CSUN College of Humanities Newsletter
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The environmental movement and Chicanas/os intersect

The latest 2010 census numbers show that 37% of Californians are Latinas/os and that the majority of children in California households are Latinas/os. Changing demographics in Southern California is just one of the reasons why Chicanas/os should start playing a more active role in environmental movements. A November 2010 Los Angeles Times article by Louis Sahagun notes that leading national environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the Wilderness Society, and the California League of Conservation Voters—groups that have traditionally been supported largely by white members—have been actively seeking to engage Latinas/os.

On March 24, 2011, the Chicana/o Studies Department hosted “Latinas/os and the Environment,” an event that brought representatives from some of Southern California’s leading environmental organizations to campus to encourage a dialogue among the academic community on the intersection of the environmental movement and Chicana/o Studies. Moreover, the event helped to introduce Chicana/o Studies majors to environmental organizing as a possible career path.

The panel included presentations from Byron Ramos-Gudiel, a CSUN alumnus and Sierra Club Senior Field Organizing Manager; Salvador Ramirez, Director of the National Hispanic Environmental Council of Southern California; Juana Torres, Sierra Club Associate Regional Representative for Los Angeles; and Daniel Rossman, Los Angeles–based Regional Associate for the Wilderness Society. The panelists spoke about the challenges of getting Latinas/os involved in environmental movements. Such challenges included institutional barriers by national organizations unaware of how to incorporate diversity into their efforts, the need of national organizations to develop more effective organizing strategies to reach the Latina/o community, and the difficulties of recruiting more Latinas/os into mainstream environmental conservation organizations.

The panel is part of an effort by the Chicana/o Studies Department to reinforce partnerships between CSUN alumni and current Chicana/o Studies students.

— Submitted by Yarma Velázquez Vargas

Humanities’ new Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability

The New York Times reported in an April 2011 article that countries such as Egypt, Algeria, and Bangladesh are facing increased poverty levels—resulting in riots and political unrest in extreme cases—as staple food crops like corn, palm oil, and cassava root are diverted to the United States, China, India, and European nations for their soaring value as biofuel bases. That kind of cause and effect becomes clear in hindsight, but the foresight required to anticipate food shortages in the world’s poorest nations as an unintended result of mandates for cleaner energy solutions requires balanced consideration from multiple perspectives. Olivier Dubois, a bioenergy expert at Rome’s Food and Agriculture Organization, told The Times, “The problem is complex, so it is hard to come up with sweeping statements like biofuels are good or bad.”

Recognizing this enmeshed relationship between local quality of life and global impact, CSUN is more focused than ever on graduating students who will practice and promote sound sustainability principles at personal, business, and governmental levels—wherever their careers may take them. The University ushers in a major new initiative in Fall 2011 with the debut of its academic Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability. Housed in the College of Humanities’ Liberal Studies Program, the new minor features three core courses: Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Sustainability, Best Practices in Sustainability, and Applied Sustainability, the latter of which offers a service-learning component to ground students in real-world evaluation and problem solving. Assistant Professor of Psychology Erica Wholdmann is teaching Best Practices in Sustainability as an experimental course in the semester currently under way.

The Sustainability minor complements an array of academic majors—including business management, education, engineering, environmental studies, geography, political science, recreation and tourism management, resource management, and urban planning— and many applicable courses satisfy requirements or can be taken as electives in other degree programs. The minor “gives CSUN students a chance to pursue their career paths whilst making them cognizant of how their practices—and those of their employer, the government, and everyone around them—are important to the long-term wellbeing of the planet,” says Dr. Helen Cox, Director of CSUN’s Institute for Sustainability, a project developed by the Provost’s Office dedicated to environmental research, education, and programs to benefit the University and community. Cox, who’s also a professor in CSUN’s Geography Department, adds, “The minor is not intended to train someone for a career in sustainability, but rather to supplement their knowledge in other fields and raise their awareness of the importance of this issue in all aspects of their life and work.”

Core Sustainability courses are designed to ground students in the concepts and best practices of sustainability, with an emphasis on environmental, economic, and social justice factors in both short- and long-term planning. Rounding out the minor, applicable electives are available from 15 departments. “Students will be prepared for a career in a changing world, where business decisions are based not only on economic factors but increasingly on externalities such as costs to the environment,” says Dr. Elizabeth Say, Dean of the College of Humanities. “They will be versed in new and emerging technologies and ready to serve in a world of diminishing resources.”

CSUN’s commitment to environmentally sound principles isn’t simply theoretical. Over a 20-year partnership between the College of Engineering and Physical Plant Management, engineering students have gained valuable real-world experience installing six 30-kilowatt microturbines, employing jet engine technology to deliver consistent, clean, efficient energy without the need to power up or down; three large solar parking lot structures that shade cars as they produce base energy; and a grid-connected megawatt fuel cell plant that generates electricity and heats water campus-wide, operating at twice the efficiency of utility companies. The University has further taken care to preserve its five-acre heritage orange grove and establish a native botanic garden, both of which benefit from an Ethernet-linked weather-sensitive irrigation system that determines water needs based on rain, temperature, and humidity levels.

Addressing the environmental issues that shape our planet demands mindful action on many fronts. Through the new Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability, CSUN furthers its longstanding mission to develop, facilitate, and promote principles of effective environmental stewardship in campus-wide operations, research, and curriculum.

— Submitted by Teresa K. Morrison

"Recognizing this enmeshed relationship between local quality of life and global impact, CSUN is more focused than ever on graduating students who will practice and promote sound sustainability principles at personal, business, and governmental levels—wherever their careers may take them."