On Sept. 28, students and staff packed into the Lowe Dayton Commons to view projects created for the new Sustainability for Global Citizenship class. Four groups presented, each comprised of three students.
The class finished its inaugural semester in May, and it seems destined for a rich future at Macalester. Taught and mentored by political science professor Michael Zis, with additional mentorship from Christy Hanson, Dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship, 12 students set out to complete projects with local organizations involving sustainability inside and outside of the Twin Cities community.
The first group that presented last Thursday worked with the Hmongtown Marketplace, a conglomeration of about 150 vendors near downtown St. Paul. The group’s goal was to improve long-term economic stability in the Marketplace and reduce its environmental impact. Working with owners and managers, the students set out to implement better composting and recycling practices and preserve important Hmong paintings within the Marketplace.
Unlike many other cities, St. Paul does not provide its own trash service, meaning that residents and business owners have to find their own service to pick up their trash. Furthermore, trash is taxed, but compost and recycling are exempt from taxes, so separating waste makes a huge economic difference for businesses.
The Hmong Marketplace team applied for $20,000 in grant funds, negotiated with different trash hauling companies and developed cost analysis that included the use of compostable containers and other equipment. They placed several labeled bins around the Marketplace and spoke with many community members to help put the project into practice. The team projects that the new measures will save the Marketplace $30,000 annually.
The second student group, consisting of Forest Redlin ’17, Laura Humes ’16 and Aaron Hymoff ’17, worked directly with the American Refugee Committee (ARC), an international nonprofit organization that works with refugee camps in several countries around the world. The goal of the group that worked with ARC was to create an innovative space in the Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda.
They started by engaging with local refugee resettlement and refugee services organizations to hold interviews with former refugees who now live in the Twin Cities area. Pulling together insights from focus groups and individuals, they formed a picture of what it was like to be in a refugee camp. They also spoke with the Rwandan national staff at the ARC to implement their project.
But nothing the group did at Macalester compared to their first-hand experience at the Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda. “When that opportunity arose we knew right away it would be something that would be important to follow through with,” Humes said. “It’s kind of impossible to really know your community unless you have a learning experience where you can be immersed in an environment.”
For Redlin and Humes, the experience was life-changing. The group at times went in without an agenda just to listen to the people of the Mahama refugee camp and build rapport.
“A lot of it just centered around coming back,” Humes said. “The first few days we just spent most of our time walking around the whole camp and meeting everyone and shaking so many hands and learning so many ways to say ‘hello’. Eventually people knew who we were, and what our purposes were and wanted to share with us their perspectives and insights.”
As a result of this experience, Redlin has changed his vocational goals to more fully align with international development and the work he does with ARC. Humes and Redlin are both still involved with the ARC.
The third group worked with the Macalester Groveland Community Council to create a document based on surveys and several meetings with trash haulers and community members. This became an advisory document for city-wide trash hauling that considers problems with implementation and possible solutions.
Their recommendations are to negotiate a system with incentives to reduce waste, to promote community education and feedback, and to create a consortium model of trash collecting to replace the unsustainable and inefficient current model of trash collecting. The document, though unfinished at the time of the presentation, will be used as a recommendation for city hall members and public officials.
The fourth and final group worked with Project for Pride in Living (PPL), a housing development organization in the EcoVillage of the Hawthorne neighborhood in Minneapolis. The group had several goals: define and reach sustainability goals, foster a sense of ownership and help create cohesion within the neighborhood. To meet these goals the group facilitated informal community gatherings and shared knowledge about environmentally-friendly practices. They implemented the use of personalized name signs in the community garden in order to provide motivation to maintain plots and decrease confusion over ownership.
The group also conducted a survey which showed that 48 percent of residents were not aware they lived in the “EcoVillage”. To bring the community together, they facilitated the decoration of compost bins.
Besides these projects, learning about sustainability was a large component of the experience. Zis taught in a seminar style, combining class discussion, readings and guest speakers with two field trips. As the class was in its inaugural semester, he was faced with designing a curriculum.
With the help of then preceptor Abby Rosenfeld ’15 and several professors, Zis compiled a list of readings. He also brought in several guest speakers from the Macalester community, including political science professor David Blaney, geography professor Dan Trudeau and economics professor Sarah West.
The class also involved activities for students to consider and debate competing perspectives, from faith in technology and markets to radical green politics. Considering different perspectives helped several of the groups in situations where alternative approaches and important trade-offs had to be recognized, for example, in pragmatic governmental approaches to sustainable trash hauling.
Zis said, “The fact that [the class] was so tied into the community, both the campus and the city at-large, I think is what made it distinctive. But the other part that made it so distinctive was that … there were 41 or 42 applicants, and 12 were chosen. So it was a really selective group of really motivated students.”
The small selection of students paid off in the debut semester of the class. At the presentations, representatives of the organizations spoke about how hard the students worked and how much progress was made as a result of their efforts.
On their last day in the Rwanda refugee camp, the student group stopped by the tent used as a meeting place. The three were invited in for a meal. They went into the tent and took off their shoes. The ensuing exchange was not project-oriented, but as Redlin put it, was “a completely equitable exchange among friends. It was sharing about our home, sharing about their country, sharing about the most beautiful things we thought were in the States, the most beautiful things they thought were [back home] in Burundi.”