The need for sustainability gen-eds in the UMass curriculum

UMass should implement environmental gen-eds to increase sustainable literacy

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The need for sustainability gen-eds in the UMass curriculum

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

By McKenna Premus, Collegian Columnist

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The University of Massachusetts takes pride in promoting sustainability in the lifestyles of students, faculty and campus visitors, as well as in off-campus communities. Through food waste and recycling programs, the installation of over 15,000 solar panels and the development of numerous green buildings, it comes as no surprise that UMass was recently ranked No. 30 among 413 profiled colleges and universities on “The Princeton Review Guide to 413 Green Colleges,” which was released on Oct. 22.

Although it seems as though the University cannot be any “greener,” it might be worth considering whether or not sustainable thought can have a greater presence in the classroom.

In 2017, the University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government proposed that a course in sustainability be added to UConn’s list of general education requirements. UConn’s online course catalog now indicates that UConn students are required to take at least one course of a 3.00 credit minimum that falls under the Environmental Literacy content area.

General education requirements, or “gen-eds,” do not usually have a positive connotation among college students, as it is of popular opinion that gen-eds are not enjoyable and usually do not align with one’s academic interests. However, a gen-ed in sustainability and environmental literacy would surpass the importance of all other general education requirements. It is one thing to attend one of the “greenest” universities in the world, but to understand what it truly means to live sustainably and lead an environmentally friendly and green lifestyle can help reduce the effects of climate change – now that is something truly substantial and vital in today’s world.

UMass currently offers over 300 courses relating to sustainability. Students can be sure to find at least one sustainability class that suits their interests, as they are offered by numerous departments such as accounting, economics, biology, hotel management, history, natural resource conservation, nutrition, philosophy, political science, public health and environmental science, just to name a few.

The University of South Florida distributed an environmental literacy survey to the students in 2015 to measure the extent of the student body’s knowledge about the environment, as well as their analysis of environmental problems and their disposition toward sustainable practices. The assessment contained questions sourced from the Environmental Protection Agency, National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal, the National Environmental Education Association and others.

Unfortunately, only 44 percent of the students who participated in the survey passed the environmental literacy portion of the assessment, with 56 percent failing. While it is troubling that the students’ knowledge of the environment seems lacking, the students did indicate a high interest in practicing sustainable activities, such as recycling, lobbying for a cleaner energy economy, investing in renewable energy and being a part of solving environmental issues in their own communities.

This study demonstrates that although many students want to help work toward a viable future and achieve a more environmentally friendly way of life, they are lacking basic environmental literacy and the fundamental knowledge about the impacts of leading sustainable lifestyles.

By learning about the impacts of one’s individual actions, students would become more cognizant of their daily activities and be more inclined to make small adjustments such as bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, carrying reusable water bottles rather than single-use plastic water bottles and walking or biking to class rather than taking the bus – all of which would yield an immense impact when practiced by a large number individuals.

Whether it be a class on environmental law, organic farming or community nutrition, introducing a sustainability gen-ed into the UMass curriculum would allow students to gain a greater awareness of the environment and learn how to appropriately care for it in order to help ensure a future for themselves and generations to come.

As renowned conservationist Rachel Carson once said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

McKenna Premus is a Collegian Columnist and can be reached at [email protected]