Recently, I sat in on an excellent lecture on sustainability by Dr. Kathleen Smythe of Xavier University.
In the discussion on sustainability, Dr. Smythe was very specific in culminating decades of her experiences, and the breadth of the core ideas running beneath the idea of sustainability, to help all those in attendance understand the importance of sustainability in the world we live in today.
As a small segment of the excellent lecture, Dr. Smythe mentioned the following as one of her key sustainability points:
“My overall argument is that, if we, as participants in Jesuit education, think and act regarding sustainability as we have solidarity and poverty, gender and diversity; that is, as ways of being and knowing that are integral to a full human experience, then our universities will be all the richer for our work and accomplishments.”
Xavier University is a Catholic Jesuit institution. Dr. Smythe’s overall appeal in her speech was to bring together concepts of Catholic Jesuit learning in conjunction with university level “idea-challenging,” in order to push students closer to understanding the importance of sustainability.
The implications of Dr. Smythe’s endeavors lie heavily within the context of a world which devalues the meaning of higher education as simply a means to “get a job” in the future. Dr. Smythe interestingly interjects this dogma with the idea that higher education does not prepare one to “get a job.” When done correctly, higher education must provide students with opportunities rather than jobs.
To a certain extent the concept of opportunities rather than jobs might sound crazy. However, there is further thought that higher education has long lost meaning in terms of not only the investment that education offers but also the circumstances through which higher education might fail individual student ambitions by making the end-goal seem so generic and inherently dogmatic.
There is a certain context that we can all understand when it comes to higher education; we see higher education as an institution that remains rigid. However, through novel and unique ideas, such as promoting sustainability education, there is hope for a new version of higher education that deviates from the day-to-day, instead exploring a new world of not only student innovation but also global initiative.
You may be wondering about the results of Xavier University’s push for students to engage in sustainability learning. I can assure you that results are amazing. Students are globally engaged; they are innovative mechanisms for higher thinking in all realms of academia, which help to challenge both them and their surrounding communities.
Some students run farmers markets, while others have been implementing start-ups focused on farm-to-table and local grower cooperation with restaurants in the area. Other students have even started international businesses based in sustainability with local farmers in different countries. For example, a sustainability partnership has been launched in the Dominican Republic.
The bottom line here is that the important work that Dr. Smythe promotes and the discussion of sustainability have been long lost in a cross-fire of misunderstandings regarding the importance of dogmatic higher education.
Ours is an ever-changing world in need of innovative minds, and by raising equal awareness to the environment, the economy, and the social sphere in which these concepts reside, we can make a lasting difference through sustainability working in tandem with higher education.
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