New Consciousness-Raising Courses at RIC

Honor the sacred.
Honor the Earth, our Mother.
Honor the Elders.
Honor all with whom we share the Earth:
Four-leggeds, two-leggeds, winged ones,
Swimmers, crawlers, plant and rock people.
Walk in balance and beauty.
— Native American Elder

Along with the usual courses at RIC, you can find a few new and unconventional ones – earth-conscious and food-conscious courses that explore man’s interrelationship with the earth and the food sources that the earth provides.

Indigenous peoples have known for some time that the earth and the people who live on it are inseparable and interdependent. Historically, they lived in harmony with the rhythms of the natural world, and their practices were designed to maintain the natural balance, recognizing that what befell nature, befell man. Europeans who settled North America saw nature as something to be controlled, tamed, cleared and made productive. They eschewed Native practices as a form of nature worship. Today, the notion that man and nature are one is no longer viewed as mystical but is espoused by modern environmentalists everywhere.

Two RIC academicians Assistant Professor of Art Education Virginia Freyermuth and Professor of Educational Studies Charles McLaughlin have created a new General Education course titled Sustainability 261: Exploring Nature Through Art, Science and Technology that not only promotes the interdependence between man and nature but promotes an appreciation of nature. They quoted researchers Anderson and Guyus (2012), when describing their philosophy behind the course:

We believe that the current environmental crisis can be addressed by changing our relationship with the Earth that sustains us. This entails a reorientation of the idea of self to include an understanding that one is integrally and relationally part of everyone and everything else.

This interdisciplinary, inquiry-based course involves on-site nature excursions, nature journaling and art-making.“I’ve found that the arts can be an elegant and beautiful gateway to the natural world, inviting close observation, curiosity and a sense of wonder,” said Freyermuth. “No prior artistic experience is required.” She and McLaughlin hope that, through this course, students will develop an awareness of local ecology and gain a deepened sense of connection with the natural world.

Environmental ethics include the nature of man’s food sources. Associate Professor of English Michael Michaud has designed a new General Education course to raise consciousness about the food we consume. The course, titled English 266: Food Matters: The Rhetoric of Eating, asks the questions: What do we eat? Where did it come from? Who sold it? What’s in it? And what is the impact of the food on our body and the environment?

“Most of us take our food environment or food ecosystem for granted,” said Michaud. “The obesity problem in America is not only the outcome of our food choices, it is, to a considerable extent, the outcome of the food environment that has been shaped for us. I want students to become more critical consumers and maybe even to become change-agents in their families and communities.”

In this course, students engage in discussions, write food memoirs and food rhetorical analyses and conduct field research at a food-specific site, culminating in an ethnographic research report and presentation. Michaud sees the course as an extension of food system awareness efforts already underway at Rhode Island College, such as the Farmers Market and the community garden.

The hope is that these courses will increase environmental stewardship among RIC students. Sustainability 261 begins spring semester Jan. 21. English 266 begins in 2014-15.