AASHE Student Diary Series: The Nature of College
Darlene Seto, graduate student at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, is featured in this installment of the AASHE Bulletin Sustainability Student Diary series. Her current graduate work revolves around diversity and engagement in alternative food systems. This blog was originally posted on the Getting to GREENR blog, which supports GREENR, an interdisciplinary web portal for environmental and sustainability studies. AASHE welcomes questions and invites feedback on each Sustainability Student Diary entry. Submit diary entries of your own for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following up on my last post about making sustainable change as a student, I just finished reading a newly released book called "The Nature of College" by James Farrell, a professor at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. The book questions the way that nature is traditionally perceived on college campuses – how to go beyond the trees, and manicured lawns and gardens. As the opening prelude notes:
“College is a place where students could think twice about American culture and ecosystems, but most students still don’t despite the fact that people are causing climate change—transforming the good earth into a different planet.”
By exploring the life of the average college student, Farrell finds that nature is everywhere; that between the cafeteria food, clothing choices, computer time, parties and more, the life of a student in fact, connects a lot more intimately to nature – and to a sustainable society – than appears at first glance. For example, though time spent on Facebook and other social networking sites may increase social connections, as an anthropocentric (person based) and disconnected form of reality, it may not actually be good in motivating people to take action for sustainability. "The Nature of College," by reconceptualising “campus ecology,” champions another way for students to transform environmentalism into everyday life, and all in all, is a pretty good read as a primer for environment studies.
The idea, I think, follows up on a previous post by Professor Bruce Hull, which talks about acts of sustainability on campus. He says in it, “We can’t just talk and teach sustainability, we must live it and learn how to make it happen.”
Talking to friends, it seems like it’s an idea that is starting to get taken up at colleges and universities across North America.
Mark Werner, a graduate of St. Olaf’s Environment Studies and Philosophy program, and a former participant in Farrell’s own Campus Ecology course (which formed the basis of the book), is a proponent of the value of such forms of learning. One of the things they did in-class, he recalls, is annotate the campus, attaching cards with quotes, statistics, or other information about sustainability on campus, ranging from things like the energy savings from double-paned windows to the pounds of food waste generated by the school cafeteria. Spreading the fruits of their knowledge to the greater campus community, he says, motivated students to start taking action in their own learning around campus, in and outside of the classroom.
At my own campus at the University of British Columbia, one of the newest courses on offer is Applied Sustainability: UBC as a Living Laboratory, which will be open to students across different faculties, and combines theory and knowledge with practical projects that will be geared towards greening the university’s own operations. By having students act, in essence, as consultants for the university, both groups benefit from the project, while driving sustainability action on the ground. What’s also great is that students themselves are helping to design the course, providing a valuable learning experience and providing student perspective to the course syllabus. A fellow environment studies graduate student in my department, Victor Acuna, has been one of individuals. For him, the opportunity has acted as both a rewarding way to contribute to the university initiative, as well as as a personal challenge in terms of communication, as a non-native English language speaker.
It’s remarkable to see these changes happening across North America, and to see my friends and fellow students as champions of them. All I can say is: continue on!
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