On the environmental studies side, the Green Cluster in Colby’s Integrated Studies Program added Environmental Activism as one of three component courses in 2007. Designed primarily for first-year students, the ISP is an interdisciplinary approach to studying a single topic or era from the perspectives of several academic disciplines. The Green Cluster marries courses titled Biodiversity (biology) and Philosophy of the Environment (philosophy) with the Environmental Activism (environmental studies) course taught by Carlson. “They really learn the historical roots of activism, how other people have acted, and then they learn how you act yourself—everything from framing a public debate to how to write a press release,” she said.
Students create a mock activism group complete with a name, mission statement, an organizational structure, and a strategic plan that includes funding and communications strategies. “They have to actually plan a real action and present it to me as if I were a funder,” Carlson said.
“From the start [Carlson’s] class has had a huge impact on getting underclassman very active on campus,” said Environmental Studies Coordinator Elizabeth Kane Kopp.
While Carlson’s class offers what she describes as “old-fashioned, take-it-to-the-barricades kind of a training,” she steers students who want to learn technical skills involved in things like web design, recording, and editing, towards campus resources like the Instructional Media Center and the American Dreams filmmaking class.
The environmental thrust of many student documentary and activism projects (including an American Dreams film about the resurgence of the once-polluted Kennebec River) reflects the growth of the environmental movement in the past decade, according to Kopp. “Now it spans our society,” she said. “Green used to be a word to describe a color, and now it describes an environmental infiltration into every aspect of your life.”
At Colby, which names sustainability as a core value, this is especially true. Manchanda views her documentary work as a means of “translating” the science and “making it fun and making it a part of your everyday life.”