Gender and Service Learning in Environmental Justice

Barbara Whitten, , Colorado College

I am very interested in teaching environmental justice, and work to incorporate it into most of the Environmental and Feminist and Gender Studies classes I teach. I've been less successful at incorporating these ideas into traditional physics classes, with the exception of the thermodynamics class, in which I have successfully used the Energy Audit and Retrofit Project described above.

I think that introducing ideas about environmental justice to our relatively privileged, largely white students broadens their ideas about environmental issues. Our students are passionate about the environment, but they tend to be focused on "saving the wilderness"—given our location on the Front Range, many of our students are avid outdoorspeople, and spend their weekends backpacking, skiing, kayaking and such. Environmental justice gives them new ways to think about environmental issues and the relationship between people and their interactions with the natural world.

There are two important things that I would like to learn from this workshop. I am interested in the interaction between gender and environmental issues, and would like to find ways to incorporate this important social variable into our discussions about environmental issues. There are many ways to approach this issue: Would science be different if the scientific community weren't so white and male? Would policy be different if a broader range of people were involved in the decision-making process? Are there differences in the way women and men experience environmental problems? Are there differences in the way women and men contribute to environmental problems? All these aspects are important pieces of the interaction between environmental justice and gender.

Second, I am interested in finding ways to incorporate these ideas into traditional physics classes. Physics departments often have "environmental physics" classes, but they are usually general education classes, not part of the major sequence. I believe that incorporating contemporary environmental ideas into physics classes would be interesting to majors, and would help them find ways to use their analytical skills in helping solve environmental projects.

I am particularly interested in using service learning as a device to help science students learn about and apply their skills to environmental justice issues. I would like to hear more about what kinds of projects others have tried, and how well they work.

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Gender and Service Learning in Environmental Justice (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 146kB Mar20 13)