UWRF one of 14 colleges to offer sustainable justice minor
November 11, 2022
The University of Wisconsin-River Falls is one of only 14 universities in the United States to offer a sustainable justice, or SUSJ, minor. As of the fall of 2022, 12 students have enrolled in UW-River Falls’ SUSJ program.
According to its course description page, “sustainable justice combines sustainability’s three-pronged approach (environment, society, and economics) with the environmental justice perspective that issues of race, class, gender, and species are integral to our work with the environment and economics.”
“We have a lot of approaches to sustainability that focus on the environment and…how can we conserve and keep the planet healthy,” said Grace Coggio, associate professor for communication studies and the sustainable justice minor.
“We sometimes lose sight of the more holistic understanding of sustainability, which includes the... social element as part of it. This minor, in addition to looking at the social justice angle of sustainability, and the impact on human beings, it also is about bringing different disciplines together around the issue of sustainability.”
The SUSJ program was founded in 2017 by Greta Gaard, professor of English and former coordinator of the Sustainability Faculty Fellows. “[The program] is starting to accelerate,” Coggio said. “We're seeing a greater and greater demand for it.”
Of the 12 students enrolled in the sustainable justice minor, eight are currently in the program, and four have graduated from it.
The SUSJ minor offers an introductory course, Sustainable Justice Foundations, which Coggio teaches, as well as three core courses. For these courses, students can choose Environmental Sustainability, Defining Sustainability Through Documentary Film, Global Water Resources, Sustainability from the Perspective or the Arts, Foundations of Outdoor Leadership, and Literature of Environmental Justice.
“[The minor] offers students fresh approaches to understanding... environmental, health, ecological, economic, social and environmental justice,” Coggio said.
Students will then complete their studies with a Sustainable Justice Internship, Practicum, and Collaborative Community-based Research course. Students will then plan a research project that centers around sustainability in their local community.
“The project that we have students do is to identify a sustainable justice issue and come up with…a project that will address the issue,” Coggio said. An example that Coggio mentioned was addressing food insecurity in a community.
“[Students] could do a capstone class or an internship where they put [their plan] into action, where they actually go out into the community,” Coggio said. “[They will] go into the community and enact some kind of positive change around the issues of sustainability and social justice.” She mentioned how the project should also be collaborative; students work with businesses or nonprofit groups or people from the affected community.
One student, Coggio said, looked at the issue of low compost rates in their hometown, developed a plan to address it, and raised awareness for this plan by reaching out to community groups and getting involved in Earth Fest 2021.
The students that are enrolled in the SUSJ program are studying not only sustainability, but a variety of subjects as well, including Business Administration, Communication Studies, TESOL, German, and Conservation and Environmental Planning.
“I’ve had students who are Communications Studies majors…but want to do communications work [centered] around sustainability,” Coggio said. “[The program] definitely is diverse; it can enhance another minor and give you an area of expertise.”
“It’s so important that we have opportunities for students to explore these issues... to
think critically about them, and then to develop ways to do something about it in whatever path their life takes,” Coggio said.
She hopes the sustainable justice minor will continue to grow in the coming years, and prepare more students for the sustainability issues of the future.