Shawna Leader/The AS Review
During this week, a Faculty Senate resolution will encourage professors from all disciplines to incorporate environmental issues into their curriculum. From economics to English to mathematics, the environment will play a central role in many classroom discussions during Earth Week and the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
“There’s a new avenue of discussion and learning and growth in the classroom,” Lauren Squires, AS Environmental Center coordinator, said.
The resolution, which was unanimously approved by the Faculty Senate this past March, was initially brought to the Faculty Senate by James Loucky, professor of anthropology at Western.
“I reflected on how the university does play a huge role and can have an even greater impact in addressing the need to find ways for us to live well together within a healthy earth,” Loucky said.
The resolution affirms Western’s commitment to environmental education and developing effective responses to environmental challenges, Western President Bruce Shepard wrote in a letter dated April 8 supporting the resolution.
“It encourages faculty and students to include environmental and sustainability activities in their Earth Week classes, collaborate with other classes for a shared learning experience, or sponsor or take part in broader campus activities to mark the occasion,” Shepard wrote.
The resolution is not compulsory, but any professor could connect their discipline to environmental issues, Loucky said. While the environmental connection to a subject such as economics may seem obvious, disciplines such as math also have environmental applications, he said.
“Math would be a great example. … Say you’re doing statistics. What are the probabilities of different models of for what will happen when the oil runs out?” Loucky said. “It’s hard for me to think about anything that wouldn’t be potentially related.”
The resolution will create connections among faculty members and between faculty and students as well, Loucky said. This creates synergy that is vital to addressing environmental issues.
“By working together you can build that momentum,” Loucky said.
Hopefully, teachers will go beyond the usual expectations to create engaging and useful ways to address environmental issues and continue to do so, he said.
Another way that environmental education will continue in the classroom is through the sustainability literacy class, which started this quarter. The class, which changes themes every quarter, was developed by Squires, Loucky and members of the Sustainability Academy, a group of approximately 80 faculty members.
Currently, the Sustainability Academy is seeking GUR status for the class, Richard Frye, special assistant to the Sustainability Initiative, said.
The goals of the course, which consists of guest lectures, group dialogue, writing and a final project, is that students will create their own meaning for sustainability, Frye said.
“Every subject on campus, and everything that people do, has a connection to the idea of sustainability in one way or another,” Frye said.
The themes for this quarter’s class are sense of place, designing for a sustainable world, local-global connections and interdependence, Associate Professor Grace Wang, who is teaching the class this quarter, said.
“Literacy, which is understanding, communicating and listening about something, is critical,” Wang said. “And I think it’s important that today’s college students be more aware of sustainability issues.”
The class is open to all students and there are no prerequisites, Wang said.
According to George Pierce, special assistant for sustainability in the Provost’s office, the class is the beginning of integrating more sustainability literacy and information throughout the curriculum. A sustainability minor is in the planning stages, Pierce said. Currently, only a sustainable design minor is available.
The exact details of the minor are still being discussed. One idea is that students pursuing a sustainability minor will apply sustainability to their major, whether it is economics, anthropology or something else, Pierce said.
The sustainability literacy course gives students the opportunity to explore what sustainability might mean to their major or academic interests, Pierce said. Students could then work with their major’s department to decide which courses they would take in order to meet the sustainability minor requirements, he said.
Another option is that sustainability minors will be established in individual academic departments and will require some sustainability courses, along with courses that are not in the student’s major, Frye said.
“If you’re an environmental studies major, maybe your sustainability minor would include courses from business, chemistry, English,” Frye said.
Another goal is to create more sustainability literacy classes, Frye said. Eventually, the Sustainability Academy may have the ability to offer its own courses, he said.