New sustainable justice minor cuts across disciplines and careers

Posted September 18, 2017

Psychology, computer science and accounting students might not have a lot in common, but starting this semester at UW-River Falls, some of them are sharing the same new minor – sustainable justice.

“We live on a finite planet,” said Jill Coleman Wasik, an assistant professor of environmental science, so students need to have a broad understanding of sustainability. But the sustainable justice minor is not just theoretical, she said; it’s a career program, too.

“It’s important for us to stay involved and promote sustainability in our curriculum,” she said, “so that our students have the ability to get into jobs and really engage in challenges that they might encounter in those jobs.”

The sustainable justice minor will show the importance of sustainability through humanity, environmental and economic approaches. The minor is trans-disciplinary, drawing from electives in communication studies, psychology, computer science and accounting, among others.

A course in organizational communication emphasizes that corporate social responsibility policies have a big effect on the workplace and on consumers through their sustainable practices, according to its instructor, Grace Coggio, an associate professor of communication studies. We want “our students to recognize that it is not just an environmental thing,” she said. “This idea of sustainability crosses all sectors of education.”

English Professor Greta Gaard, a longtime environmentalist and a UWRF Sustainability Faculty Fellow, is the coordinator, adviser and passionate champion of the new sustainable justice minor. Gaard said this new program will bring together sustainability insights from an environmental justice standpoint and from a social justice perspective.

Gaard and Wasik agree this is only the beginning for the sustainable justice minor at UW-River Falls. Due to the changing nature of science in general and the extreme need for an increased awareness of sustainability practices in regards to climate change and social responsibility, they said, this minor program will evolve with time and need.

Gaard worries that a growing movement of climate change deniers, particularly deniers involved in politics and government in Wisconsin and at the federal level, will impede sustainability practices and courses, she said. “Political winds will have a major impact on the program … and sustainability in the next 10 years.”