By Andy Mitchell
A workshop centered on what organizers called “arguably the defining issue of our time” — sustainability — met Tuesday in the Sustainability Office’s center in the University Capitol Center.
The meeting was part of the Spring 2018’s Theme Semester based on sustainability. The workshop, led by Associate Professor Rachel Marie-Crane Williams, asked professors a variety of questions, including an exercise in which professors roughly estimated their ideal classes. After the thought exercise, the professors broke into smaller groups to discuss their ideas and relate them to the theme of sustainability.
“What I’m hoping is to crack open a little space to dream about possibilities,” Williams said. “I think those possibilities happen if you give yourself a minute to think about it.”
Co-leading the workshop was David Gould, a member of the Spring 2018 planning committee, who is interested in reimagining higher education. He said that sustainability goes beyond just environmental issues.
“If you think about it, it’s social systems, it’s economics, it’s a collision of all of those,” Gould said. “There is no group of students that we shouldn’t be able to connect with.”
Travis Kraus, the assistant director for the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, spoke about the community involvement and outreach. One of the topics of conversation in his group was discussing the students’ reaction to current events.
“I see that as being a big change from when I was growing up,” Kraus said. “I didn’t internalize these big global things and problems that kids have to now.”
He said the way students engage those problems is a mystery because of all the stress and worry they bear over those issues without a clear idea of what to do.
Williams said she is amazed by the students, particularly in the most recent generation, because of their social awareness. She likes to connect different minds to see what they can come up with, she said. Part of the workshop was her grouping professors together with not necessarily similar areas of study but interests she found compatible.
Gould delivered the last part of the workshop as a further call to action. He quoted the words of Valerie Kaur about the birth of her son in a seemingly ugly world. Gould said he was struck by “what if the darkness of the tomb is actually the darkness of the womb.”
Williams said this line inspired the workshop in a conversation over coffee she had with Gould.
“It seems like a really dismal climate at times, but what if this is an opportunity for rebirth?” Gould asked. “I believe that we have more power than we think we do.”
Gould said there will be a declaration on Jan. 16 between UI President Bruce Harreld and Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton on sustainability.
The professors were handed out a blueprint draft of the sustainability-based activities and showcases and were asked to keep in touch to collaborate on ideas.