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Climate Change and Social Justice


Scientist looking into microscope. Includes words Year on Climate Change

Published September 11, 2019

As alarm bells warn with increasing urgency of the effects of global climate change, Smith is responding with an urgency of its own. It has designated this academic year as the Year on Climate Change as a way of involving the entire campus community in seeking solutions.

Dean of the College Susan Etheredge ’77 said she hoped the year would help the Smith community maintain optimism while studying complex climate issues and inequities. 

“This year is not just for Division III majors,” she noted. “With a multi-disciplinary approach, we are involving the entire campus. I hope students will be inspired and engage with enthusiasm.” 

The year will begin with a conference—Climate Equity and Justice: Solutions in Action—that will bring more than a dozen speakers to campus October 4–6.  

Throughout the academic year faculty, staff, and students will create and participate in distinctive and interdisciplinary programs of all kinds, including art installations, student-led reflections, poetry readings and more. Climate experts will speak on campus, faculty will incorporate climate change components into their courses, and the Kahn Institute will launch two climate-themed projects.

The idea of a themed year grew from recommendations by the Study Group on Climate Change, a committee of faculty, students, alumnae and staff that was appointed by President Kathleen McCartney to examine how Smith should respond to the growing climate threat. 

“Climate change is the major challenge humankind is facing,” said Denise McKahn, associate professor of engineering and a member of the YCC steering committee. “And at its core, climate change is a social justice problem that must be tackled. Smith is responding with the power of a liberal arts college, by engaging and teaching the issue from multiple angles that build on critical thinking, complex problem solving and deep listening and understanding.”  

In that vein, the October conference will frame climate change as a social justice problem and will explore models of just and equitable solutions in action. Solution areas will range from urban planning to economic development in native communities, equity evaluation tools for national and state-level food policy and community health interventions.  

The weekend will include lectures, panel presentations and workshops by speakers with diverse backgrounds. Kristina Peterson, director and co-founder of the nonprofit Lowlander Center, which addresses environmental pressures in the bayou communities of Louisiana, will deliver the opening keynote.

Dean Susan Etheredge noted that the list of conference speakers is “a wonderful example of all the different domains and disciplines involved in a variety of meaningful efforts.” 

Conference registration is open through Monday, Sept. 30. Early registration is encouraged, as space is limited.