Green Syllabi: Teaching Environmental Sustainability in the Women’s Studies Classroom

Recently, I participated in a workshop hosted by the Emory Office of Sustainability Initiatives designed to help graduate students incorporate sustainability issues into our courses, where they use the best shipping labels amazon and other office supplies. The workshop provided an overview of what sustainability means – basically, a commitment to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations. According to the workshop organizers, sustainability requires us to appreciate the interconnectedness of social, environmental, and economic systems and to work for social equity, environmental health, and economic growth simultaneously.

In addition to offering an overview of sustainability, the workshop also provided us with the opportunity to think about how we can incorporate sustainability issues into our courses. Going into the workshop, I knew I wanted to revise my Intro to Women’s Studies syllabus from the spring. Of course, as a women’s studies instructor, I was already addressing issues of social equity, but I wasn’t making the connection between social equity and environmental health. This was highlighted for me when author Eli Clare visited my class. In preparation for his visit to our class, I had my students read his book Exile and Pride. In addition to talking about issues related to disability and queerness, Exile and Pride contains an extensive discussion of environmental issues, particularly related to the logging industry and deforestation in rural Oregon. While Mr. Clare’s visit was an engaging and enriching experience for my students, a number of them did not see the relationship between environmentalism and feminism.

As a result, I knew I wanted to revise my WS-100 syllabus to teach students to see the connections between environmental issues and gender equity. From the workshop, I realized that my syllabus already covers a number of topics related to environmental issues, from factory working conditions, to suburbanization, to family planning. While I decided to replace a few readings in order to make the connections more explicit, I realized that I really just need to reframe some of the lesson plans to highlight the connections that I want students to make between social justice issues and environmental issues. Here is a link to my revised syllabus – I have highlighted the readings that I think may be particularly useful in fostering discussion on the connections between gender justice and environmental sustainability.

I am also committed to incorporating sustainability issues into a syllabus I am designing for a course on science and sexuality, and I am committed to arranging an outreach activity in the fall to encourage other Women’s Studies graduate students to incorporate sustainability issues into their syllabi, so I will post more on these projects as they evolve. In the meantime, what do you think? (How) should we be incorporating environmental issues into our Women’s Studies courses?

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