Western students will be able to explore the idea of social justice in environmental issues next year with a new minor program created by Huxley College of the Environment.
The new environmental justice minor is slated to be offered starting winter quarter 2016, and will attempt to enlighten students as to how different social groups are affected by any environmental problem, said Tim O’Melia, a junior at Western.
“You wouldn’t necessarily think studying things like the environment is directly linked to social justice, when in actuality it inherently is,” O’Melia said.
Professors and departments have to be contacted in regards to their interest in being included in the minor, and amendments suggested to their course material if needed, O’Melia said.
“A lot of the classes that we want to have taught, even though they have the core material, they kind of lack that last social justice twist at the end,” O’Melia said.
As an environmental policy major, O’Melia said that applying the concepts of social justice toward the study of the environment makes sense when you understand how central the environment is to government, business and interactions.
“Looking at the larger issues, the water crisis, CO2 levels, how does that affect different people different ways?” O’Melia said. “How do we ensure that there is some level of social justice?”
Willa Cooksey, a junior at Western and an environmental policy major, has also been working toward bringing this minor to life. Cooksey said that she’s noticed the disparity that can exist among different groups of people when it comes to environmental decisions.
“We’re trying to shine a light on the imbalance when it comes to trying to treat the environment,” Cooksey said.
The current student team is comprised of O’Melia, Cooksey , Claire Manning and Jenny MacDonald, who all took up the reins of the project when the previous student team all graduated from Western, Cooksey said.
Michelle Dannehy is one of three Western graduates who originated the idea of the environmental justice minor in spring of 2014, and is still working on the plan regardless of having graduated this past spring, she said.
Along with classmates David Krzesni and Brianne Hoppe, Dannehy began to think about how Western supports diversity issues after the presence of a white supremacy group on campus last year, and how Huxley could extend that support into their curriculum, Dannehy said.
“For a long time, and before I’ve ever been on this campus even, there’s been a lot of talk in Huxley about the separation of social issues versus environmental issues,” Dannehy said.
Through a series of meetings, petitions and surveys, the three-person team garnered interest in creating an environmental justice minor, and it was formed. Since last spring, a lot of work has been done to bring the minor closer to reality, Dannehy said.
The classes that will be required for the minor are still being hashed out, but many will come from a variety of departments within the university such as American studies, sociology and political science, O’Melia said.
“It’s a really interdisciplinary minor, which we wanted to do so that it can reach more people,” Cooksey said.
The minor was modeled after the current education and social justice minor, and careful study of that program greatly aided the creation of the new minor, Dannehy said.
The group hopes the minor will become something more than just an academic objective, but rather a community of people who are all passionate about social justice in the environmental realm, Dannehy said.
“How do we give people this environmental education, but also give them the ability to think critically about how certain actions in certain areas are affected?” O’Melia said.
Dannehy said that she foresees the minor helping to continue the discussion of justice issues on campus, and is proud to have started something that will be greatly beneficial for Western.
The group expects that come winter of 2016 the minor will be available to the general student body, and anyone interested in learning more will be able to contact the Huxley College to begin their education in environmental justice.