Teach in focuses on climate change

[Julia Sarcinelli]

The Climate Change, System Change: Thriving in the Anthropocene teach in was held this week with 20 classes across eight departments taking part, according to Vandana Singh, physics and earth sciences chair.

“We want as many interdisciplinary departments as possible to take up climate change. It’s the ultimate interdisciplinary problem,” said Singh.

The teach in was organized by Singh and professors Larry McKenna and Kevin Surprise who are all interim co-directors of the Center for Climate Change Education.

According to Singh, the goals of the center are to teach about climate change, provide student internships, support the Green Team and work with the Milford school district and connect with local governments.

Singh said they plan on doing the teach in every semester, and “every semester, we hope to add more and more people and spread the word until it becomes something that is redundant because everyone is doing it.”

The goal for the teach in is to recognize that climate change is a serious problem and to encourage students “to be positive change-makers in the world and to enable them to have a sense of empowerment,” said Singh.

She added, “Climate change is a very depressing topic. It’s very natural to feel despair once you learn about the signs. However, part of being an adult is to face things that are difficult. We can’t do it alone. It’s impossible to face this on an individual basis.”

In her class Physics, Nature, and Society, Singh said she introduced the basic signs of climate change and her students then completed worksheets and used the Internet to conduct more research before presenting to the class.

Anthony Sheehan, a senior, said in class discussion, “I think people aren’t worried about it because they’re lazy and don’t want to educate themselves. If you look at the U.S., the U.K. and countries like that that have perfect access to Internet and they can educate themselves on it, there’s a lot of talk about climate change that should pique their interest and they should learn about it.”

Valerie Paradise, a junior, said she was concerned to learn about “the positive feedback loop going on, especially with the ice in the waters. The heating right now is melting the ice, which exposes more water. … It’s kind of frightening that’s the case because it kind of puts you in the place where it’s like, ‘How does that end?’ So that stood out to me.”

Justin Kohl, a senior, said, “It’s clearly been shown humans play a significant impact on climate change.”

In regards to the title for the teach in, Singh said, “Human beings for the first time are having an impact on the Earth’s systems that is of a geological scale, so the Anthropocene is basically the world that humans have made and it’s a world that is crashing down because ecosystems are being destroyed.”

At the end of last semester’s Black Lives Matter teach in, Singh said the faculty had round table discussions where they decided “that we wanted to get into the nitty-gritty of climate change but in a way that is not all doom and gloom and despair. We are not going to deny the very difficult and terrifying aspects of climate change, but we are going to try to think about how do we work through it.”

English professor Elaine Beilin participated in the teach in with her Shakespeare class.

She asked her students to read an ecocritic and write a paragraph in small groups about ways Shakespeare represented the environment through uses of metaphors and nature imagery.

She said ecocriticism is a big field in English studies and particularly for Shakespeare because many of his plays “are just loaded with metaphors and imagery related to the natural world or all the characters actually go to the natural world.”

In Shakespeare’s time, Beilin said people were constantly debating whether humans were the center of the universe or part of a larger system.

“The conversations that we’re still having, they were really important discussions that were happening in Shakespeare’s times,” she said.

Beilin said she has spoken with Singh before about how the humanities and the sciences should work together on big problems such as climate change.

“I think it’s partly been the conversations we’ve been having over time that this would be a great moment to get my students interested in this and involved in it,” she said.

Ryan Toomey, a senior, said in Beilin’s class, they looked at how Shakespeare used nature and the environment as a literary device for his works such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Henry V.”

He said, “It is more than just the background setting. In his work, nature becomes a character in its own right.”

Toomey added the teach in was a chance for the humanities and sciences to work together. “With such a heavy focus on the STEM fields, we tend to forget that the lit and art majors also have a voice.”

History professor Stefan Papioannou said in an email that he participated in the teach in for his Global Studies 101 sections.

He said he asked his students to research how the country they are tracking for the course is affected by and affects climate change, and showed a video clip of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest at Standing Rock for discussion.

Papioannou said he chose to participate in the teach in because he felt he could learn a lot about the subject along with his students.

“The idea of a ‘teach in’ originated historically as a way for people to teach and learn all together, rather than according to the traditional model that separates a teacher from the students. I think that’s very appropriate for an issue like this,” he said.

Audrey Kali, a communications arts professor, said in an email she addressed how effective communication is important to help publicize climate change.

“Written and spoken words, combined with well-designed graphics and images, are what is needed to reach out to all segments of our society. Someone can have a well-intentioned message supported by research and evidence, but if that message is not communicated artfully, appropriately and skillfully, its reception will fall short of the communicator’s expectations,” she said.

Sociology professor Lina Rincón gave her Migration in Global Era students articles to read about people affected by climate change. She then showed her students footage from Hurricane Katrina and asked them to list other natural disasters, leading to a conversation about who is responsible.

She said they discussed the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and how it is funded to respond to crisis and emergencies, but no funding is provided for preventative measures.

“We used this discussion to be critical about how it’s good that we have these national and local solutions, but they fall short sometimes. They actually make other problems worse,” said Rincón.

She added students then tried to “tackle the idea of figuring out how to solve or how to be mindful or how to prevent environmental disasters as a result of climate change, but also how as a global solution rather than a national solution we could take care of climate-change refugees.”

The “bottom line” for Rincón was “creating citizenship. Regardless of whether you have to write a paper or be part of the discussion in your classroom, I think these interventions in our classrooms are so important because it’s reminding students and also faculty that we are instrumental in social change. It’s not just passing and getting your degree, but what happens after this.”

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