Harvard College's Environmental Science and Public Policy (ESPP) Concentration is arguably one of the most diverse fields of study at the college, with a plethora of pathways to choose from or to create on your own. Terilyn Chen, a senior ESPP student from Winthrop House made her own pathway into Aquatic Ecology and Environmental and Animal Law, pulling from almost every corner of ESPP's broad domain. She is currently writing a senior thesis on Animal Law and in this Q&A session, she'll be providing us with a student perspective of the concentration as well as how Harvard has framed her experience and provided her with a perspective on environmental change. 


Victoria Elliot: Hi Terilyn! Tell us a little about yourself and what you do on campus. 

Terilyn Chen: I’m a 21-year-old from the Bay Area who loves animals and writing poetry. I edit for Manifesta Magazine and volunteer with Phillips Brooks House Association’s Pets as Therapy. In my free time, I like to hang out with Walter, the little poodle dog living in Winthrop, and admire my sticker and gel pen collections.

VE: What made you decide to study ESPP, and what do you like about the concentration?

TC: In high school, I was very interested in environmental science (especially the biology aspects), as well as writing and activism. When I got to college, I had a hard time choosing my concentration because I didn’t want to decide between science and the humanities and social sciences. ESPP was perfect because it’s so interdisciplinary and flexible, and that’s still something I love about it now.

VE: What's been the most interesting course that you've taken that counts for your concentration and how has it affected the way you think about environmental issues?

TC: The most interesting course I took that counts for ESPP is Animal Law. It was a class I cross-registered in at Harvard Law School junior spring that really changed my focus in ESPP as well as just in life. I definitely think more about the animal aspects of environmentalism now, and am super interested in the intersections of animal law and environmental law. I actually think I might want to become an environmental and/or animal lawyer.

When I got to college, I had a hard time choosing my concentration because I didn’t want to decide between science and the humanities and social sciences. ESPP was perfect because it’s so interdisciplinary and flexible, and that’s still something I love about it now.

VE: What is your Field of Specialization and what are you working on for your Senior Thesis?

TC: I was very indecisive so I ended up fulfilling the requirements for two fields of specialization, Aquatic Ecology and Environmental and Animal Law. My thesis is about using environmental statutes, which often have a species or population focus, to file suit in order to protect individual animals. More specifically, I’m analyzing what tensions come up when the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) are used in this way.

My paper argues that despite the perceived severity of the divide between environmentalism and the animal protection, environmental laws like the ESA and the MMPA can actually be used to protect individual animals without degrading the purpose of those laws. Of course, it’s still preferable to have animal protection laws that are actually effective, but in the meantime, this is a strategy that can be used.

VE: What drives your interest in animal law?

TC: I really care about animals! And I think that the legal protections we have in place are abysmal, so I guess I want to learn more about how the law works in this area so I can do something to change that.

VE: What do you find is the most challenging about your work so far?

TC: I’m pretty dissatisfied with the lack of intersectionality in the animal welfare and animal rights movements. I’m also involved in social justice activism centered on people. I think some of the same forces and systems that, not only allow, but actively make horrible things happen to animals also cause the oppression of people of color and women. 

However, these connections are nuanced and oftentimes, animal welfare and animal rights groups (which are often very white) will try to make connections between the two that are overly simplistic and just downright offensive. I aspire to be a part of the solution to this problem, but it’s challenging because a lot of the time, I’m not sure where I stand on the issues yet—so that’s why I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the overlap between all of these related issues.

I think some of the same forces and systems that, not only allow, but actively make horrible things happen to animals also cause the oppression of people of color and women. 

VE: Can you see yourself working in this field after graduation?

TC: Yes, I can!

VE: What tools do you think ESPP and Harvard have given you for thinking about environmental changes after you leave Harvard?

TC: I think my classes in ESPP, and Harvard in general, have really trained me to question the framing of environmental problems, and I’m referring to both the science and policy aspects of it. This makes me feel optimistic, because framing is really important and can completely change the way you tackle a problem.

...my classes in ESPP, and Harvard in general, have really trained me to question the framing of environmental problems