A speech bubble featuring images of the sun, a recycle symbol, trees, a dam, and wind turbines. Illustration by Lexie Boren.

Student-led ENVS Conversations Series Makes its Debut

Finding an outlet to expand academic discussion outside of class is a goal of the new ENVS Conversations series. The very first scheduled conversation, entitled “Climate Apocalypse,” took place on Feb. 19 and focused on how climate is portrayed in the media. Chrislyn DeMattos ’19 and Sophie Henry ’20, both majors, have volunteered to coordinate these discussions.

Overall, the event was relatively casual, with both students and professors in attendance. While only ENVS majors attended this first discussion, the conversations are open to any student interested in environmental topics.

During the conversation, attendees brought up a variety of topics they want to explore in future conversations, such as the harsher impacts of climate change on marginalized groups, the uses and abuses of fear-based rhetoric and the question of what the limits are to individual action. Later on, attendees were given articles on climate from a variety of media sources and discussed what they noticed in the rhetoric.

While the discussion was originally themed around the media’s portrayal of climate-related issues, DeMattos and Henry did not come in to the conversation with a strict agenda. Instead, they allowed the conversation to flow naturally.

“We had this whole framework for how we were going to work the discussion, but it ended up flowing really smoothly and people seemed to have a lot to say,” Henry said.

Jim Proctor, the Director of the Environmental Studies Program, spoke about what he hopes will come out of the ENVS Conversation Series.

“My hope is to create a space, a good space, a recurrent space, a stimulating space, a space where people feel like they can connect things from different classes or follow up on something that they worry about or want to learn more about from class,” Proctor said. “When I think of what learning is, I mean it happens between me and students in class. But, think about it, most of our learning happens in a bigger circle than that.”

DeMattos further discussed the goal of these conversations.

“When we have talked in meetings, we want this to be a place that isn’t necessarily accessible during class time, talking about topics that aren’t as feasible to use in that one hour time,” DeMattos said. “And, it’s a little more creative and students have more autonomy over this material.”

Henry commented on the unique opportunities to engage meaningfully in academic discussion in a college, and reflected on how these conversations will contribute.

“While we’re in school we have this really valuable time when we’re exploring all of these different things that are often very difficult,” Henry said. “I think that it can be really valuable to have a space outside of a classroom to sort of decompress and process all of that information.”

First year students looking to major in ENVS are especially encouraged to participate in the conversation series.

Proctor has been helping organize the topic of next week’s conversation: “Facts to Frameworks: How can we make sense of all the climate facts we hear?” This topic has been a part of Proctor’s research in environmental theory. Other upcoming topics of the ENVS Conversations include climate in politics and the “Green New Deal.” The dates for these upcoming ENVS Conversations are Feb. 26, Mar. 5 and April 9.

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