What Can I Do? SLS Shares Some Thoughts on Engaging in the Current Moment

June 5, 2020

If you’re like us - you’ve been asking yourself this question on a daily basis for the last few months. And even more so, over the last few weeks. The world is, at the same time, at a standstill and immersed in chaos. As SLS student fellow Mira Kaufman so eloquently wrote about a few weeks ago in our SLS Reflections blog, COVID-19 has starkly revealed and exacerbated longstanding inequities in all of the systems that structure our society. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery - so close to home for those of us at Georgia Tech - and of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd - all in the midst of the pandemic - further demonstrate the ways in which the structural inequity of racism infects us all. 

Since its inception, SLS has focused on equity - and especially on racial equity - as a key component of sustainability and “creating sustainable communities.” And as we quickly approach the end of our initial five-year plan, we are working to figure out how SLS’s work will be institutionalized at Georgia Tech moving forward. Over the last few months, we have spent a lot of time engaging in Tech’s Strategic Planning effort, to ensure that key aspects of our sustainable communities work - like 3 Es sustainability, experiential education, social innovation, equity and inclusion, anchor institutions, UN Sustainable Development Goals, community partnerships, and transdisciplinary teaching and research - become embedded as priorities for the Institute overall.

At this crucial point in time, we are thinking about what we can do to specifically support the COVID-19 and racial equity efforts emerging all around us. As part of this, we are talking with our long-term partners - especially our African-American colleagues and friends who have been leaders in Atlanta for decades - to figure out how SLS can support their leadership and longstanding efforts to help their communities thrive.

We are looking inward, outward, and in between. With respect to education we are asking: How can we help students better understand what’s going on and how to make a difference? How can we help faculty engage their students in these questions? How can we provide faculty, students, and staff with forums to express their anger, sadness, and frustration, where they can also feel comfortable asking questions and sharing advice as well as connect with and support each other? We are also asking questions about community engagement: How can SLS and Georgia Tech support our partners in their work, at this particular point in time and into next year - especially given the constraints posed by COVID-19? From the perspective of SLS's mission to equip students to help create sustainable communities and become change-makers, what experiential learning opportunities reside in this challenging moment? 

We have a bunch of ideas, ranging from video forums this summer to fellows programs next year. Immediately, we are working with the Center for Teaching and Learning to co-host video conversations for faculty teaching this summer about how to consider current events in the classroom. The next conversation is this Wednesday, June 10. Read more and register here, and see the resources list here. Additionally, our regional sustainability network, RCE Greater Atlanta, is currently forming an Equity, Diversity, and Racial Justice Action Group to help ensure that the RCE network and our activities exemplify these values. If you’re interested in learning more, you can read about the RCE at rcega.org and email rcegreateratlanta@gmail.com

We also encourage you to seek out opportunities to learn and get involved, while staying safe and adhering to CDC public health guidelines. Look for opportunities in our weekly e-newsletter

We want to close on a note of hope. We have been part of a number of conversations, and have read quite a few articles, about the opportunity that all of these crises, colliding together, might provide for emerging stronger and more united. We are touched by this quote from novelist Arundhati Roy - and we hope you will be too:

“Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.”
- Arundhati Roy, Azadi (coming in Sept 2020)

We’ll be back in touch soon to continue the conversation.


Jenny, Jamie, Kris, Ruthie, Rebecca, and David

P.S. If you are faculty teaching this summer - please consider attending our Wednesday workshop! Read more and register here. 


Tag: cm2020