When Pitzer took over the old Infirmary building at the Claremont Colleges, it had been marred by fire, its walls were damaged by soot and water, and the floors were covered with rat droppings. The dark, dank interior made it difficult to imagine that this had ever been a place for healing. In the midst of that ruin, though, sprang life: a beehive, a signal of things to come. The hive became a metaphor for how the building was re-imagined. A small portion of it is now cast in bronze: an artifact that adorns one wall of what is now the home of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College. The beehive remains a talisman for the Conservancy, which has in some sense returned to its original purpose: healing. But no longer are we healing our students. We are healing our environment. Or maybe we are doing both.
By building capacity for land conservation efforts, tackling environmental injustices, contributing to sustainability projects, and fostering climate resilience, the Robert Redford Conservancy (RRC) is helping to build a different future. Our connection to place runs deep. We support a collaborative relationship with the local Tongva community, which has infused Indigenous perspectives into our approach. Our net-zero environmental center practices what we preach. We have begun to nurture a network of partners that can help us accomplish shared goals. Our students are engaged in regional work for change—collaborating with local municipalities and organizations, embarking on policy and mapping projects, joining local land battles, and exploring the possibilities of sustainable agriculture both on our campus and off. Our location in the heart of the Bernard Biological Field Station keeps us close to native flora and fauna. The RRC’s focus on K-12 education is growing as well. We are not only creating a new set of teachers for environmental issues (our college students), we are nurturing the next generation of environmental stewards—local schoolchildren. We have begun a library project curated by Tongva community members—the first of its kind in the region, or anywhere.
The field station landscape, the repurposed Infirmary, multiple partnerships, and the beehive all bridge old and new. With our partners and programs, we hope to build local capacity for environmental justice and climate resilience. Through regional collaboration, strategic hiring, and student research and action, we are investing in the solutions that will make our region—and our planet—a healthier place.
Susan A. Phillips
Director, Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability