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Sustaining Voices

Third annual WUmester will explore global theme of sustainability

Sustainability WUmester logo

From The Ichabod - Winter 2021

If all goes as planned, the conversations and ideas sparked by this year’s WUmester will last well beyond the spring 2021 semester. The third annual event’s theme is sustainability, and Washburn University faculty and staff have plans to engage students and the community through several panel discussions, speakers and events. Like the first two years, the WUmester planning committee looks for issues related to social justice.

“We want to talk about the problems we are facing and how these problems affect different communities differently,” said Kelly Erby, associate professor, history, assistant dean, College of Arts and Sciences. “We also want to empower students to feel they can intervene and make a positive difference.”

The goal of WUmester is to engage the entire Washburn community in a cross-disciplinary learning experience on timely subjects and help students see the connections between the subjects they study in the classroom and real-world debates and problems.

“No matter where you are on the planet, there are issues of sustainability, even in our state of Kansas,” said Danielle Dempsey-Swopes, jd ’92, director, Office of University Diversion and Inclusion. “Students are eager to learn what’s happening here, what’s happening abroad, and to bring it all together.”

Events this year include a talk on Feb. 18, 2021, by award-winning author Harriet Washington, author of the 2019 book “A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind.” A panel of local government officials will discuss citizenship and sustainability. Washburn’s WIFI Film Festival – which will be all online this year – will include a category about sustainability. The Mulvane Art Museum will feature artworks from the permanent collection that explore sustainability through the foundation of society, environment and economy. Washburn students will also be engaged in creating interactive exhibits and content that will be shared online, through social media and in virtual presentations.

Marable Justin, Roaming Beneath, acrylic screen print

(The screen print, "Roaming Beneath" by Justin Marable, will be part of the Mulvane's exhibit, "Sustainability - Social, Environmental, Economic," which will be showing Jan. 19 through June, 2021)

“The Mulvane has always been a space where, through art, you can have conversations about contemporary issues,” said Connie Gibbons, director, Mulvane Art Museum. “Art allows us to ask questions and get people to think about and respond to critical issues and expand what we know. I think artists have a unique way of being able to do that.”

A number of classes will also devote time to the sustainability topic, including courses in archaeology, sociology, history and ethics.

Sustainability is a broad topic and one that can affect a small community or the entire world. Topics like climate change and renewable energy are hot-button issues, and many communities and industries make their livelihood with practices that would be upended by comprehensive regulations. Ideas and solutions must be ones all sides can get behind and find some benefit from. In other words, the ideas need to be sustainable.

“We want to empower students as much as possible as we talk about climate change and sustainability,” Erby said. “We have to find a way to show how relevant it is to everyone. Solutions have to work for everyone, and I think that's one of the things we'll be talking about as it relates to climate justice.”

The committee hopes students find new opportunities and connections through their involvement.

“What they start to do is they see themselves and how their thinking and learning can contribute in the world after they graduate,” Dempsey-Swopes said. “They start to see jobs and volunteer opportunities and all kinds of ways that they can get engaged.”

While COVID-19 and the closure of campus in March 2020 disrupted much of last year’s WUmester events, the committee is planning to put on nearly all events virtually this year.

“We’re focusing on the development of the content that's suitable for web and virtual,” Gibbons said. “We're all quickly learning new ways of processing and getting things done.”

The Ichabod Winter 2021 issue

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 winter edition online and look for it in mailboxes in January.

View past editions


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