Each year LaGuardia’s Opening Sessions examine a theme through a keynote address and workshops led by faculty and staff. The 2019 theme, “Action = Change: Responding to the Environmental Crisis” also holds relevance for LaGuardia as an institution, with Interim President Arcario and Interim Provost Seals highlighting new initiatives and resources, even in the midst of current budget cuts.
Two related projects were featured: “In My Backyard”, a new project funded by the Rauschenberg Foundation supporting 20 students to become environmental activists, and Shantigar, a retreat center in Massachusetts where about 10 LaGuardia students studying creative fields spent 10 days this summer. The students explored nature, were mentored by professors David Stott and Stefanie Sertich, meditated, and developed their own creative work, including film, photography, painting, and dance, all in a beautiful natural setting. The video they made gives a sense of what the experience meant for this group of students.
Opening Sessions Keynote speaker Ashley Dawson, English faculty at College of Staten Island and the CUNY Graduate Center, began by acknowledging that we were meeting on indigenous Lenape land, then explored the urgency we face worldwide as climate crises like deforestation, driven by profit-making interests, continues. Citing the example of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, Dawson said it is still burning and is now at risk of reaching “die back”, during which it begins releasing significant quantities of detrimental carbon into the atmosphere.
While acknowledging we can become overwhelmed by the enormity of the climate crisis, Dawson strongly advocated for hope and participation, mentioning groups like UPROSE (Brooklyn) and The Point (The Bronx) which connect social and economic justice deeply with environmental issues.
Lauding the NY City Council’s recent passage of the Climate Mobilization Act, also called NYC’s Green New Deal, as a powerful victory, Dawson encouraged us to consider actions such as developing a campaign to ensure that CUNY’s TIAA-Cref retirement funds are not supporting production of fossil fuels.
Dawson also suggested we investigate the percentage of energy that LaGuardia uses from renewable sources, and expanding upon it to generate more renewable energy, not only for the college but potentially for our neighboring communities as well.
During breakout sessions led by our faculty and staff, “environment” was explored through multiple interdisciplinary meanings that reach beyond traditional associations with “global warming”.
In addition to workshops that explored how best to integrate issues of sustainability and climate change into teaching a variety of disciplines, sessions included ”School Climate and Respect” (focused on the “campus climate”), “Making the Case for Voting: Mobilizing LaGuardia Students from FYS [First Year Seminar] to Capstone”, and “Environmental (In)Justice: The Crises Impacting Racially Diverse Students at LAGCC”.
For a description of the workshops, and links to related resources, research, and opportunities for getting involved, visit the 2019 Action=Change Opening Sessions website.