At Antioch University New England, ecological stewardship and social justice are two of the cornerstones of the educational foundation that underlies the school’s graduate programs. Perhaps the other two cornerstones are the university’s faculty and the people from around the world who travel to Keene (or participate via the internet) to take advantage of the school’s offerings.
“Our students are coming to us with life experiences and in some cases with significant professional experience,” says Dr. Abigail Abrash Walton, a faculty member of the school’s environmental Studies program. Walton is also the director of the Environmental studies master’s programs and the co-director of the Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience.
“Because we are an interdisciplinary department, we have people who come here because they’ve been teaching, and they want to expand into the environmental and sustainability space,” she says. “And we have people who come here because they want to become certified science teachers at the middle school and high school level.”
Another group of people comes to Antioch to become sustainability coordinators. They work in the nonprofit field and also in the private sector, says Walton.
“We have (an alumnus) who did his masters of science here and went to work with an event company coordinating zero-waste events,” she says. “He did the 2013 Obama inauguration, Lollapalooza, and big sporting events. His goal is to reduce to zero the waste that is being generated at these events.”
Walton is talking about David Mayer, the vice president of business development of Venue Smart and the co-owner of Two Owls Sustainability Partners, which he founded with his Keene State College roommate Greg Lam.
A COMMITMENT TO GREEN
“We are committed to ecological stewardship and social justice, cultivating local as well as global perspectives to educate students with diverse backgrounds and opinions to become leaders of change,” according to Antioch’s values statement.
Antioch’s New England campus offers degrees and certificates in several programs, including education, environmental studies, clinical psychology, counseling and therapy, and more. As disparate as those offerings are, Antioch’s commitment to social and environmental justice are woven throughout the curriculum.
Whether it’s working with young people, marginalized communities, government agencies, or nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses, Antioch’s graduates are driven to advocate for social justice and to foster resource conservation and management decisions that directly affect the lives of people whose voices are not heard in the halls of power.
Walton says making connections between human rights and environmental concerns is fundamental both to sustainable development and to the basic requirements of attaining peace and justice at home and around the world.
At Antioch’s Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience, says Walton, the approach is solutions-oriented, pragmatic, participatory and inclusive. It’s meant to create leaders who are focused on making changes in both how organizations think and behave with an explicit awareness of social and climate justice.
A core part of Antioch’s offerings is a focus on diversity, social justice and inclusivity, says Walton. “It’s an iterative process.”
An iterative process is, at its foundation, a process of constant review and rethinking on a path to achieving the most beneficial outcome.
The iterative process is also informed by the interdisciplinary nature of Antioch University, weaving together different threads to create a fabric of thought and practice. This process recently resulted in the creation of a certificate program in conservation psychology.
“It’s all about human behavior and what we as a species do,” says Walton. “We focus a lot on climate change because that is the biggest existential threat that we as humans face. We also focus on biodiversity conservation because there are rapid declines in different kinds of species around the world.”
Dr. Carol Saunders, who died in 2018, co-founded the field of conservation psychology, which is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the seriousness of the human impact on the natural world and, in turn, the power and importance of nature’s influence on humans.
The Conservation Psychology program at Antioch uses empirical research about how people make decisions to provide for conservation outcomes that most benefit people and the habitats in which they live. Participants in the certificate program learn how to motivate pro-environmental behavior change, how to foster connections to nature, and how to create effective communication strategies.
“We really view our role as being the nexus of that bridge between research, theory and practice,” says Walton.
In addition to the certificate, Antioch’s conservation psychology program offers an environmental webinar series that is open to one and all. Topics include “Social Influences on Environmental Engagement,” “Practical Strategies for Coping with the Emotional Toll of Conservation Work,” and “Using Psychology and Statistics to Save Wildlife.”
While anyone can view these webinars at their leisure, says Walton, “We are really focused on meeting our audience, those people who are working in a variety of different conservation settings, including the National Park Service, zoos and aquariums, and faculty members and graduate students at other higher ed institutions.”
Antioch University was founded in 1852 in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It first expanded to New England in 1964, setting up shop in Putney, Vermont, before moving to Harrisville, New Hampshire. It then moved to Keene, first in the Miller Forge Building on Roxbury Street before moving to the renovated Sprague & Carleton furniture factory on Avon Street.
Walton says there is a symbiotic relationship between the university and the community that hosts it.
“We have an incredible network of alumni who reside in this community,” she says. “I can’t go to a meeting in Keene without meeting at least one other Antioch-connected person. It’s exciting to see how Antioch is deeply woven into the societal fabric here.”
Antioch alumni have been instrumental in establishing the Monadnock Food Co-op and the Monadnock International Film Festival and helped Keene write its climate adaptation plan, one of the first in the nation, says Walton.
To learn more about Antioch University New England and the programs offered there, visit www.antioch.edu/new-england. For more about Antioch University’s full list of programs, including online bachelor’s completion and master’s degrees, as well as its new low-residency EdD in Educational Practice and Leadership, visit www.antioch.edu.
Robert Audette writes from Swanzey, New Hampshire.