Q. How would you describe this course?
A. This course explores how, through media and communication, humans clarify the cultural values that shape our relationship to the natural world, each other, and other species. We also explore how we define environmental problems and inspire the best solutions for working together to improve our relationship with the natural world.
In environmental activism, language is critical.
Q. What makes this course appealing to students?
A. Many students find this subject interesting and applicable to real-world issues. Students get to learn more about what they care about and what they want to get involved in. This course also introduces so many topics and how they’re addressed in environmental activism, from ending plastic pollution to mitigating the climate crisis, ending mass extinction, to supporting sustainable, plant-based food systems. I also try to make this class fun, even though the environmental crisis is a depressing topic.
This course is also based on problem-solving, and in every class, and we start with positive, green-living tips. Environmental justice can be very emotionally upsetting, but this course tries to give students a sense of their role in solving these larger problems. This course also serves as an introduction to the bigger problems to students who are unfamiliar with environmental problems.
Q. Why is this course important?
A. I feel like it's relevant to the world we live in and its most relevant problems. Various issues within the environmental umbrella need to be addressed to help human life and the more-than-human world thrive.
A lot of students don’t learn that much about environmental issues in college. Some students are in the interdisciplinary Environmental Science major, but those students tend to have more of a basis in science than communication. However, most students in the course come from journalism and communication backgrounds. In that case, they may not have had any other class that deals with the environment as a topic, even though it’s one of the biggest issues our society must tackle and make a top priority.
Q. How can students take this course into the workforce?
A. It depends on what their career is going to be. If they’re a journalism major, I’m hoping that they’ll join the Society of Environmental Journalists and be part of an Environmental beat. If they want to go into Public Relations, their experience could help an Environmental Agency or non-governmental organization. If they’re a scientist, this course will help students better convey the urgency of environmental issues. If they’re in politics, hopefully it would help them figure out how to gain the political will to make necessary changes. Regardless of what career students go into, communicating environmental justice and framing problems in general is essential to making changes.
Q. What got you interested in this subject?
A. When I was in college, I joined an environmental action group at the University of Florida and a Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals group. This catapulted my interest in eco and animal rights issues. However, when I first studied communication, there was not really a place for Environmental Communication back then.
Since I’ve gone into academia, I needed a place to situate my research, which is related to animal rights and protection. Above all, I wanted to study the role of communication in creating a more just and sustainable society. Now we have the subdisciplines of “critical animal and media studies” as well as “environmental communication.” I was already going to be researching these issues, which led me to developing this course about 12 years ago.
Q. What is this most interesting or unusual assignment for this course?
A. At the end of the year, students do a moral vision statement. These do not have to be long, maybe a paragraph, but they ask students to imagine what an ideal future looks like. For example, what would the world look like 100 years from now. I ask students this, because if students can’t imagine what a green energy future would be like or have no ideas on to resolve climate issues, there will be no progress.
When students envision that, it makes them hopeful and helps them shape how they discuss ideas in the present. We share these on the last day of class, and it’s always interesting. Nobody has the exact same vision, because every student focuses on different things. It becomes a way of seeing what other students care about, and it’s a fun way to end the semester!
– Interview by Emma Barrett (B.A., English, ’25). Photo by Raven Schley.