Second annual Civic Forum focuses student involvement, engages issues of the environment and society

By Matt Day

Macalester is in the midst of an unprecedented turn toward sustainability. The college hired Suzanne Savanick-Hansen in February to fill the newly created position of Sustainability Manager. Macalester is only months away from breaking ground on the IGC building, which will achieve LEED platinum certification, one of the highest ratings for energy efficiency. The EcoHouse is about to finish its first year of operation as a themed student residence. The list goes on.

With such focus placed upon campus environmental improvement, the Second Annual Macalester Civic Forum asked how that improvement could be applied to society as a whole. Titled “The Environment, Citizenship, and the Public Good,” the forum was held March 27 and 28 in the Chapel.

The sessions were generally well attended Macalester students and faculty, and included the presentation of four student papers. Timothy Den Herder-Thomas ’09, Clare Ryan ’08, Alese Colehour ’09 and Momchil Jelev ’08 all prepared scholarly papers on the application of environmental concerns to civil society. Colehour, who is abroad, had her paper presented at the forum by Justin Lee ’08.

Professor Andrew Latham, Associate Dean of the IGC, has stressed that the much of the Civic Forum’s orientation is toward student-produced work. In addition to the student presenters, the IGC Student Council took an active role in organizing the forum.

“[The forum] was very strong in connecting students with local leaders,” said Thuto Thipe ’10. “I thought it was good that the student council helped lead.”

Ryan agreed. “I’m excited about the student involvement,” she said. “The emphasis on student work is good.”

The forum’s keynote speaker, University of Kansas Professor Donald E. Worster, presented his paper entitled “On John Muir’s Trail-Nature and Society in an Age of Liberal Principles,” to a packed house Thursday night.

The following morning in her introduction to the first two student presenters, IGC Associate Dean Karin Trail-Johnson set the tone for the rest of the forum. “This morning is focused on students,” she said.

Ryan said the students were contacted in the summer by Latham, who had been contacting professors asking for recommendations of students to write and present papers.

Ryan and Jelev both had limited experience in environmental studies prior to working on the forum.

“We came at it from a perspective of ‘what do we know, and what can we add to this,'” Ryan said.

After the panels were finished, a student-organized “Sustain the Conversation” was held to help process the lessons learned from the two-day event and carry on the discussion, Ryan said.

Thipe said that though the forum is only in its second year, she would like to see more enthusiasm on campus surrounding the event.

“The [International] Roundtable is all people talk about during that week,” Thipe said, referring to the IGC-hosted event, which had its fourteenth annual event in the fall. “Maybe that will come for the Forum as it grows.