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Connecticut College to develop global environmental justice curriculum

Ethnobotany professor Manuel Lizarralde and students visit a rainforest in Peru.
Ethnobotany professor Manuel Lizarralde and students visit a rainforest in Peru.

Government professor Jane Dawson knows the environment has no boundaries, and justice is often in the eye of the beholder.

"Global environmental justice issues are complicated and require a broad range of knowledge to inform creative and interdisciplinary solutions," Dawson said. "There is so much involved - science, politics, economics, sociology, religion - and the decisions that are made in the near future will have great and lasting impacts. As we look to the future, we must teach students to understand their place in the world and consider the responsibility they bear to their neighbors."

Dawson, the Virginia Eason Weinmann '51 Professor of Government, is leading a charge to expand and transform global environmental justice education at Connecticut College with a $200,000 grant from the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, an organization that supports innovative and thoughtful programs at liberal arts colleges.

"Developing specific programming to merge these academic areas will ensure that our students consider global environmental justice issues seriously and deeply," Dawson said.

With the grant, a core group of faculty will be trained in the teaching of international environmental issues and learn firsthand about the links between global environmental problems and social injustices. The funding will support a faculty development seminar, fieldwork in India, Peru and South Africa and a curriculum development seminar during the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years. The 19 participating faculty members will revise existing courses and develop new courses with a focus on environmental justice, provide students with new research and study abroad opportunities, expand community outreach and host a regional conference with Connecticut College's Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment.

"This is a unique opportunity for faculty from a broad range of disciplines to gain new expertise in an emerging and increasingly urgent field of study," Dean of the Faculty Roger Brooks said. "The Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation is giving us the opportunity to revolutionize the way we teach environmental justice."

Following on-campus training, faculty will examine specific cases of international environmental justice issues in three key sites abroad. In South Africa, for example, many preservationist efforts have been perceived as promoting park creation and wildlife protection at the expense of the socioeconomic development of impoverished communities. A group of six faculty members will visit Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town for an on-site seminar about how these issues play out on a local, national and international level.

August 4, 2011