Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 3

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Faculty Involvement
Science, Diversity, and Global Learning: Untangling Complex Problems
Breaking the Pyramid: Putting Science in the Core
Geologic Science for Global Citizenship: Under the Radar, but on the Web
Science and Global Learning at Carnegie Mellon University
Campus-Community Connections
Science and Citizenship: Habits of Mind for Global Understanding
Curricular Transformation
Connecting Global Learning and Science Education in the General Education Curriculum
Science, Gender, and the Environment
Student Experience
Seeing the World Around You
Institutional Leadership
Developing a Scalable, Sustainable Campus Diversity Initiative
Resources for Science, Diversity, and Global Learning

Science, Gender, and the Environment

By Lori Bettison-Varga, associate professor of geology, and Charles Kammer, professor of religious studies, the College of Wooster

College of Wooster

College of Wooster

In 2003, we developed a course called Science, Gender, and the Environment for the College of Wooster’s Program in Interdisciplinary Studies. Our primary goal in teaching the course is to increase students’ environmental and gender awareness. By examining progressive movements, we hope to generate an appreciation for models and programs that are being used to effectively promote environmental sustainability and gender justice as well as to highlight the importance of scientific literacy to active citizenship. Another significant goal of the course is to challenge two assumptions held by many of our students: that science is a domain somehow set apart from other human intellectual enterprises and that only trained scientists can pose appropriate questions about or find solutions to environmental problems. Consequently, we emphasize the need for scientists to work with historians, sociologists, theologians, economists, artists, and others in the search for creative and just solutions to environmental problems.

The syllabus was designed to address several key questions: What is science and how is the scientific process “gendered”? Is there an inherent link between women’s sensibilities and the environment? How might scientific discourse be in tension with a feminist perspective? How does scientific “progress” sometimes adversely affect both women and the environment?

Students explore the complex relationship between gender, the environment, and science through several key texts. Refuge, a book by Terry Tempest Williams, is a very useful vehicle for stimulating discussions about our sense of place and the relationship between the natural world and gender. Works by Carolyn Merchant, such as Radical Ecology: The Search For a Livable World and Earthcare: Women and the Environment, also provide a variety of feminist perspectives. The paradigm that Merchant articulates helps students understand how the subordination of women is inextricably tied to the realities of class, race, and environmental degradation. This became evident in our studies of toxic contamination at Love Canal and in Woburn, Massachusetts (the subject of the book and film A Civil Action), of the flower industry’s exploitation of third-world women, and of Nobel Peace Prize–winner Wangri Maathai’s Greenbelt Movement. In all these cases, grassroots movements begun by women responding to the immediate realities of human and environmental catastrophes were opposed by male political and scientific bureaucracies that accused those advocating for change of relying on insufficient empirical evidence or faulty scientific method.

By focusing on a few specific issues, we are able to investigate topics in some detail and look at problems that extend from the local to the global environment. We require students to produce an environmental assessment of the local community and then move to additional readings and projects that focus on issues in Latin America and Africa as well as other localities in the United States. Students analyze problems, present solutions, and suggest programs for implementing the solutions. Topics include local water pollution, agricultural issues, and recent work in genetic engineering to develop pest- and disease-resistant crops. Students consequently wrestle with the multiple motivations of scientific work—for example, the desire to feed the hungry as well as the desire for corporate profits. Similarly, attention to the context of science allows students to recognize the impact of mono-cropping and of large industrial farms on sustainable communities or women in developing countries.

In class discussions, we approach science as a social construct. As a result, we present a balanced view of science, acknowledging its benefits to society as well as its tendency to serve the dominant powers and reflect dominant social and cultural paradigms. Investigating science from an ecofeminist perspective allows students to see that science, if not critically and reflectively applied, can have negative consequences. For this very reason, it is important that citizens be scientifically literate and that scientists work collaboratively with colleagues in the humanities and social sciences to develop successful solutions to environmental problems. This, ultimately, requires that the scientific community take seriously gender, justice, and sustainability concerns.

To view the course syllabus, visit www.wooster.edu/geology/ PIDS20006.html.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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