April's Sustainability Spotlight Heroes- Barbara Decker and Christina Foust
This month's Sustainability Heroes are Christina Foust and Barbara Decker. Christina and Barbara are both professors at MSU Denver and members of the ASCP's Faculty subcommittee (part of the ASCP's larger Faculty Staff Coalition). In an effort to support the ASCP's focus on addressing environmental justice this academic year, Christina organized a virtual book club each semester; the club just wrapped up Braiding Sweetgrass and read Clean and White during the fall semester. Barbara Decker stepped up to co-facilitate this book club and has invited the ASCP to speak with her Environmental Justice class for the past few semesters to help bridge the gap between classroom learning and the ASCP's applied work on campus.
Christina R. Foust is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at MSU Denver, finishing out her first year (after being on the faculty at the University of Denver for 15 years). She regularly teaches courses in Environmental Communication and Social Movement Rhetoric. Christina has been excited to put down roots working with the ASCP Faculty Subcommittee. During a planning meeting, she suggested that we take advantage of the "turning inward" that the pandemic created for many, and organize an environmental justice zoom book club. "I think book clubs are a nice way to learn more about environmental justice, prompt self-reflection, and practice self-reflexivity in conversation with others," Foust said. "Having just read Carl Zimring's Clean & White with my class in the spring of 2020, I was struck by the need to consider environmental racism as having a longer history than what we typically teach it. I wanted to 'pay it forward' and was so happy when people joined in. It was even better to have our book club grow in size and join us in selecting Braiding Sweetgrass for the winter 2021 session. And thanks to Barbara Decker for co-facilitating with me!"
Foust likes to use digital portfolios in her courses, as a really engaging way to guide a semester-long process of learning, led by students (not faculty), that honors many different ways of knowing. "An important part of environmental justice is questioning scientific expertise and knowledge, while honoring the voices of those who have lived with environmental injustice--hearing their stories, and making the effects of environmental racism visible," Foust said. "So the digital portfolios encourage students to not only present high quality 'hard' evidence, but also the voices of environmental advocates."
Foust shared some of the digital portfolios produced by students in the Fall 2020 COMM 490A Environmental Communication class by permission, including two on the Dakota Access Pipeline (from junior Maritza Torres and senior Kahliah Love) as well as a site from junior Denise Capelli which considers environmental justice as part of oil/gas/mining development on public lands. Foust's students also built portfolios related to the Flint Water Crisis, resource intensive agriculture, and environmental justice more broadly.
Foust is also the Parent Coordinator for her kids' elementary school's Green Team, and is excited to put her commitments toward environmental justice into practice with kids.
Barbara is in her fifth year as a lecturer in the Department of Social Work and is still thrilled to have the honor of teaching the amazing students at MSU Denver. She is the lead instructor for the Environmental Justice in Social Work class offered each spring. Through that class, students have been introduced to central ideas about environmental justice and met with many leaders in the community. Students integrate key ideas of environmental justice in their major assignment, a detailed observation and assessment of their own neighborhoods. These students then take into their work an awareness that many groups bear the disproportional impact of environmental degradation.
Barbara comes to environmental justice through the lens of spirituality and religion, previously having served on the board of Eco-Justice Ministries, a small non-profit designed to help churches work toward social justice and environmental sustainability. She strives to live in reciprocity (as Robin Wall Kimmerer discusses in Braiding Sweetgrass) with the world around her.
Thank you to both professors for your dedication to sustainability in your personal and professional lives!