Dialogue Techniques for Fostering Environmental Awareness across the Curriculum

written by Dr. Sarah Ropp

Spring has arrived to Austin–arguably its most beautiful season–and with it, growing hope for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the devastating effects of February’s extreme cold are still evident in the landscape, perhaps most poignantly in the collapsed nopales splayed out over the sidewalks. And the financial and health impacts of infrastructural and political failures to support the people of Texas during that extreme weather event have produced a lingering bitterness in many of us. April is Earth Month, and there is no better time to consider how we can bring a greater sense of environmental awareness into our classrooms through a few minutes a week of focused peer-to-peer dialogue. 

No matter what content we teach, place-based pedagogies are important. They support students’ mental health and ability to engage in the classroom by acknowledging and attending to the ways in which our relationship to our environment affects us on a moment-to-moment basis. They break down artificial boundaries between “in here” and “out there” and encourage students to understand classrooms as an extension of communities and themselves as critical agents within their environments. They illuminate the ways in which varying experiences of restriction and freedom within environments are fundamental to understanding social inequities created by ableism, racism, misogyny, heteronormativity, transphobia, and more. Below are a few opportunities to engage your students in dialogue around the environment over the course of this month.

5 Ways to Incorporate More Classroom Dialogue about Environmental Awareness 

This infographic details 5 quick ways to foster more eco-awareness in your classroom without losing instructional time devoted to your content. 

Difficult Dialogues Public Forum on Health, Infrastructure, and the Environment

April 13, 7-8pm, via Zoom

The Spring 2021 Difficult Dialogues Public Forum features three of our 2020-2022 Faculty Fellows in a conversation about health, infrastructure, and the environment. Faculty from a range of disciplines will discuss their research on environmental contamination, climate change and climate planning, and environmental racism and injustice. The presentations will be followed by a Q&A session moderated by HI Director Pauline Strong. 

Click here to register and learn more about the speakers and their topics.

Controversy and Conversation Film Discussion of An American Ascent

May 6, 7:30-8:30pm, via Zoom

An American Ascent focuses on the first African American expedition to climb Denali, North America’s highest peak. The film also discusses what it refers to as the “Adventure Gap,” referring to the disproportionately low number of African Americans participating in nature-based recreational activities. One of the nine climbers poses: “Think about the story that mountaineering has been. It’s been mainly white male, and if a little black girl were to look into mountaineering and hear that single story, she would probably say ‘I don’t have much of a place there.’” Follow the group on their challenging journey to the summit of Mount Denali as they discuss the impacts they hope to have on their communities.

Starla Simmons, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, will lead the discussion. Professor Simmons’s work is rooted in social justice and racial equity. In addition to her clinical practice and  academic work, she has served as the Austin leader for Outdoor Afro, an organization dedicated to promoting and celebrating Black leadership in nature.

Click here to register and to find more information about the film and how to watch it.

Controversy and Conversation Resources: “The Apple Pushers”

The April 1 meeting of “Controversy and Conversation” discussed issues raised by the film “The Apple Pushers,” a documentary featuring New York City’s Green Carts Program, an initiative intended to bring greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods with little opportunity to purchase fresh produce.

HI’s program coordinator, Dr. Melissa Biggs, a food studies scholar, began the discussion. While the film used the terms “food desert” and “food swamp” to describe the neighborhoods served by the Green Carts, she suggested the concept of “food apartheid.” Introduced by activist Karen Washington, “food apartheid” refers to the systems of economic inequality and racial and environmental injustice that permeate our food system.  Biggs asked participants to consider perspectives critical of the “obesity epidemic” framework. The inequities that create food apartheid  contribute to health problems of many kinds.

The introduction served as a starting point for a conversation that touched on the food ecosystem of Austin, changes in shopping and eating due to the COVID 19 epidemic, and food insecurity in rural areas and on college campuses. Zach Shlachter, one of our Austin Public Library partners, described his work with the Eating Apart Together Initiative, a city-sponsored program that came together during the pandemic to help feed unhoused people.

Lucas Alvarez, also of the APL, compiled a list of resources available through APL for those who would like to explore these topics further: APL Resource List “The Apple Pushers”

Below are other resources mentioned during the discussion

City of Austin Food Resources:

Some Local Food Organizations

Austin-Focused Readings and Resources

UT Campus Resources and Initiatives

Readings on Food Justice and Food Systems