HomeIonE EducatorTackling the root sources of planetary problems: Michelle Garvey, IonE Educator

Tackling the root sources of planetary problems: Michelle Garvey, IonE Educator

In our last post, we introduced you to IonE Educator Ned Mohan of the College of Science and Engineering. This week, meet Michelle Garvey. Garvey is a teaching specialist with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. During her 14-month fellowship term, the interdisciplinary scholar worked on developing an undergraduate course on environmental justice – which is being offered for the first time this spring through Sustainability Studies. In the conversation below, Garvey explains the importance of the work she is doing in IonE fellowship program.

What drives you to integrate sustainability into your work?

I’m driven to integrate sustainability into my work because of a desire to tackle the root sources of planetary problems, which are always biosocial. Therefore, my work is deeply intersectional, meaning it addresses “environmental” and “cultural” issues as indistinguishable. I integrate nonhuman, ecological, and scientific concerns into my Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies classrooms because typically, such humanities disciplines lack education that explores the intersection of human and nonhuman, urban and rural, natural and artificial. In so doing, they ignore the total effects of power asymmetries and fundamental aspects of injustice. Likewise, I hope to integrate more social justice conversations in IonE discussions on sustainability, because disregarding differential impacts of environmental problems across race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability can exacerbate social injustices as much as ecological degradation.

What is the goal of your fellowship project? Why is that goal important?

There is a lack of environmental justice courses at UMN. This is especially concerning in light of the awakening our society has undergone in light of such disasters as the Flint water crisis, Standing Rock, or climate change, all instances of environmental injustice. So, I set out to implement an “Environmental Disparities” course in my fellowship project that would address this programming gap in a way that course content could be continually updated in light the most pressing contemporary environmental justice challenges and project-oriented in order to build students’ political capacity and make valuable contributions to vulnerable communities outside of campus. With the ongoing support and enthusiasm of faculty and administrators in Sustainability Studies, Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies, and the IonE, this course is slated to be taught Spring of 2018 and fully integrated as a regular course offering for the Sustainability Studies minor.

What was the best part of your fellowship experience?

The best part of my fellowship has been being welcomed into a community of multi-disciplinary scholars passionate about solving the world’s greatest sustainability dilemmas. This community expands my thinking by illuminating new pedagogical partnerships, projects, and methodologies, as well as opportunities to engage my students in sustainability efforts from political, scientific, technological, ecological, historical, and artistic angles.

What do you wish more people understood about sustainability education?

Sustainability studies in the U.S. still suffers from the misconception that only “nonhuman” concerns are relevant within the discipline, or rather, that species conservation, natural resource depletion, or climate change, for example, are by definition “nonhuman” concerns. That problem comes from within the field itself, as well as our culture at large, due to the entrenched belief introduced during European colonization and reinforced throughout Westward genocide that nature and culture are distinct realms. Yet conservation, resource use, and climate change alike require solving such “human” matters as inequality in food, income, housing, healthcare, employment, and education. So, I wish more people recognized sustainability education as the site of natural-cultural engagement it could be and should be.


Each year, IonE chooses a group of educators to join a 14-month fellowship program aimed at creating curriculum that furthers sustainability and environmental education across the University of Minnesota system.

To learn more about the projects being pursued by the IonE Educators and sustainability education initiatives across the University of Minnesota campuses, look no further than the second installment of the Sustainability Education Summit coming up on Friday, January 26.

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