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FYE Tackles the Interconnectedness of Climate Change

By Laurie Laker ’12, photos by Jennifer Coombes

Sustainability in the Anthropocene, a class team-taught by anthropology professors Sarah Hautzinger and Scott Ingram, with visiting instructor Myra Jackson, brings the best practices of the First-Year Experience program to the fore for first-year CC students. Engaging in active and environmental learning, the students are fully immersed in questions of human-caused climate change across communities both local and global, seeking ways forward that are grounded in both creativity and community-driven solutions.

“I’m in really new territory with this FYE. I’m not a North Americanist nor an environmental anthropologist; I came here as a political and feminist anthropologist,” says Professor Sarah Hautzinger.

“What the FYE allowed Scott and myself to do was to dig into our blocks separately but using the Baca Campus and San Luis Valley as a focal point across the two blocks. Myra Jackson, visiting instructor for my block, was brought in as a community partner with her background at the United Nations and huge variety of local community work, including in Crestone, Colorado.”

The FYE class used two lenses of inquiry to examine climate change — archeology and cultural anthropology — with each block bringing a different focal viewpoint to the issue of human-caused climate change, ecosystem impact, and global sustainability efforts. Block 1, taught by Ingram, addressed the archeology of sustainability, engaging with a long-term perspective of human habitation in the San Luis Valley.

“One needs a long-term view to think about these issues like sustainability and habitation,” explains Ingram, assistant professor of anthropology. “It’s not about identifying lessons and not repeating mistakes as much as it is taking the viewpoint that things are not meant to last forever. It’s about how we work out that ending in a way that creates positive impact, recognizing the human potential to change direction.”

Shifting to a social-cultural lens in the second half of the FYE, students focused on the lived experience of the present impact of climate change and sustainability efforts on a local and global scale. They looked at the spiritual groups of Crestone focusing on interconnectedness as well as the United Nations and the state and non-state actors involved in sustainability solutions.

“What we found was that our immersion in Crestone, with the focus on spirituality and ritual teaching for community healing, we were able to respond very emotionally to a very human-centered problem with far-reaching threads of connectivity,” says Hautzinger.

“The contrast between emotion and action is a powerful one,” adds Jackson, whose career has included serving as United Nations permanent representative, as a focal point on climate change for the Commons Cluster NGOs (the UN model which focuses on advocating and providing services to communities that organize to work internally and externally to address problems.)

“We’re talking about sustainability in theoretical terms and then seeing it as a lived experience in Crestone. Students get to see the whole system with this class, the science-derived and applied to the human side, the social and cultural side of sustainability,” she says.

Each block featured a week-long stay at CC’s Baca Campus in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, using the local community as a basis for case studies across the FYE. Students created ethnographic and data-driven archives of material, reflecting the ongoing sustainability efforts of over 20 groups and organizations in the area, forming a compendium of sustainability.

Those archives and observations from this FYE class will be part of a report that will be read at a future UN meeting on climate change, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“The UN is changing its approach to climate change dramatically,” explains Jackson. “Nonstate and government systems are changing, and it brings local voices to the international level. Other voices, non-traditional ones, are being brought to the table, particularly in light of the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, and it’s widening the way we deal with a truly global issue.”