By Jess Dankenbring, '17

Do invasive species of plants have rights? It’s a complicated philosophical problem that has an environmental impact. Which made it the perfect challenge for Christie Marsh, ’17, a triple major in philosophy, environmental studies, and German.

Marsh spent a semester studying abroad at IES Freiburg in Germany, where she honed her language skills in full-emersion German language courses and environmental studies courses.

“These courses were very unique and unconventional compared to typical university courses,” Marsh said. “They were split up into modules, and we went on field trips almost every day. In one course, Ecosystem Management, we went to the Swiss Alps for a couple of days and learned about bogs, trees, plants, and insects.”

After her semester ended, Marsh took her coursework one step further and stayed for an extra month to do an internship where she researched the question of plants’ rights from both a German and a North American perspective.

Her internship advisor was publishing a book and wanted to have more philosophical background on invasive species. As Marsh collected information about the topic, she wrote a paper that would help develop his part of the book.

Marsh collected information on different types of invasive species and what past philosophers have written about invasive species, trying to answer the question about whether or not they have rights. She visited library after library in a city just barely bigger than Richmond. Each location offered insight into a different aspect of her research. The experience showed her a side of research work that she hadn’t previously experienced.

“I had to go to different libraries, like the philosophy library and the main library,” Marsh said. “It was actually a really cool experience, having to check out books and do the research.”

Her final paper assessed the value that people place on both native and invasive species from an environmental and ethical stance.

“I resorted to answering the classical Hobbesian issue, and I attempted to determine whether or not nature can be the possessor of rights,” Marsh said. “Since this is philosophy and ethics, there are never conclusions that everyone will accept, so in my research I presented my two cents on the issue.”

In her paper titled The Rights of Invasive Species, she wrote that unless a correlation can be found between invasive species and negative impacts, it could be proven that invasions actually add to the richness of species diversity of ecosystems.

Beyond gaining experience as a researcher, Marsh feels her internship also helped open her eyes to new topics and possibilities.

“I never thought of the rights of invasive species, whether plants have rights or not,” she said. “After actually researching, my views on plants completely changed. Now when I look at weeds, it’s so odd; do I actually pull them up?”