Chapter 8 Teaching Sustainability with Care

Ulrich Teucher

People say to me: You must be crazy, how can you sing (dream, love) in times like these?
Don’t you read the news?  Don’t you know the score?
How can you sing (dream, love) when so many people grieve?

Somewhere To Begin (T.R. Ritchie / Sara Thomsen)

My Why

Life is fragile. Little symbolizes the vulnerability of earthly life more than the iconic image of “earthrise”, taken in 1968 by the astronauts of Apollo 8, of our planet suspended between the desolate surface of the moon and the black immensity of space. At the time, the explorations of the moon buttressed a near universal optimism that human development would continue ‘onwards and upwards’, silencing Charles Keeling’s disturbing Mauna Loa data of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the air (Burch & Harris, 2021), or Rachel Carson’s exposure of the dangers of DDT, in Silent Spring (1962). Today, photographs of the “Blue Marble” would look quite different, with about half of the arctic sea ice having melted, replaced by the dark sea (Orr 2023), and we can no longer ignore the increasing rates of extreme weather events and other changes in our earth system. Not doing anything is not a reasonable option. Naomi Klein noted, already in 2015, that there are ways of preventing a grim future, or at least making it less dire. However, the required actions would change everything: “For us high consumers, it involves changing how we live, how our economies function, even the stories we tell ourselves about our place on earth” (4). Our universities will change, and how we teach and learn will change (Orr 2023). How can we create a supportive atmosphere for our students that does not deny the difficult situation but is not alarmist? The balance of this chapter will address some of these questions.

I have found it very difficult to compose this chapter. The problems of sustainability present a “wicked problem” (Chakrabarty, 2023, p. 105), with now almost daily news reports about some crisis somewhere in our earth system – much predicted already decades ago, for example, by Carl Sagan in his testimony before the US Congress (Sagan, 1985). Is James Hansen (2023) just an alarmist, in light of the “atmospheric rivers” that have recently flooded the state of California? Increasingly, these challenges are no longer isolated but have become all-encompassing. I find that I can no longer look at matters of sustainability from the outside, as one or another problem. Invariably, I find myself on the inside, without the figment of an “objective” distance (an idea of a distance that may well have contributed to the difficulties we now find ourselves in). How, then, can I develop reasonable plans of action and not act uninformed? Can I inspire the students I am teaching to act? Can or should I check my own anxieties at the door? After all, my very life implicates me in the difficulties of discerning possible action.

As our recent summers have been getting hotter, I have been feeling moral guilt when I felt the need to turn on our air conditioning, thereby adding CO2 to our greenhouse gas emissions; this winter, with its warmer temperatures, I allow myself only momentary joy as I suspect human-made climate change to be the reason – to which I contribute my part when I turn our gas furnace on in our poorly insulated old house. I resonate with sociologist Nicolaj Schultz, whose reflexive existentialist style in his book “Land Sickness” has become popular with young people in Europe: “Every day, I realize the problem is me” (2023, p. 7). Other writers acknowledge these moral quanderies, such as Roshi Joan Halifax who, in Rebecca Solnit’s excellent book of hope, “Not too late” (2023), notes that

“it is so important for us to realize that our climate catastrophe is a source of moral anguish for many who are aware that the disastrous shifts in our climate are related to the extractive views and institutions that feed structural and direct violence toward our Earth and toward Earth-cherishing peoples and people of colour” (p. 113).

I appreciate Halifax’ views because they re-orient me towards the broader context of climate change and action instead of despair. Helpfully, science communicator Britt Wray points out that “just one hundred companies are responsible for 71 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, and more than half the global emissions can be traced to just twenty-five fossil-fuel producers” (2022, p. 121). Wray, building on work by Robert Jay Lifton, finds guilt “useless when it causes us to dwell on bad feelings about ourselves, but it can be motivating when we learn to transform it with purpose”. Then again, climate scientist Joelle Gergis points out that medical doctors are praised for good bedside manners when they acknowledge to a patient that their condition may be critical – while climate scientists are dismissed as “alarmist” if they express their deep concern about the state of the world (2023, p.12). Further, Gergis continues, “Is it possible to witness the death of the Great Barrier Reef – the largest living organism on the planet – and not feel wild with desperation at the thought of it all” (2023, p. 12)? I feel that we need to acknowledge the dire state of the world so that we have a real basis on which we can choose to act with purpose.

Aside from guilt, I must also acknowledge my feelings of grief; grief about the increasing loss of wildlife, the deterioration of our soils, and the pollution of our waters and air. According to the “Living Planet Report”, world wildlife populations have decreased by more than two thirds since 1970 (Living Planet Report, 2022). As Halifax notes, grief and fear are human responses to loss, in this case, “the loss of stable ecosystems in which human beings have lived during the nearly 12,000 years of the Holocene” (42022, p. 114). I feel grief, having observed how Indigenous peoples in Malaysia are being removed from their traditional rain forest habitats so that the trees can be logged to satisfy the world’s demand for palm oil. Deforestation has also led to a critical decline of Malaysia’s iconic bird, the hornbill (Birdwatching Asia, 2024).

Another of my reflections involves the use of language when speaking about sustainability. Should I speak about the planet, the globe, the earth, or the world? Again, Chakrabarty has useful things to say. He notes, for example, that the term ‘sustainability’ is a global and humanocentric term that asks if humans could leave the world in a sustainable state for humans who come after them; by contrast, the “planetary” refers to habitability for life, where life does not refer exclusively to life in human form (2023, p. 5). Even the use of personal pronouns when addressing responsibility for climate change may be questionable: Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, in Rehearsals for Living (2022), push back against the use of the universal “we” (p. 19), noting that the climate catastrophe was born not from an inclusive mankind but from the slave plantation, the settler town, the prison, the reservation, following Europe’s Industrial Revolution (p. 24). The late Indigenous writer and activist Lee Maracle squarely placed the responsibility for “annihilating our populations, and much of the animal life on this continent and in the oceans, and […] spoiling the air, the lands, and the waters” at the hands of settlers (2017, p.132). Language may also matter in the ways we refer to the world, revealing differences in our ideas about the possibilities of action. Joanna Macy (2007, pp. 17-29) distinguishes between four metaphors of the world, as ‘battlefield’ (humans who fight existence), as ‘trap’ (those who hope for an afterlife), as ‘lover’ (world as a beloved partner), or as ‘self’ (the world as ourselves).

A more controversial word is the use of “extinction.” Writer Elizabeth Kolbert suggests that our planet is in the process of the sixth extinction (a fair assessment given the decline of wildlife). To be sure, while Kolbert clearly implicates humans in the work of extinction, she does not include humanity itself as endangered by extinction. Others do, believing that humans are ‘living in a time of dying’ and that human extinction has become very likely (Tauck & Horden, 2022; Shaw, 2022). Buddhist spiritual guide Stephen Batchelor suggests a middle ground, reminding us that we are indeed all mortal, and that extinction will certainly happen when the sun will eventually turn into a red giant, and that extinction might also happen much sooner, perhaps in a few generations, even though this would be difficult to predict (Batchelor, 2020). Tyler Austin Harper, in an opinion essay in the New York Times, warns against a “perverse comfort to dystopian thinking” and against the fiction that the future is foretold, although we should take the existential risks of life on earth seriously (Harper, 2024). Britt Wray took away from teaching her first courses that we should not leave our students with an “Armageddon-like kind of feeling” (2022, p. 192). Environmentalist LaUra Schmidt presents a more meditative approach towards action, asking us to apply ten steps, including living in uncertainty, facing our mortality, practicing gratitude, and reinvesting in meaningful efforts (2023). On the most positive end of the spectrum, global developmentalist Hannah Ritchie systematically distills the good news from between all the bad news, weaving a story of hope and “ecopragmatism” from all that humans have already been able to achieve (2024).

I base my own approach towards life and the world and teaching in my foundational beliefs that life is mystery; that my life was given to me without my doing; and that I want to show my gratitude by taking responsibility every day anew. Still, I am also informed by the five Buddhist remembrances (I consider myself a “rogue” Buddhist), namely that I am aging, have illness, will die, that everything changes in and around me, and that I show my responsibility in my actions. This is congruent with my appreciation of philosophies that remind me of my mortality (e.g., Heidegger, 1993), and of the brevity of life (e.g., Marquard, 2003), since these thoughts help to sharpen acuity for the transiency of life. I find these remembrances of mortality to be complementary to my appreciation for philosopher Hannah Arendt’s emphasis on natality, on birth, on new beginnings, and that every new birth shows that existence has not given up on us. Arendt originally developed her concept of natality from her readings of St. Augustine, in her doctoral dissertation (Arendt, 1996). While it may be debatable if Augustine was able to remember his “beginning” or origin, as Arendt claims (1996, p. 55; Ch. 1 in the Confessions tells a different story), her later publications (e.g., Human Condition, 1998) address natality independently of Augustine, usually in the context of relationship (being helpless, depending on a mother), and reminding us not that we must die but that we have been born, in the ongoing process of new beginnings. This realization can invest humans with freedom: we may realize that we who have inherited the Industrial Revolution and Western civilization and have run the planet into the ground, but can act and reverse what has been done until now, can newly imagine the world that we want to live in, can start anew, not alone but in community with others, in the plurality that is the condition of all political life (Arendt, 1998, p, 7). This insistence on new beginnings means that life is not determined, but inspiring me to start over again, assuming responsibility anew, and hold a class.

And there is one more ingredient in my approach towards life and the world and teaching sustainability in sustainable ways that I owe to Robin Wall Kimmerer and the chapter “Epiphany in the Beans” in her book Braiding Sweetgrass (2020). In this chapter, Kimmerer imagines a dialogue between herself as scientist and as a mother, about the relationship between the plants that we grow in our gardens, and ourselves.  Biologist Kimmerer might think of growing plants in a garden as, for example, “manipulating environmental conditions through input of labor and materials to enhance yield” (119). However, mother Kimmerer might perceive the relationship, the care that she gives to her plants, and that the plants return in the form of delicious fruits and food, as similar to mother Kimmerer’s care for her children and that her children return – as love. Why then would we not think of our relationship with plants as bidirectional, that we love our plants – and that our plants love us back? (120). I have now grown for two years in our garden the three sisters (corns, beans, squash), doing my rounds in the morning and the evening, appreciating, supporting, and cheering on the seeds when they first break the earth, when they climb, when they reach out to each other, and when they grow fruit. I speak to them (and don’t expect them to speak back; I don’t mean to anthropomorphise them); I am touched that they grow, that they make use of the plant bed and the watering, and that the beans start reaching out to the corns; and then delicious fruits start showing. It has become a relationship, where I miss if I have not done my rounds at least twice a day and talked to the plants. A relationship has developed, of appreciation, of love for these plants; they seemed to be doing well, why would love not be reciprocated (even if that word makes psychologists cringe – at least those who have not read psychologist Robert Sternberg)? We imagine reciprocal love with our partners, with our children, with friends, with pets – why not with other living beings? Perhaps the lack is ours who cannot communicate other than in human language? But this is how I approach matters of sustainability, human or more-than-human.’ Is this love ‘real’? Who knows. But it can foster care, broadening a sense of care from our relationships with humans and our pets to all of life.

Despite disagreeing on how we should respond to climate change and the crisis of sustainability, most agree that there is a serious crisis, and that this crisis is affecting our sense of mental health and wellness, especially among young people – the ones we may have in our classrooms. Recent surveys of young people have shown a decline in their mental health. A now often-cited Lancet study on climate anxiety, by Caroline Hickman et al. (2021), undertaken with 10,000 children and young people in ten different countries around the world, showed that 59% of the respondents were very or extremely worried, and 84% were at least moderately worried. More than 50% reported emotions such as sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, helplessness, and guilt. 75% thought of the future as frightening and 83% believe that people have failed to take care of the planet. Britt Wray, in her book Generation Dread (2022) addresses the theme of ecological grief that is much harder to externalize for young people than for adults: “if they are kids, the adults at school and at home generally aren’t bringing it up” (p. 69). Wray makes several further points: young people’s feelings are often met with invalidating responses like, “Don’t be so dire, you’re fine”; they may be up against intergenerational communication barriers within their own families, especially when their guardians practice climate change disavowal or denial (p. 198); one youth activist is cited as saying: “They try to understand, but they don’t . . . I am scared for my future because of the inaction of adults in the past”; others note that they feel terrified and betrayed; or wonder why they should study for a future that they don’t have (pp. 198-199). Wray concludes that guardians should acknowledge the truth and stand with their children’s emotions as this can help them feel less alone in what is otherwise overwhelming (p. 200). Students in my sustainability-focused classes have openly expressed that they “feel depressed” – and it was apparent that they did not mean “depressed” lightly. Female students have mentioned to me, and created art about, their conflicts about having children in the future. This is corroborated by Hickman’s survey, where two in five respondents were unsure about having children (2021; see also Ritchie, 2024, p. 1-2). Typically, young people are much more sensitive and know much more about the state of the world than parents assume. But, as Wray cautions, before parents respond, they should first process their own difficult environmental emotions and find ways to tolerate them without reverting to denial, breaking down, or spiralling in worry (p. 201). This certainly would also apply to us instructors in education.

Susan Clayton, one of the co-authors of Hickman’s study, discusses the relations between climate change and psychology, and the related threats to mental health and wellbeing, in her book, Psychology and Climate Change (Clayton & Manning, 2018; see also Clayton. 2012). For example, as Coumou and Rahmstorf point out, extreme weather events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorders (2022); policy expert Stefan Lukas notes that disagreements, for example, over dwindling water resources in heat-stricken countries like Jemen, have been leading to deadly conflicts; in Syria, an extraordinary drought has driven the rural population into cities like Homs, Hama, or Aleppo – but since there was no work, people revolted (Lukas, 2023). But climate change is only one of the current crises that threaten the sustainability of mental health. In Canada, even though we have so far been spared from local wars, many of us have families and backgrounds in places around the world that have seen recent conflicts, or experienced racism. As columnist David Brooks writes in the New York Times, it is becoming difficult to stay sane in what he calls “brutalizing times” (Brooks, 2023). We are increasingly experiencing more than one crisis, but several crises, what the World Economic Forum has designated a “polycrisis” (2023). How do we as instructors acknowledge these kinds of mental health concerns; how do we safely hold a class, in a classroom with students who have families or friends in Israel or in Gaza or in the West Bank? How to we find our own safe space to address these polycrises? By “holding” a class I do not primarily mean instruction, but creating an environment of support and vulnerability, akin to the support that psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott attributes to parents conveying trust in the way they are holding their children, not so much physically, but with a sense of care (Winnicott, 1987, pp. 15-21).

What I Did in My Courses

How do I “hold” my classes? We instructors all do this in different ways and styles. One of my first ingredients is that I meet the students in my classes with interest. I myself was a new immigrant to Canada when I enrolled, at first, at Langara College in Vancouver, and then transferred to the University of British Columbia. I still acutely remember the sense of uncertainty and of feeling lost. In part it may also be my former identity and practice as a pediatric nurse who cared for young people of all ages, into early adulthood, who had a range of conditions of vulnerability. So I begin with introductions, and with learning students’ names, even if I will eventually not succeed in learning all the names. But the students value my efforts. It creates a personal basis of care.

Teaching Practices

     I typically teach two courses that I have both redesigned under the framework of Sustainability and the seventeen sustainable development goals, and that I aim to teach with a pedagogy of sustainability in mind. By that I mean replacing the classical lecture format with student involvement, for example, with group work tasks where students engage in small groups, with one notetaker in each group taking short summarial notes that can serve as material for short answer questions in quizzes or midterms. I also use Open Education, i.e., not using traditional textbooks, but inviting speakers and/or using texts of interest. In my second-year health research methods course (HLST 210), where I introduce qualitative and quantitative research methods, I try as much as possible (it is easier with qualitative research designs) to invite students to explore the methods first in practical applications before we read textual material. For example, I assign students to each take a photograph that relates in some ways to sustainability in their lives, whether at home, outside, or at school. The photograph (see below) might depict bicycles, as an example for an environmentally friendly kind of transport. When the students bring the photograph (usually digital) to class, they then discuss the images in small groups, based on the “SHOWED” technique (Werremeyer et al, 2020; e.g., “What is shown here? What is really happening here?” etc.). Thereby, the students learn by experience how photovoice analysis can be exciting, useful, and empowering – and they might explain reasons and backgrounds for taking the particular photographs, thereby getting to know each other more. I should also note that my (interdisciplinary) classes have students from many cultural backgrounds and the small work groups thereby serve communications across many forms of diversity. Then we might go over lecture slides that provide introductory information about photovoice, taken from some text, but information that now serves only as support of what was learned in practice. The students then send me their photographs and short answers to the “SHOWED” prompts and I collate the responses and photos into a slide show that I upload onto our class website for all to share. I proceed similarly with other classes in this course on research designs such as reflexive thematic analysis, designing focus group questions, applications of arts-based research, or designing questions for surveys. It is always rewarding to hear the students share with each other what they have done.

My assignments in this research methods class include midterms with multiple choice and short answer questions, based on questions about research methods in the field of health, sustainability, and (environmental) care, based in part on the students’ summaries from their small work groups taken by volunteer note takers. The final exam consists of a research proposal where students research a sustainability issue of their choice, providing a literature review, a rationale for a quantitative as well as a qualitative design, a justification of ontologies, epistemologies, etc., and finally a focused application of one of the methods, for example, with five carefully worded sample interview questions, or an experimental set-up explained in detail. This year, I am developing a template for developing a research proposal, with the different sections, as students will write up this proposal in an in-class final exam, saving me from worrying about generative AI in the writing of papers.

Last year, I subtitled my research methods course “How Are You?” since I thought of this question as the most fundamental research question of all, one that also sets an atmosphere of care for respectful research with people. While we rarely answer this question honestly, it still acknowledges a concern for an other – and it addresses the issue that so many young people are concerned about the environment but do not get to talk about it. This year, however, I titled the course “What world do we want to live in?”, in order to inspire thoughts about action throughout the course. Last year and this year, I introduced my methods course first with an image of a stereotypical researcher, peering through a microscope, wearing gloves and protective eyewear, at greatest possible distance from the research object at hand. I then contrasted this image with a reading of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Epiphany in the Beans”, from her book Braiding Sweetgrass (2020). The contrast, between greatest distance from an object, and the intimacy of a reciprocal relationship, could not be larger, and the changes that Kimmerer’s story can bring into the classroom can be remarkable. There may be consternation at first; and while some students may disregard the idea of reciprocal love, others are mesmerized by the idea. This is almost experiential, and helps to set the tone for the course, leading to further elaborations and comments “when research is a dirty word” (Linda Tuhiwai Smith, 2006), principles of respectful research (Jo-Ann Archibald, 2008), and research as ceremony (Shawn Wilson, 2008). I also used Kimmerer’s story of reciprocity successfully in an EDI workshop (equity, diversity, inclusion) in a Health Sciences department meeting: giggeling, nervousness, hilarity – your meeting will not be dry!

In my third-year, interdisciplinary “health theories and applications” course (HLST 310), I can be more flexible. I have reorganized this course, too, under the subtitle Sustainability, Health, and Care. Typically, I like to invite as many speakers as possible to this course, from the university and from the communities, so that students can engage with as many perspectives and foci on sustainability as possible. After an introduction to the course, perhaps tied to a showing of the documentary “Breaking Boundaries” (Attenborough & Rockström, 2021), and some introductory basics regarding sustainability, a next set of four classes addresses the four basic elements water, earth, air, and fire, for which I invite Indigenous speakers and Elders, again, to set the tone. Typically, these classes with Indigenous speakers are unforgettable for the students, for example, when an Elder might speak, wearing reflective sunglasses, deliberately fostering discomfort in his audience. Or when another Elder comes and takes the time to carefully lay out a blanket and slowly arrange various cultural and personal symbols, and the comments slowly begin to turn into the lecture’s focus on our relationship with the lands, with the earth. Those are moments when you can hear the sound of a pin drop!

For the remainder of the term, all classes are held by different community or university experts, on selected issues of sustainability, across the disciplines. For example, two years ago I invited Steven Batchelor (the Buddhist spiritual guide) to speak to my class – via Zoom from his home in France – on matters of Sustainabilty and Spirituality. Indigenous Elder Joseph Naytowhow provided us with smudging and a song for introduction, and since Joseph has also had considerable Buddhist training, he and Steven hit it off, gently bouncing off each other with comments that were exciting for us to watch. Many of these classes with outside community experts are unforgettable for the students and me and after those classes I always felt I can go to heaven.

Learning Activities and Assessment Strategies

Many of the classes in my HLST 310 course include lectures by experts, followed by small group work, summarized by volunteer notetakers as material that can serve for short-answer questions in midterms. I have also included self-directed learning assignments, say, with ten prompts that invite students to write short reflections, spread across the term, on classes of their choice; or I might have ten prompts for some forms of body movement (regarding the sustainability of body and mind); I have also invited local body movement practitioners to visit the class and give weekly ten-minute short instructions – so that our work in class is not only cognitive but also bodily and emotional. Everybody will participate! There may also be “expression sessions”, accompanied by a short expression essay that explains the movement (actor Carol Greyeyes helped me develop my first class with such an expression session; in another course, dancer and choreographer Shannon Litzenberger who leads Toronto’s Soul Pepper dance school instructed one class of my course regarding body movement, and set us up with prompts for the remainder of the course. The expression session is an assignment where students perform a (very short) body movement sequence that gives form to an embodiment of a sustainability issue. I have forever etched in my mind the movement of a student who threw herself on her bed, her hands folded in prayer (this was during the pandemic, there were no vaccines yet, and we were all online, and everybody still had their cameras on). There was incredible minimalism and efficiency to this movement that made it so effectful that it pierced our hearts. I have also been using “impression sessions” (again inspired by Carol Greyeyes), where students select an artistic medium of their choice (e.g., painting, sculpture, collage, music, text, etc.), to give form and voice to a sustainability issue, and then write an accompanying short impression essay that explains what the artistic impression was about. Some of these artistic impressions have been published in medical education journals. You may wonder how I (or you) might mark these assignments since I am not trained in drama, painting, or body movement. In general, my argument for the inclusion of such assignments is that health, sustainability, and care are interdisciplinary, that patients’ experiences of health are not only cognitive but also emotional, and that we instructors _should_ offer not only cognitive information but use many modalities and disciplines. Still, it is true that I am not an expert in (though a fervent admirer of) fine arts. I bring to the validation of my students’ assignments my work in arts-based research and insights how beauty fosters reflexivity, care, and compassion in the audience (McIntyre, 2004). This is where the students’ accompanying short explanatory essays come in where they comment on their artistic impressions. Finally, there is also a standard research paper on some issue of sustainability that includes a personalized, realistic action plan – an action plan that the student could reasonably carry out themselves, being a student taking courses at the university. The action plan needs to include pros and cons, communication strategies (e.g., with Indigenous Elders), and awareness of cultural protocols (if applicable).

The Implications

In the case of one of my students, the research paper and action plan assignment has proven phenomenally successful. This student, a member of the local Sikh community, was inspired by what she had learned in my classes about making homes more sustainable, to improve the local Sikh temple, a place where, aside from regular religious services, various dinners are held every week for the community, with hundreds of people attending each time. First, Ramneet opened the curtains that covered the huge windows and let the natural light in, thereby saving on large electricity bills. She then used the money that was saved to buy compost bins for the foods left over from preparation, food that previously had ended up in the garbage, thereby reducing weekly garbage bags from 20 to two. Food supplies (for example, bags of rice) that were close to expiration are now being distributed to community organizations in the city. Next, the temple returned from using one-way dishes to the traditional, washable aluminium dishes, that were still in storage, further reducing garbage, and volunteers took on the washing of the dishes. Paper towels were replaced by electrical hand dryers. An inventory was established of the food supplies (e.g. bags of rice in storage). Young and old have begun communicating across the many families about how to improve the sustainability of the organization, and composting has become a regular community initiative. Meanwhile, Ramneet has presented her efforts and experiences at international and local conferences and workshops. Her actions are being met with great appreciation, and are inspiring her fellow students.

There is one more issue that I would like to address. The seventeen sustainable development goals encompass not only matters of climate change, but also matters of peace, justice, and governance. When, two years ago, in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, the class was unusually subdued, some students were clearly hurting, and I felt that some acknowledgement of the situation was necessary on my part. But how? How could I address the issue without possibly pitting students from different cultural backgrounds against each other? I was reminded of a conversation with a previous Indigenous advisor at our University whom I had consulted about how to address matters of decolonization in the classroom in ways that would not make Indigenous students feel uncomfortable and that would not draw out racist comments. Then, my Indigenous colleague suggested that I might simply center myself in my body, heart, mind, and spirit, and trust myself and I would strike the right balance. As Gregg Henriques (2021) summarizes, “body” generally entails the physical needs of the body, biological necessities, and the senses. The heart connects to our place in the social matrix, relational networks, and so on; the mind makes sense of the world around us; and spirit denotes our spiritual orientation that is our values, purpose, and meaning making. This day of the invasion, I had brought along blank index cards to class, showing a circle with the four quadrants, populated by the terms body, heart, mind, and spirit. At the beginning of class, I asked the students to write a word that seemed most fitting, into each quadrant and, once done, fold up the card and place it into their bags. This task provided for a little meditation. The acknowledgment seemed appropriate and allowed us to then hold the class. However, since last October, 2023, with the beginning of the conflict in the Near East, the following months have been much more critical. It certainly did not seem safe to have a class discussion, and I am no longer certain that the university can actually be a safe place for the different sides in this particular conflict. However, individual students sought me out on individual occasions in my office, and we had conversations under highly emotional circumstances. I asked some of the students with contact to the Near East about how they were and I was able to explain my own position that may not have fully agreed with my visitors’ positions. It seemed crucial to acknowledge the suffering on all sides and it seemed that we departed with respect for each other and I feel encouraged to seek such conversations carefully, given individual circumstances. I look forward to discussing our experiences with each other and I look forward to talking with you about all of this in the hallways!


List of References

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Chakrabarty, D. (2023). One planet, many worlds: The climate parallax. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press.

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Coumou, D., & Rahmstorf, S. (2012). A decade of weather extremes. Nature Clim Change 2, 491–496.

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Cultivating Change: A Prairie Guide to Sustainability Teaching and Learning Practices Copyright © by Aditi Garg; Brooke Klassen; Eric Micheels; Heather M. Ross; Kate Congreves; Shannon Forrester; Tate Cao; and Ulrich Teucher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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