Stewards of Creation on Campus: Catholic Colleges Address Climate Change

In the year since Pope Francis released his encyclical on care for the environment, Laudato Si’, many Catholics have taken seriously the message to be better stewards of the earth.  Pope Francis encourages a connection between environmental concerns and issues of justice, noting that the issue of climate change involves hearing “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Laudato Si’, no. 49). Catholic colleges are addressing this dual call in many ways, incorporating the theme of environmental justice into classes, study abroad opportunities, and campus events.

Earlier this year, the University of St. Thomas (UST), began a three-part program incorporating environmental justice into a freshman symposium class, local service-learning efforts, and study abroad program in Costa Rica.  The projects were funded by the Global Solidarity Grant program, a collaboration between Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and Catholic Relief Services, which awards grants to colleges and universities as a way of increasing awareness of global injustice and expanding student involvement in a faith that does justice. In the UST freshman symposium, Sister Damien Marie Savino, chair of the Environmental Studies program at UST, recently gave a guest lecture and led a discussion on Catholic Social Teaching, climate change, and sustainability efforts on campus and in the local community.

In addition to classroom learning and discussion, students served at Plant-It-Forward, a local community farm-share that partners with refugees to provide fresh local produce to the Houston area. Additionally, the UST sustainability committee hosted a sustainability dinner for the students in the seminar with a farm-to-table meal, along with a discussion on how to improve sustainability efforts on campus.

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UST students in Costa Rica

The final part of the expansive program was a service trip to Costa Rica where students worked with a small coffee-producing community. While serving in Costa Rica, students connected their knowledge of climate change from the seminar and experience in the local community to a global perspective. The students were moved by the relationships built across cultures that helped them shape their understanding of care for creation. They also reported that their lives were changed by meeting the people in Costa Rica and experiencing a culture that is so intertwined with the environment. One first-year student, Elena Dang, said she learned that “a huge difference in lifestyles between the USA and Costa Rica is the respect for Mother Nature. Children walk the streets, people sit outside, many restaurants have outside seating. There’s a sense of respect and veneration for nature because of how it provides so much for everyone.”

UST plans to continue this program so that service learning will flourish as a foundation of a UST education.

In another project funded by the Global Solidarity Grant program, students at Cabrini University organized a climate change simulation that focused on the effects of climate change on the poor and vulnerable, called “Tame the Change.” The simulation was led by students in a class called “Our Interdependent World,” a part of the Engagements with the Common Good core curriculum and taught by Jerome Zurek, in collaboration with the Wolfington Center, the center for community engagement and research at Cabrini, Catholic Relief Services ambassadors, the university communications department, and Cabrini Mission Corps. “Tame the Change” started as a topic study on how climate change is not only affecting the environment but also harming vulnerable people who lack the resources to safeguard themselves against the negative outcomes of environmental changes. The simulation modeled how climate change has a greater effect on the poor who rely on the land for their livelihood. In the simulation, students were put into pairs, where one was assigned to a developed country and one to a developing country, to represent the effect of daily decisions of those in developed countries on those living in developing countries.  At various stations, participants were presented with everyday choices they typically face on campus, involving food waste, plastic water bottle use, and energy use by electronics. Every choice that the person in the developed country made affected the other to indicate the interconnectedness of people across the globe. At the conclusion of the event, each of the over 200 participants were given reflection booklets based on passages from Laudato Si’ to help them reflect upon what they had learned during the event.

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Students at Cabrini University participate in “Tame the Change”

“Tame the Change” promoted solidarity with those who are strongly affected by climate change. As the class ended, students expanded the project to share it with more of the campus. To conclude the project, students built a website that enables other student groups to facilitate events similar to “Tame the Change.”

Tom Southard, the director of the Wolfington Center, noted that the event has resulted in a renewed commitment among Cabrini students and faculty members to combat climate change. Student groups are looking to facilitate more programs with an environmental focus and faculty members are shifting their research to include the sociology and science behind climate change.

Another example of encouraging students to thinking critically about care for the environment is Loyola University of Chicago’s third annual Climate Change Conference. The conference, hosted by the Institute of Environmental Sustainability, was titled “Global Climate Change: Challenges and Economic Solutions,” and focused on the effects of climate change on the global economy. During the conference, students in the Dance Theatre and University Chorale performed Earth Song, a song composed by Frank Ticheli, to highlight the connection between human actions and the environment. The performance reflected on and celebrated climate change initiatives, bringing the conversation into the realm of the arts. The students aimed to convey meaning through art, as a language that can be understood on multiple levels. Emily Miller, a first-year student in the University Chorale, commented that she hoped the performance would “appeal to the emotions of those who attend” the conference. A video of the performance is available on the conference website. This interdisciplinary approach to the issue of climate change enables Loyola University to engage students, faculty, and staff in a dialogue to effect change.

Through the classroom, student programs, and university events, Catholic universities are addressing the environmental crisis in a variety of creative projects. These colleges and universities embody Pope Francis’s call to care for our common home as stewards of creation, hearing both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Camilla MacKenzie is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Patents on Life: Through the Lenses of Law, Religious Faith, and Social Justice

In Fall 2015, the interdisciplinary conference, Patents on Life, will be held at Cambridge University in England. Sponsored by the Von Hügel Institute at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge University, and the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy at the University of St. Thomas, this two-day international conference will examine the ethics of patent ownership of living matter, the effects of private ownership and restriction of access of genetic knowledge, and the intrinsic morality of various forms of research proposed as subject matter for patentability.

Starting on Friday, September 4th and lasting until Saturday September 5th, the Patents on Life: Through the Lenses of Law, Religious Faith, and Social Justice conference will bring together leaders from a wide range of disciplinary expertise and perspectives to address the legal, ethical, and political questions surrounding the patenting of life forms and the role that law can play in the construction of just patent laws throughout the world.

Register now for your opportunity to explore the wisdom of patents on living matter! To learn more about registration fees, accommodations, and other information regarding the international Patents on Life conference, click here.

Happening Now: Las Hermanas at University of the Incarnate Word

Las Hermanas: The Struggle is One 

This interdisciplinary symposium on March 19-21 will honor the history, development, and legacy of Las Hermanas, a grassroots Latina movement formed 40 years ago to challenge and change the church and its role in society. The conference, hosted at the University of the Incarnate Word, promises a rich program, including outstanding keynote speakers, academic papers, sharing of stories, celebration in the spirit of Las Hermanas, and an opportunity to visit the new Heritage Center of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Deeply committed to its Catholic mission, the University of the Incarnate Word proudly proclaims the contributions of women religious, Las Hermanas, and Hispanics across the country to the Catholic intellectual tradition and U.S. Catholic history.

Presenters will include:
Lara Medina
, Ph.D., author of Las Hermanas: Chicana/Latina Religious-Political Activism in the U.S. Catholic Church
Timothy Matovina, Ph.D., author of Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church 
Sister Yolanda Tarango, co-author of Hispanic Women: Prophetic Voice in the Church 
Theresa L. Torres, Ph.D., author of The Paradox of Latina Religious Leadership in the Catholic Church

For the complete conference program and more information please visit http://www.uiw.edu/lashermanas/

University of Dayton founds new sustainability institute

The University of Dayton has another exciting announcement following its divestment from fossil fuels. Thanks to the generosity of the George and Amanda Hanley Foundation and other donors, the University of Dayton in Ohio is founding the Hanley Sustainability Institute. It is one of the first sustainability institutes to approach environmental issues in an integrated, holistic manner. Undergraduate and graduate students will learn not only from environmental sciences; they will enjoy a multidisciplinary institutes that focuses on civic leadership, sustainability in the community, and innovation entrepreneurship, among other trajectories. To read the whole story, click here.