Alumni Profiles

Alumna explores intersection between land, people, and faith at Yale

CMU alumna Anika Reynar is currently working on a Master of Arts in Religion through Yale Divinity School and a Master of Environmental Management through Yale School of Environment. CMU alumna Anika Reynar is currently working on a Master of Arts in Religion through Yale Divinity School and a Master of Environmental Management through Yale School of Environment.

Anika Reynar (CMU '17, Interdisciplinary Studies – Social Ecology) lives her life with one foot in the library and one foot in the garden—and also the classroom, the church, and around the table. She's pursuing her passions by doing not just one, but two, master's degrees simultaneously at Yale University.

Reynar is working on a Master of Arts in Religion through Yale Divinity School and a Master of Environmental Management through Yale School of Environment. She's in her third and last year of the joint program in New Haven, Connecticut. "I broadly describe what I'm interested in as being focused around land use and how communities who potentially hold different value sets negotiate how land is used."

It's a clear continuation of the work she started during her undergrad at CMU. Reynar earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in interdisciplinary studies: social ecology. She was the first student to graduate from CMU's interdisciplinary degree program, which weaves together multiple disciplines of a student's choosing and has them develop their own major.

She studied most closely with Kenton Lobe, teaching assistant professor of international development and environmental studies, and Chris Huebner, associate professor of theology and philosophy. "I feel like they were constantly pulling me in different directions," she says. "Kenton was very much hands in the dirt, practical work and then Chris was philosophical and theological, asking ethical questions and throwing books at me all the time."

Reynar came to love sitting in the tension and questions between different types of learning. "I've continued to look for those spaces where I can exist between conversations that are being had and pull them together," she says. "That's always more challenging work, trying to figure out how to hold together multiple conversations, but it's always felt really generative to me. I'm grateful to CMU for setting up a space that allowed me to practice interdisciplinary work early on, and really encouraged me in that."

Her studies at Yale range from environmental ethics and theology to land dispossession and conservation. She's worked with a land trust in Massachusetts to generate ideas for combining farmland conservation and affordable housing development, specifically supporting young BIPOC farmers. Another project brought her alongside Indigenous groups in Utah who were exploring the possibilities for a carbon credit project on their nationally-protected land to generate income without extractive practices.

Reynar became interested in land at a young age. She grew up in a small farming community in Alberta, where prayers for rain or a successful harvest were a regular occurrence in her rural church. She did an internship with Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba after her first year at CMU, developing a boulevard garden with Indigenous young people, working on an urban farm, and taking a course with an environmental theologian. "That was a really formative summer for me. It gave me the academic language around all these different pieces I had been thinking about and connected them for me. It was like, this is something you can study and do!"

This summer, she spent six weeks in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, listening to the stories and experiences of a group of Maya (Indigenous peoples) and Low German Mennonite colonies nearby, whose farming practices are harming the earth and the Maya ways of life.

"The migration of Low German Mennonites into this area in the last 40 years has dramatically transformed the area and is creating problems for Maya seed savers who are trying to do the work of maintaining native varieties and creating economies that are sustainable," Reynar says.

The project started seven years ago when this group of Maya seed savers found a coalition of Mennonites working on decolonization initiatives in the US through an online search, and invited them to help navigate this conflict. Reynar joined the group almost two years ago.

She did background research on Low German Mennonite communities in the region because the Maya wanted to understand who the people were in these insular, isolated communities and how they came to be there.

"Our Maya partners have been really clear with us all the way through: Mennonite agriculture is damaging our ancestral land, and at the same time, we don't see Mennonites as our enemies. We see all of us as being impacted by these broader systems like capitalist, agro-industrial systems..."

Reynar and her colleagues rode with Mennonites in horse-drawn buggies and participated with Maya communities in their ceremonies. They did approximately 50 interviews, discussing the struggles of a changing climate, farming practices, relationships with the land, and how they're connected to faith and spirituality. They brought back the stories and insights of each community to the other, helping to build understanding.

Reynar will use these conversations in a capstone project for her degree, but shaping her learning into something she can offer to the Maya and Mennonite communities will be most important.

"If there's anything that feels like it's at the root of the work I'm doing, it's figuring out ways to disrupt or uproot what we feel is almost inevitable when we think about possession of property...possessive logics, which are the logics of private property, are also bound up with colonial logics," Reynar says. "The whole university is set up on this system of mastery and having possession over knowledge. As I'm doing work with Indigenous communities, how do I dispossess myself of control over the knowledge they're sharing with me and always give it back?"

The Maya group invited the coalition back in May to participate in a seed festival and Reynar hopes this is only the beginning of an ongoing relationship.

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