President’s Sustainability Research Fellows Tackle Campus Climate Engagement

For nearly nineteen weeks now, Atticus Maloney ’22 and Declan Murphy ’21 have dwelled on the dilemma of connecting students and faculty to the ongoing climate crisis. Their solution: devise a course. 

Maloney and Murphy are two of twelve President’s Sustainability Research Fellows, a group of motivated students who grapple both theoretically and practically with environmental issues. Although not all fellows pursue majors in environmental science, they are required to enroll in a yearlong course in the environmental studies department (either ENVS 089 or а directed reading) and to devote six to ten hours a week working on a project regarding sustainability on campus. PSRF projects culminate in an end-of-year meeting, in which fellows present their projects to the president, senior staff, and other members of the Swarthmore community. 

Since PSRF initiatives are rarely completed within one academic year, many incoming fellows pick up projects from previous generations. Maloney and Murphy, however, are pioneering a novel initiative aimed at directly engaging the Swarthmore College community. The duo’s efforts to launch the Climate Essentials course was in part motivated by their conversations with students during the Fall semester. 

Maloney remarked on the peripheral nature of climate change when compared to students’ individual aspirations.

“We organized a number of different events that were meant to get people to speak their minds. We asked people what they thought the next 50 years held to just see if climate would come into the conversation or not … it was interesting what was said, and it was more interesting what was not said,” Maloney stated. 

In addition to surveying students and planning their course, Maloney and Murphy also founded the Council on the Uncertain Human Future, which consists of students, faculty, staff, community members and two climate science professors from Clark University. The council has met twice since its creation in November and focuses on exposing both the macroscopic and personal effects of climate change.

Murphy spoke about the ways in which he and Maloney have gained from their project.

“From participating and helping host those events, we gained some insights both about how people think about the climate crisis affecting their lives and how to facilitate this kind of discussion,” said Murphy. 

Having spent a semester gauging campus sentiment and learning the nuances of environmental education, the duo has entered into the final phase of their project: piloting the zero-credit Climate Essentials course. Over the course of the next two months, students and faculty members will meet four times to learn from guest lecturers and discuss relevant topics.  

The first lecture, led by Sustainability Program Manager Melissa Tier ‘14, will cover the basics of climate science in order to reach a factual consensus. During the second week, students will explore the psychological aspect of climate change, including the denial and hopelessness elicited by overwhelming adversity. The third session, led by a student panel, is dedicated to climate justice and equity; and the fourth will center around options for action and activism.

Maloney spoke of his optimism for the Climate Essentials course and its objectives.

 “Our long-term goal is to give people a sense of purpose when it comes to the climate crisis. We want people to come through this course and have a community that will support this sense of purpose. That’s why it’s so important to have students and staff in this group, because we don’t want it to feel like it’s students who are running up against this wall of administration who are uncooperative and don’t want the same things. We want this to be a space of conversation where we can build together,” he said.

There is currently only one faculty member (out of the 50 participants total) enrolled in the course. Nonetheless, the turnout has exceeded Maloney and Murphy’s initial expectations. The two hope to make the Climate Essentials course a lasting institution at Swarthmore College;  a future PSRF has already agreed to be their torchbearer. The first meeting occurred on February 18th.

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