Enviro “Thurstys”: Mac’s longest-running speaker series

Enviro Thursdays are quite a tradition at Macalester. Sponsored by the Environmental Studies department, it is the longest running speaker series on campus. There is no other space where students can interact with speakers such as Bill McKibben one week and senior Macalester students the next. Plus, there are always snacks.

However, it’s the speaker and not the snacks that keep students coming back for more. There have been monumental figures such as local meteorologist Paul Douglass and Raj Patel. Patel is an academic, journalist, activist and novelist from the University of California, Berkeley with a focus on food justice. It’s not uncommon for an Enviro Thursday to pack the house in humble 250 Olin-Rice.

“It is very important in a college setting to hear outside voices and to get continual intellectual input from different perspectives,” said William Moseley, professor and chair of the Geography department. “All colleges worth their salt need these types of talk series and intellectual fora.” Moseley also mentioned that numerous geographers have presented for the series.

“Enviro Thursdays act as an avenue for bringing experts, practitioners, professionals and artists to campus,”said Roopali Phadke, professor and chair of the Environmental Studies department. Phadke believes that Enviro Thursdays are an invitation to students to absorb different, real-world perspectives. The series is open to other departments as well as the broader community. “Past students will remember Enviro Thursdays fondly as a time for community, staff and faculty to come together.”

This is especially true to those who graduated in the last decade and remember when Enviro Thursdays were affectionately referred to as “Enviro Thurstys”. Attendees and sometimes presenters were known to extend the hour-long presentation to someone’s house or a local bar.

“I don’t really know why they chose Thursdays, but faculty and upperclassmen would go out to the Tap together every Thursday,” said Environmental Studies major Karen Weldon ‘14. Weldon has completed an independent study on EcoHouse food purchasing and has also presented for an Enviro Thursday.

“I see Enviro Thursdays as a place for students interested in Environmental Studies to get a taste for the range of disciplines and topics covered by the area of study.” Weldon said. Enviro Thursday also provides a venue for seniors to present their capstone and honors projects.

“There used to be a fund to bring in outside speakers to Enviro Thursdays, but that donor stopped giving,” Moseley said. However, it has also gained a valuable reputation and speakers will sometimes approach Macalester offering to present here.

“Active recruiting of peoples who are doing exciting work is important, but we both solicit and accept invitations to campus,” Phadke said. The roster for weekly speakers is generally planned one semester in advance. Spring 2014 is already half-full.

Next Thursday, November 7th, students will be listening to history professor Ryan Edgington discuss the key to the United States agricultural civil defense strategy for the Cold War in his talk, “Cultivating the Atomic Food System: The USDA, Farmers, and Civil Defense, 1955-1965.”

The Federal Civil Defense Administration (now the Department of Homeland Security) encouraged families to stock up on food and water in case of an atomic attack. Edgington will explain how the agency educated farmers and food processors about production, and created solutions for post-attack food systems by emphasizing the correlation between farming and survival in the aftermath of an imagined World War III.