When I reflected at the start of spring semester on what environmental engagement means, I looked at the etymology of engagement to suggest three key features:
Here is one rather simplistic but easy to remember summary of what engagement has meant over time. It involves three words: connection/commitment/communication. Connection seems key to engagement, as one always engages with someone or something else. Commitment seems key to many historical uses of engagement (including but not limited to marital engagement), and may be especially important in the times of conflict we face today. In this sense, engagement is never a one-off connection; it is always an enduring process of attachment. Finally, communication, in the broadest sense, seems to capture the give-and-take in these committed connections, such that engagement means to listen as well as to speak.
Our first cohort of ENVS 295 students produced three projects that illustrate the potential breadth of environmental engagement. Here are quick links to their project landing pages, with sample text summarizing the intent of these three intriguing endeavors:
- Activism in Dialogue: “We use [the LC fossil fuel divestment] movement as a case study, to distill our understanding of how activism and scholarship interconnect on our campus.”
- Oh Rats!: “By reflecting and sharing our experiences and knowledge we are able to trace the cultural, societal, biological, historical, political, institutional, and accidental actors that influence the perceptions and positionalities of rats.”
- Your Place or Mine?: “This project endeavors to make key topics in environmental scholarship accessible — including concepts of place theory, wicked problems, dialogic communication and actor-network theory — in the form of a narrative story map.” Georgia’s project is summarized in more detail here.
We look forward to continued conversation and exploration with our students on environmental engagement in future, as ENVS 295 will be offered every semester (it’s a required course for majors), and next fall’s ENVS Symposium will focus on the theme Environmental Engagement in Tough Times—more on Symposium soon!