Inspiring community engaged sustainability scholarship

Abby Reyes

The role of the scholar, the engaged scientist and the engaged citizen are compatible, complementary, and in fact necessary.

Director of the Sustainability Initiative at the University of California Irvine, Abby Reyes on creating opportunities for community engaged sustainability scholarship.

Talking points

We work to make community engaged sustainability scholarship integral to UC Irvine’s excellence as a research, teaching and service campus. We do that so our students, faculty and staff have the tools, training and resources they need to take bigger roles in addressing the critical sustainability challenges in our region and across the globe.

We’re doing that because the University of California of which we are part has a drive, a purpose, to accelerate the shifts we need to see to decarbonise the university and accelerate the shifts in other areas of our lives to reorganise how we relate to the planet and each other.

Re-imagining economy and tackling the big questions we face.

Sustainability leadership training…new set of skills that we belive the rising generation of sustainability leaders need to be able to be the knowledge brokers…the interpersonal skills and mastery to work together across traditional divides on these cross-cutting issues where what can make or break progress is how well people relate to each other and how outside of our own positions we can move to get to our underlying interests which are more often than not common about what kind of future we want to see for our families and our extended communities and our planet.

The approach we use is strategic questioning – a form of inquiry to enable young people to lead change processes in their community, from focussing on what’s concerning us most, through what do we want to see instead, through to what needs to change to get there, and then designing action for change.

We’re living on the front lines of a changing climate.

My mother raised us with an ethic of service and conservation.

Service is the path to freedom, to liberation in the spiritual sense, closer one’s self.

What we’re doing is offered in a gesture of creativity and joy and not a lot of attachment to the outcome. Very focussed on getting to our desired outcomes, but also not attached.

Inside the classroom students are definitely understanding the scale and pace of the deterioration of our critical life support systems in the planet. Outside the classroom we build community, then we draw upon tools to express fear, emptiness, sorrow and anger about the state of the world, we allow that some airtime, because they’re not getting that in the classroom and because our way of relating with these issues through social media is online and solitary endeavour even though it has the illusion of being connected with others it is often ill-processed or partially processed at best.

So we give that airtime, then help students see that the energy of anger is the same energy that drives passion.

The same energy that drives emptiness is the energy that enables us to work with equanimity and the letting go. The same energy that drives fear, the flip side of it is hope.

We help students go through that transition, then we get into what are you going to do about it?

I developed the analysis that carries me today – the inextricable relationship between environmental and human rights.

If we are working for protecting the earth, we also have to be working for protecting people.

Scholars and communities together, enabling the shifts that we need.

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