By Amelia Kibbe Class of 2017
Dr. Kristen Iversen, author of the All Bonaventure Reads book “Full Body Burden,” visited the university Sept. 30 to tell her story and to explain that while the U.S. has halted nuclear weapons production, contamination from that work remains a threat to society.
Last summer, all freshmen were asked to read Iversen's memoir about growing up next door to Rocky Flats, a former nuclear weapons production plant near Denver, Colo. Iversen details her journey growing up surrounded by secrets both at home and in Rocky Flats, and the health effects suffered by those who lived and worked in the area.
Dr. Michael Fischer, university provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, charged the freshmen with their first college assignment: write a “Full Body Burden” reflection. A group of faculty and staff members then selected the top 12 essays for inclusion in a book, copies of which were presented to the writers and to Iversen at a dinner prior to her talk. Also invited to the dinner were student representatives of the 25 University 101 sections.
In her public address in the Reilly Center Arena, Iversen talked about the importance of being aware and speaking out when needed. She recalled how she came to realize just how many unsafe and illegal practices were taking place at the plant and how the government and industry were putting plant employees and those living near the plant at risk. She described how she and other protesters spoke up and fought the government, finally getting them to admit to the problems with a promise to fix them.
Rocky Flats was raided by the FBI and the EPA in 1989 and was closed down several years later.
But Iversen said the fight isn't over. Despite the fact that the government stopped producing nuclear weapons years ago, radiation in and around Rocky Flats makes it a highly dangerous place to live. “Rocky Flats is still a problem, even though the plant has closed. It can never be determined just how much pollution is at the plant or has escaped into the surrounding areas,” said Iversen. “The area is not safe to live in, yet the government has not passed any laws prohibiting this.”
In addition to her talk, Iversen visited classrooms to talk to students. She spoke in journalism major Lian Bunny’s professional writing class. Bunny said she learned much about the real life of a writer just from the few minutes she talked to Iversen in class.
“Iversen allowed us to ask her any questions and, since we are journalism majors, my classmates asked a lot of questions on the writing process of her book,” said Bunny. “She told us it took her about 10 years to compile her research. I found this very amazing because it makes you realize just how much energy and dedication goes into writing a book of this style.
Students from other majors also enjoyed Iversen’s speech. Biology major Nicole Cummins said she thought Iversen tackled an issue that not many people are willing to discuss.
“I thought Iversen’s speech gave a good representation of an issue many people don’t know much about and aren’t willing to talk about,” Cummins said. “Kristen set an example for others who find something potentially dangerous.”
Iversen said she hoped the Bonaventure students took more from the book than just its literal meaning; she hoped the students understood the importance of action and that what they do can have a large impact on others.
“It is so important to take action,” Iversen said.
Iversen’s last line of her powerful story, “to speak out or to remain silent is the first and most crucial decision we can make,” is a message for everyone and was selected as the Class of 2017 mantra. NOTE: For more photos, go to the university's Flickr site (www.sbu.edu/bonaflickr) and click on the "All Bonaventure Reads" set
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