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ISSUE 117 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/23/2004

Ecology class nurtures Earth Week

By Annie Olson
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 23, 2004

It's not every day that two electric guitars, two trombones, a trumpet and a hand drum find themselves in the same band in Boe Chapel. Chapel service on Tuesday, however, found just such a situation when "Caring for Creation" was led by the Campus Ecology class.

Elise Braaten '04, co-"professor" of the Campus Ecology class, said, "I sat there feeling like a proud parent."

Professor Jim Farrell, co-professor of the class, sent an e-mail to the class, saying, "...You did a magnificent job of bringing religion down to earth, and showing how there's a spirituality to all of our everyday activities."

Farrell and Braaten believe that the class successfully "took a look at their daily activities, and [thought about] what it means for the whole of creation."

They allowed the students to have a great deal of freedom in planning the service.

"We really had very little to do with the structure of the service," Braaten said. "We didn't even ask for an outline of what they were going to present."

This potential freedom from usual dogmatic structure is one thing that sets their class apart from many others.

"There are several levels to our class," Farrell said. "One of them is personal: we assign the students journaling [and] have them audit their dorm rooms."

Braaten and Farrell say that students seem receptive to this method.

"It's the freedom to talk about what matters to you," Farrell said.

The actual physical campus is what matters to Campus Ecology. The American Studies class offers a setting where large environmental problems can be brought down to a smaller, more manageable level.

"We've created a place [to encourage] imagining out loud," Braaten said. "We have the freedom to discuss [environmental] problems in class, and what can be done about them."

The class took on a large role in this week's Earth Week events. On Tuesday, the class led chapel. On Wednesday, they annotated the campus, increasing students' knowledge of the environmental impact they have on the world.

On Thursday (Earth Day) during Community Time, the class showed a photo journal, "The Nature of St. Olaf: the scenic and not-so-scenic parts about St. Olaf College," in Viking Theater. Also on Thursday, Farrell delivered a "State of the Campus" address with input from the Campus Ecology class and the campus Sustainable Task Force.

Both Braaten and Farrell have found that the content of some environmental studies classes can be disempowering, facing problems so big that they seem unstoppable.

Campus Ecology has moved in the opposite direction, however.

"One of the things that students get from the course is that there are other students who care ... and things really do matter," Farrell said.

Campus Ecology was an idea that Braaten and Farrell came up with together. The class is actually a senior project for Braatens CIS major, "Wild and Precious Life: Educating for an Ethic of Sustainability."

Farrell says that students realize that Braaten is "in the foundation of the class." He believes that students appreciate "[Braaten's] enthusiasm and engagement, and her sense of identification with them."

This semester, Braaten has valued her role in the classroom.

"I don't just teach here, I live here too," Braaten said. "I know the campus not only in an academic way, but also in a social way. This is environmentalism on a personal level."

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