going to judge others, and the members are not going to try and “shove vegetables down” new recruits’ throats. The meetings, which typically last around 30 minutes, have a “very chill environment.” Buntin brings free vegan drinks and food, which she says are not “weird vegan things” as one might suspect. The meetings take place every other Monday on the first floor of the PLC and are open to everybody.
In the future Buntin wants to have more events that the club participates in and stages. She has been thinking about getting the members to volunteer at an animal shelter and to increase animal interaction on campus. One thing that has been very important to Buntin was the change in Jewell’s pet policy. Buntin believes that AFAR could start a flyer campaign educating incoming freshman about the demanding responsibilities that come with being a college student. She wants to make sure that if they do decide to bring their furry friends on campus, they are aware of the dual responsibilities they must balance. Buntin wants to ensure that both the student and the pet have a good college experience.
Because Buntin is a senior, leadership is being passed to a new group of environmental activists. Buntin is confident that the new cabinet will do a great job of enthusiastically advocating for environmental awareness and thinks that students should join the fun and informative experience that is AFAR membership.