Oliver Bernstein ’03, this year’s recipient of the Ranny B. Cardozo ’78 Prize for Most Outstanding Junior, describes his dedication to the local and global environmental movement as “realistically optimistic.”
A conversation with Bernstein reveals these two sides of his personality — the logical eloquence of a scholar and the energetic compassion of a campus leader — which led Class of 2003 Dean Teoby Gomez and a committee of six seniors to elect him for this award.
Bernstein’s main focus since coming to Dartmouth from Miami has been to increase environmental awareness on campus through organizations such as Environmental Students of Dartmouth and Environmental Conservation Organization, both of which he has chaired.
“Activism is my bread and butter. It’s what I love doing,” Bernstein said of his passionate commitment to the environment, which began at Dartmouth during his freshman fall.
Some of his accomplishments include incorporating environmental programs into UGA training, coordinating dorm ECO-reps and raising $10,000 to bring speakers such as David Orr and Bill McKibben to campus. The establishment of Greenprint has also been a major victory for his movement, he said.
“It started at the beginning of Spring term, and now 70 percent of all public printing is going through Greenprint,” Bernstein said. On the other hand, Bernstein said that the College’s ban on kegs has been a major step backward for campus recycling efforts.
“There has been a mass influx of cans that usually don’t get recycled. It really hurts to see all those cans getting chugged. Without meaning to, the administration sets up policies that stab you in the back.”
Even before coming to Dartmouth, Bernstein’s interest in environmental activism was well developed. During his sophomore year in high school student Bernstein started organizing rallies, through the Sierra Club, to protest the Florida government’s plan to build an airport near the Everglades national forest.
In fact, Bernstein said he chose to come to Hanover specifically because of the natural beauty of its situation and the interest that students show in outdoor activities. The beauty of the Connecticut River — especially the crew team’s boat house on the riverbank — also attracted him to Dartmouth.
A rower since eighth grade, Bernstein said being a member of the Dartmouth crew team provided him with a social niche as a freshman, which was important to his happiness and success at Dartmouth. As coxswain for the Men’s Lightweight Crew Team’s second boat through 2001, Bernstein was co-MVP his freshman year and traveled to the Royal Henley Regatta last spring.
“The crew team is like a fraternity. I had a group of friends who respected me from freshman fall — that was huge.”
Despite his positive experience at Dartmouth, Bernstein said he knew many students who are unhappy for a variety of reasons, but especially due to the campus’ Greek-centric social life. He said he thought minority students often have more trouble surviving here because of the lack of a support network for non-affiliated students.
“Dartmouth students suffer because of the lack of diversity,” Bernstein said. “There needs to be some sort of balance between diversity by the numbers and true interactions between different groups of students on campus.”
The Cardozo award recognizes not only campus activism, but also academic achievement, an area in which Bernstein excels. Already working on his comparative literature thesis, Bernstein seeks to combine his interests in Latin American languages — Spanish and Portuguese — with his love of the environment. He will compare how modern society’s conquest of Latin American environment mirrors the Spanish conquest of Latin America in the 16th century.
A Language Study Abroad program to Brazil and a spring-break trip to Ecuador to serve as an interpreter for a Dartmouth linguistic professor cemented Bernstein’s love of Latin American languages, which began with his learning Spanish in third grade. He speaks fluent Spanish with his girlfriend, a recent graduate of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill University, whom he met while interning at the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C. his freshman summer.
The Ranny B. Cardozo Prize was established by classmates, parents and friends of Cardozo, who died in 1976. A member of Psi Upsilon fraternity, the Dartmouth ski team, the Sailing team and The Dartmouth, Cardozo balanced academic enthusiasm and energetic participation in campus life.