Examining Issues of Social and Environmental Justice
By Mark Davies, Ph.D.
Professor of Education
Over the 14 years I have been at Hartwick, my once separate and unlinked personal experiences, community activism, and research interests have merged into a perfect confluence of diverse ideas that inform my research, aid my teaching, and ultimately benefit my students.
As a result of my experiences growing up in a bi-racial family, racial and class injustices were central to my first career as a high school teacher and became the foundation for my graduate research. When I arrived at Hartwick, my teaching and research were dedicated to issues of social justice. While I always enjoyed hiking and camping and was aware of the environmental issues facing our world, I did not recognize the connections between social injustices and environmental injustices. Today I recognize that if we are to live well on this earth we need to simultaneously address the root causes of these issues and create sustainable practices, habits, and policies. Everything I do — my personal interests, community involvement, teaching, and research — has been dedicated to this pursuit. My sincere belief in the possibility of positive change fuels my passion for serving the community and working with students to study issues and create positive change.
Merging theory and practice, teaching and learning, and compassion and activism buoys my hope for the future and drives my excitement for teaching.
In my Educational Foundations courses, I have integrated the examination of issues of social and environmental justice so that students become familiar with these issues and actively explore solutions. To highlight injustices and provide narrative context to many of the issues we discuss, I use personal stories such as those from my formative years when I watched the crushing impact of racism on my family and felt the pain and guilt of being powerless to stop it. I share with students here my experiences teaching in a racially and economically diverse high school in New Jersey, where every day I confronted the real social class barriers that engulfed my students there. I use stories of experiences in Venezuela, where I witnessed the destructive impact of corporate practices on local environments and people, to illustrate systemic flaws; and I share my experiences exploring the mountains and valleys of this region and interacting with local farmers and activists to highlight local environmental issues. I introduce these stories so that students can learn from them and develop compassion and concern for people and places, but I also want them to see my vulnerability and fallibility as I work to critically examine my own experiences and improve my actions in this world.
A few years ago my interests in social and environmental issues were swept in another direction when Professor Carli Ficano and I were included in initial conversations exploring the development of a local food hub. I was involved in the project because of my work within the City of Oneonta as chair of the Environmental Board and the Sustainability Task Force. These conversations led to my understanding that food issues, such as food insecurity, food deserts, and ecological damage from industrialized farming practices, were present within our local foodshed and starkly represented the intersection of social and environmental justice.
I was inspired by this realization and poured my passion and sincere interest in addressing these issues into the development of linked First Year Seminar courses with Carli. Our courses culminated in a joint project where students worked to find solutions to the challenges facing our foodshed. As a result of this project, several students developed an interest in addressing local issues and the following semester adopted other projects addressing social and ecological issues within the community that included: composting analysis and composter development, identifying gaps and overlap within local service agencies, and a comprehensive CO2 audit for the City of Oneonta.
When teaching, I bring a relentless desire and passion to make positive change, whether it is in schools or the local foodshed, and I hope to inspire students to develop their own passion to bring about change and the desire to implement projects which have real value for schools, the communities, or the College. I have found students’ willingness and eagerness to invest in exploring issues and creating positive change to be equally inspiring and humbling. While students utilize their knowledge and creativity to advance solutions and solve problems, I learn so much from them. As students address social and environmental issues within the community, they are learning the value of living well in their place. When this occurs, the perfect confluence merging theory and practice, teaching and learning, and compassion and activism buoys my hope for the future and drives my excitement for teaching.
Appeard in the Summer 2016 issue of The Wick