Category Archives: Uncategorized

ASLE Diversity Caucus List Serve

Our former email list serve is no longer available.  It is time to switch to a new list serve for the ASLE Diversity Caucus.   We have started a google group —  asle-diversity-caucus (at) googlegroups.com. To join, contact Sarah D Wald (at) gmail.com.  

“Wise Women” Deliver Stories from Climate Change’s Frontlines

Kamala Platt shares this ecofeminist climate justice story that was reported in Greg Harman’s blog from San Antonio. Click on the image to read the story:

Constance Okollet describes the plight of her Ugandan village at SXSW ECO as Thilmeeza Hussain of the Maldives looks on.

Constance Okollet describes the plight of her Ugandan village at SXSW ECO as Thilmeeza Hussain of the Maldives looks on.

 

 

Feminist Task Force Proposed for ASLE 2015

Thanks to Greta Gaard for sharing the following proposal:

Admittedly exuberant and rich with debate, this year’s ASLE convention also sparked controversy reminiscent of the Kalamazoo conference in 1999, the one that prompted the formation of today’s Diversity Caucus.  In clusters after plenary sessions and panels, as well as in small groups at the Diversity Caucus meeting and among ALECC discussions, feminist ecocritics shared responses to the paucity, omission,or misrepresentationof feminist perspectives, and a collective voice emerged.

This is a crucial moment in ecocriticism, in eco/feminism, and in postcolonial, queer, environmental and climate justice ecocriticisms.  The relationship among these terms is under debate and/or erasure, and given the general lack of representation of one of the defining methodologies from the early days of ASLE, it is vital to rethink feminism’s relationship to ecocriticism, and to develop conversations among the many forms of eco/feminism and feminist ecocriticism that were sparked by ASLE 2013.

We make these observations from a range of standpoints: some of us are ASLE stalwarts, and long-time members of the Diversity Caucus, while others are newcomers; some attended ASLE for the first time at Lawrence, and until meeting other feminists and sharing their shock and disappointment at the public misrepresentations or erasure of feminist perspectives, had vowed never to return. We offer our collective observations to the Diversity Caucus along with a recommendation for promoting a feminist-friendly culture for ASLE, one that will retain rather than repel future feminist engagement:

We urge the Diversity Caucus to forward a Feminist Task Force Recommendation that feminist ecocriticism of many varieties be given prominence at the next ASLE Biennial Convention, via plenaries and linked panels.  We invite the Diversity Caucus to join with us in pursuing these strategic goals by proposing scholars and scholar-activists for ASLE 2015 who will address the intersections of feminist ecocriticism, postcolonial and queer ecofeminism, eco/feminist activisms and narratives, environmental and climate justice, animal studies, material feminisms, and science studies.

Respectfully submitted by

Norah Bowman-Broz, Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies, Okanagan College, Kelowna, British Columbia, & member of Association for Literature, Environment and Culture in Canada (ALECC)

Susan Comfort, Associate Professor of English, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Marisol Cortez, Community Scholar / Environmental Writer, Esperanza Peace and Justice Center

Simon C. Estok, Professor and Acting Chair, Dept. of English Literature, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, & member of ASLE-Korea

Greta Gaard, Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Serenella Iovino, Professor of Ethics, University of Turin, Italy, and past President of the European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture, and Environment (EASLCE)

Gurpreet Kaur, University of Warwick, UK

Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Professor of English, Appalachian State University, North Carolina

Cheryl Lousley, Assistant Professor of English/Interdisciplinary Studies, Lakehead University,& member of the Association for Literature, Environment and Culture in Canada (ALECC)

Yvonne Murphy, Arts Mentor/Professor, SUNY Empire State College

Serpil Oppermann, Professor of English Language & Literature, Haceteppe University, Turkey, and Editorial Board member, European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture, and Environment (EASLCE)

Kamala Platt, Independent Scholar

Catriona Sandilands, Professor of Environmental Studies, York University, past President of the Association for Literature, Environment and Culture in Canada (ALECC)

Laura Wright, Associate Professor & Department Head of English, Western Carolina University

 

Cultural Sustainability and the African Burying Ground

black heritage trail

I just had the pleasure of attending the summer seminar “Ecology and Ethnicity: Sustainability Studies’ Contributions to Place,” sponsored by the Sustainability Institute of the University of New Hampshire and led by Siobhan Senier of the English Department. After reviewing the history of sustainability and the rise of Sustainability Studies as a field, the seminar asked pointed questions about the contributions of the environmental humanities to that field. It asked how the project of sustainability should be informed by issues of race and ethnicity as “wicked problems” that humanists study. We were addressed by Darren Ranco, an anthropologist from the University of Maine who studies the impact of the Emerald Ash Borer–an invasive insect that destroys ash trees–on Wabanaki basket-making, and by Angel David Nieves, a professor of Africana Studies at Hamilton College, whose research traces the rebuilding of District 6, a multicultural neighborhood of Cape Town, South Africa, that was razed under apartheid.

One of the most provocative concepts they addressed was cultural sustainability, the aspect of sustainability excluded from technocratic treatments. Following David Throsby, we can understand cultural sustainability as the promotion of cultural diversity as an aspect of ecological sustainability. Our field trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, provided a lesson in cultural sustainability through our investigation of its African Burying Ground. The African Burying Ground, originally a swamp where African slaves and indentured servants were buried, dates from the eighteenth century. This ground was paved over in the twentieth century, and the graves lie under Chestnut Street, as seen in the photograph below, taken from In Honor of Those Forgotten: The Portsmouth, New Hampshire African Burying Ground.

burying ground2

 

 

 

 

 

 

The situation of the Burying Ground illustrates the intersection of cultural sustainability with ethnicity. While the graves of English townspeople from the same period are well-preserved, raised off the street level and marked by fence and gravestones, the African graves were unmarked and forgotten until very recently. This raises questions of racial equity in the representation of history. Whose history is honored? Whose history is accessible to the public? How does the loss of memory shape our use of urban space, and whose interests are served by this loss? Who benefits from the recovery of the Burying Ground? What is the relationship between the forgotten graves and the filling-in of their swamp? When examined on the scale of centuries, these questions clearly fall under the rubric of intergenerational equity, an important principle in Sustainability Studies, which states that a sustainable culture should not steal from the future or the past to serve the present. In Portsmouth, intergenerational inequity is inflected by race: the white masters are remembered and the black servants are forgotten. But equity, understood across race, also suggests that the loss of the African Burying Ground disfigures the present of Portsmouth because the city has been shaped by African American lives since 1645. Sustainability teaches us that the burying ground must be recovered in order to understand the history of the city’s land and water, which is also the story of race and power.

Through the work of local activists, historians, and the Portsmouth Town Council, the burying grounds have been reclaimed through an ongoing project, In Honor of Those Forgotten, which seeks to convert this block of Chestnut Street into a memorial park. The work has proceeded in phases. As we saw, there are new signs of the burying ground even as the street continues to be used. At the moment, the problem of collective memory is highlighted by signage:

town records2

This sign is posted on the side of a house used as a local business, demonstrating the potential conflict between economic and cultural sustainability: once the memorial park is built, the business will have to relocate, and the character of this part of Portsmouth will change. However, because the reclamation of the burying ground was pursued as a public matter, it has become a matter of civic pride, raising the cultural capital of the city itself, as demonstrated by the rhetoric of the project’s web site. The city hired professional archaeologists and designers to investigate the grounds and design an appropriate memorial, resurrecting the memory of the African dead through an official civic process.

The practical limitations of such work can be seen in the problem of financial capital. Though the project has been approved, it cannot move forward until all the funds for the memorial have been raised. Local sources suggest that the city has not raised half of the needed funds. Until the fundraising goal is reached, the creation of public memory will be stalled in its current state, where the memory of forgetting features more prominently than the ground itself. As material ecocriticism reminds us, the transformation of the land as a site of memory is more complicated than the transformation of media about the land. The case of the Portsmouth African Burying Ground demonstrates that the intersection of race and sustainability creates a long-term need for financial, cultural, and social resources that require the attention of communities over many decades. As ecocritics consider the practical import of sustainability and resilience, we should remember that intergenerational equity is broken across lines of race and ethnicity, and fashion our responses accordingly.

 

Diversity Caucus Meeting at ASLE 2013: Rich Discussion, Suggested Action Items

It’s been about a month since the ASLE 2013 conference, and though I have been away and traveling over the last month, the Diversity Caucus meeting, held in Kansas University’s Smith 100, a wonderful amphitheater-like room, has retained its strong presence in my thoughts.  This was an invigorating meeting, with attendance exceeding fifty people (our largest meeting yet).  We had present stalwarts who helped form the Caucus in 1999, a number of returning members from the 2011 meeting, and also many new faces.  Below, I summarize some of themes of the discussion that ensued, and am grateful to ASLE’s Vice President, Mark Long, for graciously accepting my on the spot request to take notes for us.

I began the meeting by situating us all within the context of ASLE’s Strategic Plan’s Goal 2, which tasks the organization with a range of diversity issues such as increased professional affiliation with diverse organizations, diversity recognition in conference and symposia planning, financial support for traditionally underserved demographics, and undergraduate representation.  I then opened the floor to the Caucus.  From this open forum many themes and concerns resonated.

Specifically, as many of the stalwarts mentioned, ASLE has made many strides in its diversity initiatives.  For example, recent conferences and symposia show clearly the growing presence of panel topics that engage diversity issues such as environmental justice, gender, race, and ethnicity.  In addition, there have been recent exciting endeavors such as the 2013 Public Humanities pilot project spearheaded by Immediate Past President, Joni Adamson. (For the first time, ASLE collaborated with local social and environmental activists, such as EcoJustice Coalition of Lawrence to both help fund their work and to bring the work to the conference.  The hope is for similar activist-academic initiatives to be funded in upcoming years.)  However, there is always more to be done and as participants spoke, we might characterize their thoughts as a series of potential action items for ASLE to engage with as we move forward.

Technology as Outreach:

Many participants commented on the possible role that technology can play in enhancing the presence of underrepresented demographics at ASLE.  From indicating how the website appears somewhat outdated (for example, in its logo representation of the “man” reading under a tree), to arguing for conference plenary on-line streaming to reach audiences who are unable to attend in person, and to considering the potential of webinars as an additional platform to engage diversity concerns when the conference is not in session, a number of thoughtful and creative suggestions were voiced.

Executive Council (EC) member, Allison Carruth, who was in attendance indicated that the EC is already moving on re-vamping the website platform, and Immediate Past President Joni Adamson revealed that a new logo was being unveiled at the conference.

While these initiatives are wonderful, there is much to be said about thinking critically and carefully about harnessing digital technology, especially the possibilities of on-line conference streaming and webinars. Immediately following the ASLE conference, I attended the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA) conference, which was held for the first time in a country other than the U.S.  Because Sweden is an expensive destination for many, the conference enabled online streaming free to all members through their website. I will be happy to pursue the details of these possibilities with the EC.  If there are others with similar experiences, I am keen to hear from them too.

Institutional Diversity:

Once again, as in past years, Caucus members voiced their concern about ASLE’s attention to institutional diversity.

Many inquired about undergraduate representation.  Jody Cohen and Anne Dalke from Bryn Mawr College were present with their undergraduates and stated that their panel had been well attended with stimulating discussion.  They were surprised that there were not more undergraduates present.  After the meeting, undergraduate Mellon scholars from Drew College, Christina Ocampo and Evelyn Meisenbacher, who also attended with their advisor, Sarah Wald, offered to assist with a task force that might work to attract such Mellon undergraduate scholars to ASLE.  Susan Brill de Ramirez also offered to assist as she works with the Council of Undergraduate Research.

Deborah Adelman reminded the Caucus for the need to be more inclusive of two-year college institutions.  Her sentiments were echoed by others.  She has offered to assist with any initiatives that can further this objective.  In addition, Executive Council member, Anthony Lioi, in post-meeting conversation, reminded me that other institutions, such as technical colleges, should not be neglected.

There was also Caucus discussion that considered reaching out to institutions that serve traditionally underrepresented populations in the U.S.  While no volunteers necessarily stepped forward to help forward this initiative, I encourage members to contact me if they have additional ideas or insight.

Gender Considerations:

Participants, such as Elizabeth Ammons, inquired whether ASLE could not do a better job balancing the gender equity of its conference plenary speakers.  There was a call for working to represent a 50/50 balance in gender equity for plenary speakers.

Interestingly too, subsequent discussion outside of the meeting suggested that gender issues were not strongly voiced at the meeting.  Considering that the Diversity Caucus is strongly rooted in gender equity issues, and that such issues continue to frame many of our current environmental debates, such concerns remain paramount to the Caucus, and while these might not have been the most voiced issues at the meeting, the Caucus is very much interested in working to ensure gender is not overlooked in ASLE’s functionings.

Disability Recognition:

Partipicants, such as Jennifer Sibara, commented on being surprised at the lack of support for Disability needs at ASLE’s conference.  Other conferences (e.g., MLA and ASA) have begun to include Disability parking, ramps, and other simple logistic amenities in their programming and planning.  This, along with possibilities for translation (via sign-language or otherwise) seems like a no-brainer for an organization such as ASLE.

Jennifer has offered to liaison with organizations, such as Disability Studies, that can help ASLE make a smooth transition to being more cognizant of these needs.

Where next?

As soon to be outgoing Diversity Coordinator, I cannot reiterate how valuable this meeting has been in both affirming how far ASLE diversity presence has come from its initial formalization of the Diversity Caucus in 1999, and in reaffirming how the work is never done.  The discussion and subsequent correspondence with individual members post-meeting indicate one important fact: diversity at ASLE is a collective effort, and the collective, one might say, has not only grown in the last few years, but it has also very actively stepped forward to assist ASLE strive for inclusivity.  While many of us are aware that ASLE, as a small non-profit, is not monetarily rich, what we can value is the abundance of creative thinking that bolsters our efforts.  The Caucus meeting demonstrated the creative spark that can carry us forward.  In the ensuing year, as I transition out of my position and hand the reins over to another, I am keen to consider how the Caucus might establish Working Groups for some of its concerns. In consultation with the Executive Council and members who have offered to volunteer, I hope we can move forward on making concrete some of the ideas presented here.  I look forward to your continued support and engagement as I do so.   Stay tuned, via the blog here, and on all ASLE’s other media platforms.

Interest Groups at ASLE 2013, Part 2: “Ecocriticism and Narrative” and “Ecomedia Studies”

As indicated in the post “Interest Groups at ASLE 2013, Part 1,” ASLE 2013 programmed time for groups to meet formally to discuss their interests within ASLE. Below are reports from the Ecocriticism and Narrative and Ecomedia Studies groups.

Ecocriticism and Narrative
By Erin James

The Ecocriticism and Narrative special interest group was organized by Erin James (Assistant Professor, University of Idaho) and Eric Morel (PhD Candidate, University of Washington), and was designed to gather together scholars interested in pairing the discourses of ecocriticism and narratology. Twelve people attended the meeting, with several additional scholars unable to make it but expressing prior interest in being included in any communication that followed the meeting. The group was diverse in terms of nationality (American, Canadian, Swiss, and Japanese), interest (postcolonial literatures, American literature, drama), and career stage (assistant, associate, and full professor, and graduate students).

Our meeting began with a round of individual introductions in which we all identified our key areas of interest. We then engaged in a roundtable discussion where we began to build a bibliography of relevant scholarship and posed each other questions about the connections between ecocriticism and narrative theory in particular, and environmentalism and narrative more generally. Five points of dialogue between the two academic discourses emerged from our discussion and may point to avenues of future work:

  • narrative theory and the body
  • the representation of consciousness and environmental experience in narratives
  • narrative theory and cognition
  • representations of ecological/geological time in narratives
  • narrative theory and alternative ontologies, including those of the non-human.

We hope to continue this discussion via a listserv that Erin established after the meeting and a facebook group entitled Ecocriticism and Narrative Theory. To contribute to this conversation, please join the facebook group or contact Erin (ejames.at.uidaho.edu) to be added to the listserv.

Ecomedia Studies
By Steve Rust

Ecomedia Studies encompasses a wide range of subject areas, including film, photography, new media, digital humanities, video games, data visualization, music and sound studies, comics, and other forms of visual and audio art and rhetoric that intersect with environmental understandings. Given the outpouring of interest in ecomedia studies over the past few years, including a significant number of panels and papers at this year’s ASLE conference, at this first meeting of the ecomedia interest group we set out to explore such questions as:

    • How do we negotiate between our interest in ecocriticism and our primary disciplines?
    • How do we make resources in the field available to newcomers?
    • What questions at issue within the field have yet to be addressed?
    • Who are our audiences and how do we find them?

We had a remarkable turn out as more than thirty scholars gathered at the group meeting and several more expressed interest but were unable to attend. We passed around a sign-up sheet to begin the process of building an email list to continue the conversation outside of ASLE. After introducing ourselves and sharing our interest in ecomedia, Don Fredrickson usefully suggested that the best use of our time would be to identify and discuss action items. To that end we discussed the following four action items:

1. The group would like to see an ASLE plenary speaker whose work speaks directly to our interests.

Several people noted that while several of this year’s plenary speakers – including Rob Nixon and Stacy Alaimo – made significant use of visual imagery in their presentations that none of the speakers focused their talks on the role of visual and/or audio texts as such. There was unanimous consent that ASLE should make an extra effort for a plenary speaker whose work intersects more directly with ecomedia studies for the next ASLE conference in 2015.

2. The group expressed interest in creating a Facebook page and developing a more visible web presence and online community to share ideas and resouces. Thanks to Nicole Seymour we now have an Ecomedia group Facebook page. Many people expressed interest in creating a space either linked to or directly embedded within the ASLE website for folks to share syllabi, bibliographic references, information on films, film festivals and other visual texts. Stephen Rust and Salma Monani pointed folks to Ecomedia Studies – a blog designed to address these very issues, and Robin Murray and Joe Heumann invited submissions to their blog Eco-Cinema and Film Genre. Participants are invited to submit syllabi, references, and other helpful information to the Facebook page or either of the blogs.

3. There is significant interest in organizing an off-year ASLE symposium focused on ecomedia studies.
While several meetings of events have been held in Europe no such meeting suited to the interests of ASLE-based media scholars has been held in the US. To this end there is considerable interest in holding an off-year ASLE symposium focused on ecomedia. Literary scholars would be encouraged to attend but the primary focus of the conference would be media. Nothing concrete has been planned as of yet but folks at a couple institutions have made initial inquiries as to the feasibility of hosting such a symposium.

4. We must continue to build bridges between ASLE and other organizations.
This year, ASLE sponsored a panel at the International Environmental Communications Association conference held in Uppsala, Sweden June 6-10. However, as Salma Monani explained, despite the fact that an offer to sponsor an IECA panel at ASLE was made, there were unfortunately no IECA takers. The group also expressed interest in the need to make a more concerted effort to organize an environmental interest group within the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and to continue to reach out to the IECA and other organizations. Hunter Vaughan has taken the initiative to start this process – the first step is that 25 members are required to maintain interest group status and a petition has been issued on the Ecomedia Studies site. Others are encouraged to look into this process for similar organizations as well.

Interest Groups at ASLE 2013, Part 1: “Asian Ecocriticism” and “Religion and Nature”

ASLE’s diversity agenda is widely inclusive, highlighting both demographic and disciplinary breadth. Such inclusiveness is imperative to better represent the many ways in which its membership engages with environmental concerns. To make more room for these diverse voices, in 2013 ASLE initiated Interest Group invitations, where different types of interest in ecocritical studies could be articulated.

In June, at the biennial conference hosted by ASLE President, Paul Outka and site host, Bryon Caminero-Santangelo in Lawrence, Kansas, programming provided time for such groups to organize and meet. At this conference, five new groups formally organized; at the same time established groups such as the Graduate Student Working Group and ALECC (Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada) also used this time productively.

In a few posts, beginning with this one, you can hear what some of these groups were discussing at the conference. Below, I have included reports provided by the Asian Ecocriticism and Religion and Nature groups.

If you are interested in organizing or sharing information about an interest group that speaks for specific demographic and/or disciplinary interests within ASLE, please do not hesitate to be in touch. The Diversity Caucus serves as a centralized site from where members can access the breadth and specifics of ASLE’s many voices.

Asian Ecocriticism
By Xinmin Liu

The Asian Ecocriticism group met on Thursday, May 30 at 5:30 pm in the Mallot Room in the Kansas Union Building. In response to emails and fliers posted at various residential halls, the turnout was quite impressive and diverse, including well-established ecocritics such as Scott Slovic (U of Idaho), Simon Estok (Sungkyunkwan U, South Korea) and Elizabeth Schultz (KU), published and active Asian ecocritics such as Hong Chen (China) and Won-Chung Kim (South Korea), and newly minted Ph.Ds. from US colleges and universities.

Led by Scott Slovic and Xinmin Liu (Washington State U), the meeting started off with a round of individual introductions by participants and brief remarks about his/her research interests, followed by an open-floor round of discussion. Participants commented on a wide range of issues facing the development of ecocriticism as both a field of academic teaching and research and as social activist projects in Asian nations, and proposed quite a few ideas on how to collaborate and coordinate more effectively between ASLE in the US and the Asian-ASLEs, and other activist organizations in Asian countries and regions. A cluster of issues emerged at the end of the meeting as the most urgent and articulated; they are listed below:

1. we need to make a special effort to reach out to the less know and under-represented countries and regions in Asia, serving as links between ASLE US and the myriad individuals and organizations engaged in ecological and environmental causes there.

2. we need to facilitate the formation of conference panels and roundtables for the biennial conferences as well as off-year regional and cross-disciplinary conferences and meetings by way of networking and self-organizing amongst Asian and Asia-related scholars and activists.

3. we should apply to US-ASLE and Asian ASLEs for funds to support projects to translate into English important works of Asian scholars published in Asian languages, and help increase the visibility of such Asian ecocritics and their works in North America.

4. we should apply for funds to help support ASLE members in attending eco-conferences held in Asia and help disseminate information about such eco-conferences in North America.

we will set up an internet venue, e.g., google.doc, to facilitate the sharing of news bulletins, electronic files and other documents among group members and through them among other networks and conference participants.

Religion and Nature
By Nancy Menning

Fifteen people gathered for the initial meeting of the Religion and Nature interest group at ASLE 2013. (Four additional people indicated to the organizer, Nancy Menning, an interest in the group, though they were unable to attend this initial meeting.) We spent our time together getting to know one another and sharing our interests.

After the gathering, Nancy Menning established a project site for the group within the Sakai learning management system at Ithaca College. Through this Sakai project site, all members of the interest group are able to email the group as a whole as well as develop specific resources, as the group deems appropriate.

Our immediate focus is identifying good “texts to teach,” sharing with one another ideas for specific texts that might be useful in particular course contexts for helping students appreciate the influence of religion and/or spirituality in shaping human responses to the more-than-human world.

Anyone interested in joining the group is welcome to email the organizer at nmenning.at.ithaca.edu to request access to the project site. The group is especially interested in encouraging folks from diverse religious perspectives and/or with scholarly interests in diverse religious traditions to participate actively in the group.

We are almost in Kansas…

I am writing to invite you all to join the Diversity Caucus celebrate its eighth year of presence at ASLE’s biennial conference. There will be a Diversity Caucus meeting, which I hope you will attend. The details, as you might have seen in the program are:

Where: Smith 100
When: Thursday May 30, 12:30 to 1:30pm.
(The Union is right next door, so we should be able to brown bag it.)

Please spread the word!

Why?

Because we’d like to share what ASLE’s been doing these past couple of years concerning diversity initiatives. And, because we’d love to hear from you regarding your own diversity efforts and thoughts.

Your suggestions and ideas have been instrumental in helping us move forward. I hope you are as excited about the plenary speakers at the conference as I am. I hope too that the field trips, which clearly address issues of environmental justice and local Indigenous concerns have caught your eye.

And, that the news of one of ASLE’s new grant initiatives will pique your interest. Immediate Past President Joni Adamson has been spearheading three of these grant initiatives. To learn more about these new initiatives do consider attending the special presentation on Saturday June 1, 1:30-1:30pm. Here a panel will specifically discuss the “Saving the Sacred Wakarusa Wetlands” project, which links ASLE to the local Lawrence groups, Wetlands Preservations Organization and EcoJustice Coalition of Lawrence.

Additionally, I hope some of you will consider attending the interest group meetings scheduled for Thursday evening, 5:30-6:30pm in various rooms in the Union building.

I look forward to seeing you all in Lawrence next week!

University of Alaska Southeast’s One Campus One Book: Diversity, Learning Communities, and a Lesson in Workload Synergy

by Sarah J. Ray

“The experience checked a lot of the “diversity” boxes, but I try to keep in mind the ultimate goal of these diversity efforts—the next generation, which sits in classrooms with us daily.”

This year, I had the pleasure and challenge of leading my campus’s One being-caribouCampus One Book (OCOB) program.   The experience taught me how rewarding it can be to have one’s field of study contribute so much to a campus learning community, the joy of making one’s campus and professional service synergize with teaching and research, and the importance—and inevitable failures—of trying to create a campus that welcomes diversity.

The University of Alaska Southeast is primarily an undergraduate institution.  It has struggled to create learning communities, provide a sense of cohesion and community, and retain students.  The OCOB initiative emerged in response to student feedback to create more “community, communication, and compassion” on campus.  As a student retention effort, OCOB has been attempting to foster a learning community for the past three years.

At a campus where the student body is approximately a third Alaska Native, majority first-generation college students, and a third many single, working mothers, you can imagine that issues of so-called “diversity” are central to the OCOB committee’s discussions about book selection and event programming.  Diversity is different at different places.  Ethnicity is only one kind of “difference” from the traditional student.  Appealing to a wide range of students, from veterans to marine biologists, is always a challenge.

This year’s selection was Karsten Heuer’s Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd. Being Caribou is a nonfiction account of Heuer’s attempt to follow the Porcupine Caribou herd’s migration from Yukon Territory to their calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).  Heuer is a trained wildlife biologist who has discovered that story-telling is key to conservation.  Frustrated by the binary development/anti-development impasse of ANWR debates, he decides to “tell the caribou’s story” as a way to get people to care about the impacts of drilling on the caribou.

The book was chosen because an increasing number of UAS students, especially indigenous students, are coming from “the North.” A book about caribou seemed a great way to initiate conversations about people whose lives are entwined with that animal.  It was chosen for its cross-disciplinary appeal, its readability, its affordability, and, partly, because I remembered Heuer’s “Necessary Journeys” talk from ASLE Victoria, and could vouch for his promise as a speaker. It seemed a great way to get biologists and literary scholars talking.  It seemed a great way to get the community onto the UAS campus for events.  I was excited about the possibility of being “diverse” in media focus; Heuer’s wife, Leanne Allison, made a film about the journey that I planned to screen in my fall 2012 “Environmental Film” class.  The book, and the programming possibilities, made it a great fit.

Because Heuer is a German immigrant, Calgary-born wildlife biologist, the OCOB committee wanted to ensure that we had an indigenous perspective, since, after all, people of the caribou featured heavily in the book. To bring Heuer and his wife as representatives of the narrative seemed to reproduce precisely the kind of “white environmentalist-adventurer speaking for others” trope that so many of us spend a lot of time challenging.  When we got word from Randall Tetlichi, the Gwich’in elder that took Heuer and Allison under his wing in the book, that he would be willing to come to UAS for a week-long elder-in-residency, we couldn’t have been more pleased.

tetclichi

Gwichi’in Elder in Residence Randall Tetclichi addresses students in the Native and Rural Student Center. Photo by Yosuke Sano; courtesy UAS.

Karsten and Leanne’s visit followed Randall’s elder-in-residence, which gave them each an opportunity to represent their own thoughts about caribou and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Randall and Karsten each gave a Friday night, open-to-the-public lecture on their perspectives on caribou.  Heuer’s talk, which featured Leanne heavily, as she is working on many new projects, was an updated version of what he did at Victoria on their Necessary Journeys.  It was similar to the talk they gave at a reception honoring their work at Mount Royal University in Calgary during the Under Western Skies 2 conference in October, which I was fortunate to attend.

They each attended numerous classes.  A record 11 faculty used the book in their courses.  Word of Randall’s visit spread like wildfire around Juneau, and his presence was requested in many of the local elementary and high schools.  Local elders gathered to share knowledge and stories with Randall.  Students had access to him all week long in UAS’s Native and Rural Student Resource Center.  Leanne’s film’s public screening was standing-room-only, and their son, Zev, admirably came along for all of it.

caribou-heuer

Being Caribou author Karsten Heuer gave the final Evening at Egan presentation of the Fall 2012 Season. Wife Leanne Allison shared her film of the same title. Photo by Yosuke Sano, courtesy UAS.

Bringing Randall as well as Karsten and Leanne was really important.  For one, the written text is only one kind of knowledge. Privileging authors of books is a kind of colonial habit, as many of my Alaska Native and first-generation colleagues teach me all the time.  Randall has never even read Being Caribou.  Getting him to campus to show a different way of knowing, a different way of thinking about caribou and drilling, a different way of thinking about his purpose in coming (he might tell you he came to UAS because, thirty years ago, he met a legendary elder of the local Tlingit community, and that elder told Randall that he would meet his people in Tlingit country someday). His visit, stories, and presence were so important.  For many in the Alaska Native community on our campus, my understanding is that he provided a sense of deep, historical, destined connection between them and his people.  After his lecture, most questions were not asked in English.

Leanne’s presence was important too.  Many of my students were irked by moments in Being Caribou when Karsten is annoyed with Leanne.  They wanted to see the film to see how Leanne represented these moments, and to ask her about the interpersonal aspects of the journey.  For me, the personal is political, and so the way he wrote about her has everything to do with his environmental ethics, a view that, of course, I shared with my students.  Having her perspective validated my students’ sense that gender is relevant, and recognizing her incredible contribution to thinking about and articulating an environmental sensibility contributed to making the OCOB programming such a success.  Karsten, meanwhile, was extraordinarily gracious about all of this.  How they manage to do so much together, yet maintain such incredible individual identities, interests, and strengths, is something to observe in itself.

Did it work?  All events were standing-room-only. The campus and Juneau communities responded to this “multiple perspectives” approach to the OCOB selection enthusiastically.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t confess the challenges.  The experience planning it provided multiple lessons in cultural sensitivity.  However strongly I write about identity, power, and difference, it’s an entirely different thing to plan something like this in a community like Juneau.  As a non-native, non-Alaskan, I brought administrative assumptions and habits to my efforts that sometimes created problems.  I confess many moments of frustration and self-loathing, which I had to constantly check against my intellectual and moral commitments to “foster diversity.” Despite, or perhaps because of, these challenges, I still feel that synergistically combining my research area of environmental justice with student success efforts, courses and teaching, and my service to UAS was profoundly rewarding.

The experience checked a lot of the “diversity” boxes, but I try to keep in mind the ultimate goal of these diversity efforts—the next generation, which sits in classrooms with us daily.  I try to be as self-reflective about my own assumptions and privileges as part of an ethic toward diversity in my teaching philosophy, in part because it keeps my research in perspective. Writing a peer-reviewed article about how indigenous perspectives are represented in novels is one thing; coordinating events to create the space for multivocality on campus is another.  But, at an institution that puts teaching and student success at the center of its mission, isn’t this the whole point?

Diversity Caucus Members Write In: Looking Back at 2012, and Forward to #Aslediversity Tweets

2012 has been a busy and productive year for ASLE’s diversity initiatives, the Caucus, and its members.  Some of what we’ve been up to has made it to the blog, as recorded in the various posts on the Juneau’s off-year symposium co-organized by Sarah J Ray and Kevin Meier (see for example, Kyndra Turner and Sarah Wald’s posts), the updates on Executive Council initiatives (see March’s post on Diversity tasks and the ASLE EC retreat, and the recent January post on International grants), and a plethora of call for papers and presentations at a variety of conferences such as the Latin American Studies conference, the American Studies Association conference, and other affiliated organizations.

While the blog has had times of quiet, this is only because its contributors (regular and guest) have been otherwise occupied. Here is some of what they were busy with:

Joni Adamson serves as ASLE President, but along with doing so was also busy with research, writing up a number of diversity pertinent publications, including her co-edited (with Kimberly Ruffin) American Studies, Ecocriticism, and Ecology: Thinking and Acting in the Local and Global Commons (Routledge).

Amongst his various activities, Rayson Alex, includes work on co-editing (along with colleague Sachindev P.S) a documentary titled, The Story of a Weed; he is also co-editing with Sachindev P.S. and S. Susan Deborah the collection Culture and Media: Ecocritical Explorations (Cambridge Scholars Publishing), which will focus on ecocinema and be out this coming year.

Laura Barbas-Rhoden co-chaired and organized an ecocritical panel at the Congress of the Latin American Studies Association in May. She also presented a paper, “Ethnographic Activism and Crisis of Place in La Yuma and Meet Me Under the Ceiba” at LASA. In addition, along with ASLE-ites Allison Hedge Coke and David Furbish she helped moderate, the “Confluences: Thinking Like a River” kick-off symposium at Wofford College in October, and participated on the overnight paddling trip on the Pacolet & Broad rivers with three of the creative writers that were part of the “Thinking Like a River” kick-off events. Susan Fox Rogers blogged about the experience.

Janet Fiskio presented a paper, “Mapping a Haunted Landscape: Indigenous Resistance and the Politics of Memory,” at the MLA Convention in Boston at a panel co-organized with Jan Johnson of the Society for the Study of American Indian literature, and helped create an ASLE affiliation with NASAIL. She also published two articles including “Unsettling Ecocriticism: Rethinking Agrarianism, Place, and Citizenship.” (American Literature. 84.2 Special Issue: Ecocriticism.) In 2013 she’ll be co-leading, with Mike Ziser, the pre-conference seminar Climate Change Ecocriticisms.

Heather Houser has two articles out, “Wondrous Strange: Eco-Sickness, Emotion, and The Echo Maker.” (American Literature 84.2: 381-408) and “Infinite Jest’s Environmental Case for Disgust.” in The Legacy of David Foster Wallace (eds. Samuel Cohen and Lee Konstantinou. Iowa City: U of Iowa Press). She also worked on putting together, with Lewis Ulman, the upcoming ASLE pre-conference seminar, Ecocriticism, Data, and Digital Media.

Anthony Lioi published two diversity related articles: “The Muse of Difference: Race and Writing Assessment at Two Elite Art Schools.” (in Race and Racism in Writing Assessment. Editors Asao Inoue and Mya Poe. Studies in Composition and Rhetoric 7. New York: Peter Lang. 155-168), co-authored with Nicole Merola; and “Teaching Green Cultural Studies and New Media.” (in Teaching Ecocriticism and Green Cultural Studies. Edited by Greg Garrard. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 122-143). He is a regular and insightful contributor to the blog and an active member of ASLE’s Executive Council.

Amy Mossman-Patrick continues to be an active member of her campus’ Diversity initiatives– Dealing with Differences Institute, and helps coordinate the series Difficult Conversations.

Anna Lena Phillips recently edited an article for American Scientist, by ecologist Robert Cabin, that discusses ecological restoration efforts in Hawaii and the complex questions such efforts raise about the intersection of cultural difference and environmentalism, and about interactions between indigenous and Western scientific knowledge.  The issue also includes a number of eco- and diversity relevant book reviews.

Sarah Wald’s ASA talk was “Empire and Spatial Justice in Viramontes’s Their Dogs Came with Them and Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.” She also spoke at the Imagining America Conference this fall on a roundtable focused on “Balancing Research and Community Engagement for Junior Faculty” and continues to be an active member of Drew University’s Sustainability Committee and worked to implement the Real Food Challenge and incorporate agricultural justice project standards into the college’s purchasing preferences.

Keep an eye out for a post from Annie Ingram that describes her sabbatical in south India, and one from Sarah J Ray that describes the One Campus One Book Project (Being Caribou) that she helped organize at her UAS-Juneau campus this past fall. Sarah’s The Ecological Other: Environmental Exclusion in American Culture will also be out this year.

I’m happy to say that Ecocinema Theory and Practice, co-edited with Steve Rust and Sean Cubitt was published this past year (Routledge). In addition, my “Wilderness Discourse in Adventure-Nature Films: The Potentials and Limitations of Being Caribou.” appeared in ISLE, and Miranda Brady and my “Wind Power! Marketing Renewable Energy on Tribal Lands and The Struggle for Just Sustainability” was published in Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability.

Send us your news, as well as any pertinent cfps, or announcements. Not only do we have the blog to disseminate the news, but now thanks to Laura Barbas Rhoden we also have a Twitter feed, #AsleDiversity. (Use the newly added buttons at the bottom of all our posts to share on Twitter and other social media sites.)  Here’s to another year of continued attention to issues of ecocritical diversity and productive scholarly endeavors.