senior spotlight: sloane dzhitenov ’24

Hi, Sloane! What are your majors and where are you from?
I’m a triple major, which is crazy. I’m a film and environmental studies major and also an economic major. And I’m from Massachusetts.

Outside of academics, what else are you involved in on campus?
Film takes up most of my free time. I try to make as many movies as I can. I also run Intercut, which is the film and TV magazine on campus. Those are honestly my main extracurriculars at the end of the day

Why did you decide to major in environmental studies along with your two other majors?
I think sustainability is a foundational thing that we will need. I think the sustainable mindset will be really important going forward, and I wanted to get it from somewhere because the way economics is traditionally taught is not sustainable. Even the way film is traditionally taught is not sustainable. You have to go out of your way to find that viewpoint.

I know you’re combining these topics in your capstone, so do you mind just telling us a little bit about that research?
Absolutely, I love talking about that. “Heartland” is docu-fiction. Well, right now, it’s just a documentary, but hopefully I’ll be able to add a fiction element to it, about a wider look at the ecological crisis. I was thinking a lot about environmental philosophy classes I’ve taken and also the things I learned in the film major in terms of storytelling, etc. And how art can kind of shape the way that we think about the world and how we think about the environment. I was especially targeting that specific kind of cognitive dissonance we have. No one really thinks that climate change doesn’t exist. Everyone can notice that we are changing our environment in some way. Even people who are climate change deniers can admit that the world looks different today than it did 50 years ago. The question is, how are we going to feel about it and what are we going to do about it? Will we actually start thinking differently about the actions that we are taking? I was really trying to focus on that and then kind of economics is there in the back of my mind in terms of thinking about what these policies actually are. Obviously for most people, economics is about money, but it can really be about how any kind of incentive or disincentive will actually play out with a large group of people. That’s kind of in the back of my mind as a structural view. But I focus mostly on environmental studies and filmmaking nowadays.

What drew you to creating “Heartland”?
First and foremost, it was an interest in the Southwest because as someone who grew up in New England and lives on the East Coast, there’s this huge part of the United States that I didn’t know that much about. I went to visit it for the first time a couple of years ago with my dad, cause he really loves the nature out there. So there’s that selfish interest of wanting to explore this beautiful place more. But then also thinking more and more about how that’s where our environmental issues are the most strongly expressed. Those desert environments, obviously they’re feeling the heat exhaustion before any of us. It’s one of the most biologically diverse areas of the United States. So they’re also feeling things like species erasure and soil erosion more so than in other places in the United States. But we almost never hear about it, at least in Massachusetts we don’t really hear about it that much.

What kind of challenges or successes have you found with this project?
There have definitely been a lot of challenges. We were there when Hurricane Hillary hit, which was the first tropical storm to hit Arizona in like 100 years. So that was a very acute reminder of what we were actually making a documentary about and it hit just as we were going to do a really long stretch of driving from Arizona to Nevada. It was kind of stressful, but we were all fine. There’s always a lot of unpredictability when you’re doing documentary work.

There are a lot of successes, too. In particular, I had a group of interviewees in Baker, Nevada, which is one of the least populated areas in the United States. It’s this tiny, tiny town, basically in the middle of nowhere. It was Kyle Roerink, the executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, who moved there from New York. And then two people who are on his board of directors: Delaine and Rick Spilsbury, a mother and son who are sort of spokespeople for the Nevada Shoshone tribe. They took us into their house and we hung out there for like six hours. They were some of the warmest and most insightful people I’ve ever met. You can kind of tell when someone’s actually excited about a project and excited to help you out with it versus when they’re interviewing just to, you know, cite some copy about climate change. They were wonderful. They were really nice people.

Do you have a favorite class that you’ve taken while you’ve been at Wes?
For me, it really goes back to freshman year, when I took an environmental philosophy class with Professor Springer. There’s also an element that it was the COVID year and the environmental philosophy class was one of the few to meet in person under the tent in the CFA. It was also because part of the class was fieldwork, and we would go to natural places and experience them together. It was really nice to be able to get out of my dorm and actually touch some grass with other people. It was also a foundational class because it introduced me to thinking about the environment in these more relational, flexible, and empathetic ways. I did some philosophy in high school, but it was all very Western, like Kant, and Professor Springer actually gave us a good foundational course in non-Western ways of thinking about our place in the universe, which is really important to me now.

Do you have any advice for underclassmen who are thinking about majoring in environmental studies?
I think my biggest regret, which is partially influenced by COVID, is that I wish I had built more relationships with my professors. It really is true that that’s kind of everything. That’s how you get more out of your classes and then you also get more guidance on post-grad stuff. A good relationship with a professor will really let you develop your research or artistic interest in something. That’s my big thing. Really think about which courses you want to take and prioritize them. Because the four years go by so much faster than you think they will.