On Monday evening, an activist from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) came to campus to discuss overlapping themes between animal exploitation and other types of oppression.
Hanh Nguyen’s lecture, “The Machinery of Oppression,” was held in Lecture Hall 10 in conjunction with peta2, the youth movement associated with PETA. The Binghamton University Animal Alliance sponsored the presentation, which focused on the concept of speciesism.
Speciesism attributes the exploitation of animals under the pretense of human egocentrism, or the idea that humans are intrinsically better than or superior to animals. According to Nguyen, this egocentrism is how humans justify the exploitation of animals’ products and services. Human egocentrism causes people to treat animals as inferiors, a concept that is noticeable in the use of the word “it” as a pronoun to describe animals, rather than the use of “he” or “she.”
Nguyen also touched on the historical derogatory use of animal names, such as the use of the word “pig” to denote a person who is greedy or dirty. She said this language creates a culture of mistreatment toward animals.
“Even though these historical examples are telling, we don’t need to go back in time to see that comparison to animals still incites and perpetuates hate,” Nguyen said.
In her speech, Nguyen advocated for equal consideration of human and animal interests. As an organization, PETA encourages lifestyles that minimize harm inflicted upon animals, such as veganism. The organization discourages the use of products that make a profit through the exploitation of animals.
After becoming vegan, Nguyen said she felt alone in her new lifestyle until a speaker from Direct Action Everywhere, an animal liberation organization, came to her university to speak about the animal-rights movement. Nguyen slowly became more involved in animal activism and started to participate in other events where she met other people who were passionate about animal rights. She now tours colleges as a representative of PETA to raise awareness.
Amanda Resnick, an administrator at peta2 who is accompanying Nguyen on her tour, said Nguyen’s expertise allowed her passion to shine through when speaking to students, helping her connect with attendees.
“Hanh is very eloquent in her words,” Resnick said. “She also has years of activism experience, and also graduated from Yale, so she’s a smart cookie.”
Attendee Priyanka Chanbrasegaran, a senior majoring in biology, said she agreed with Resnick, and that Nguyen’s presentation redefined her understanding of animal-rights issues, despite not following the lifestyle the lecturer encouraged.
“The way she presented it made me think a different way,” Chanbrasegaran said. “I’m not vegan, but the way she said you shouldn’t think of animals as lower beings … not referring to them as ‘it’ but instead as ‘he’ or ‘she.’”
Alexis Poveromo, a sophomore majoring in nursing, is already vegan but said she felt she gained perspective on the exploitation of animals after attending the lecture.
“I never really connected the oppression of humans with the oppression of animals before,” Poveromo said. “It was a big awakening that was very necessary.”