by: Todd LeVasseur
Do you want to change the world and make it a better place? If the answer is yes, then you are not alone. This is because so do I. And so do all of the professors and staff in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS). This is why we are committed to a deep exploration of human cultural values and how they are created and disseminated, both past and present.
A core question that motivates classes and research undertaken in the humanities and social sciences is, “How do humans think about themselves and their role in society?” With the coming implementation of our new Quality Enhancement Plan on “Sustainability Literacy as a Bridge to Addressing 21st Century Problems,” this question takes on even more vital importance. This is because in many ways, how humans conceive of the world, which includes both social worlds and the natural world, influences their behaviors in that world: how they vote, spend their money, the jobs they want to get, and how they conceive of their habits of consumption. The various classes that are offered in HSS help us better understand the human animal and how humans at both individual and aggregate levels conceive of themselves as actors in the unfolding journey of society.
Let’s put the above into the immediate context of September, 2016: police shootings of unarmed African American males in Tulsa and Charlotte; an election cycle where voices of white supremacy, xenophobia, misogyny, and denial of basic science are gaining stronger and more public voice; the hottest months ever recorded in the history of our species, first July 2016, and then eclipsed by August 2016. These are all issues directly related to the importance of sustainability literacy. Sustainability literacy is about acquiring the skills and knowledge to make resilient communities at the interface of social equity, environmental protection, and economic fairness. Sustainability invites us to think about our impacts on the communities within which we reside and how we can make them more just, resilient, and sustainable for all community members.
Paul Ehrlich developed a shorthand formula for thinking about the impact of an individual or community on the natural environment: I = PAT. So the impact of an action is a function of the population of that community, multiplied by the affluence of that community, multiplied by the level of technology of that community. As someone who studies sustainability and human-nature interactions from the perspective of the humanities, I find this formula sufficient but lacking a necessary variable: V, for cultural values. This variable brings us back to HSS and changing the world: the more a College of Charleston graduate can understand the values that motivate human ideas and behaviors, and can generate insights into how these ideas and behaviors can be shifted towards fairness in society and protection of our environment, then the better situated they will be to compete for and earn jobs that allow them to make a difference. We do not need more studies to tell us that there are issues of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and discrimination in society. We do not need more science to tell us that the world is warming as a direct result of human behaviors. Rather, we need to generate solutions that change these realities by targeting the behaviors behind them. A BA or BS in one of the myriad majors offered in HSS provides graduates the needed skills to address these issues, help shift societal behaviors, and therefore make the world a better place. As a faculty member in HSS, I look forward to helping students on this path!
The College of Charleston’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is “Sustainability Literacy as a Bridge to Addressing 21st-Century Problems”. Todd LeVasseur is a visiting assistant professor in the religious studies department and director of the QEP . To learn more about the plan, visit sustain.cofc.edu.