Hampshire College’s Semester Unbound Creates Campus Climate Action Plan
As part of Hampshire’s recent curricular evolution, which further dissolved the already porous boundaries relating to disciplinary thinking in the College’s academics, a new kind of course, Semester Unbound, was born.
In the same spirit that the Learning Collaboratives (LCs) bring together academic resources from an array of perspectives and skill sets to address pressing global issues, Semester Unbound gives students the opportunity to tackle a real-world problem from a multitude of angles. Designed to function more like a work setting, in which people with varying experiences collaborate to find effective solutions, Semester Unbound combines ways to learn, share, create, and enact positive change.
Unlike any form of study Hampshire has offered before, Semester Unbound is a single immersive class that takes the time, energy, and commitment of four regular classes, disrupting the traditional course structure to pursue a question without limits. Participating faculty, staff, and students spend some 12 hours of class time together each week and focus on independent and collaborative work outside of class.
The inaugural class, Climate Action Unbound (CAU), launched this fall, led by Professor of Earth and Environmental Science Steven Roof and Sustainability Manager Sara Draper. With 11 Div II students (that is, in their second or third years), they’re working toward drafting a climate action plan for Hampshire — a blueprint to prioritize sustainability in all College operations — which will be presented to the community next month.
Collectively, CAU drafted a mission and vision statement to center its work, as well as its own definition of environmental sustainability: to support a future of coexistence and symbiosis among all life on our planet, make reparations for past environmental harms, and advocate for environmental justice to promote universal health and well-being. The class reviewed the history of green initiatives at Hampshire since the 1960s and talked about the big picture, processes, and how to work in community.
To frame its ultimate project, students in CAU reviewed other climate action plans — from the Town of Amherst and Amherst College, for example — and met with their representatives. The group delved into learning about climate change, policymaking, and systems thinking, then discussed how to create something doable and flexible. They asked themselves: How do we make this last beyond the people involved now? Noting the inevitable turnover of students and employees at the College, they took a relational approach to the work as well as a document.
They made an effort to ensure that opportunities weren’t overlooked, that their work was visible, and that there was engagement and buy-in from the community. Working groups tracked down input about relevant issues on campus: talking about equity with Vice President of Justice, Equity, and Antiracism Sheila Lloyd; curriculum with Dean of Faculty Gary Hawkins; land management, utility infrastructure, and buildings with Director of Facilities and Grounds Steve Duffy; and food concerns with Assistant Director of Dining Services Erdim Yilmaz and Farm Manager Charlotte Senders. Staff groups and the Student Advocacy Board were surveyed. Hampshire professors teaching classes on environmental decision-making, science communication, and climate anxiety made presentations to the class.
CAU contacted related groups off campus as well, such as the College’s Board of Trustees and the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, which runs the Five College bus system. The class was visited by a sustainability professional from Tufts University. They attended the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference and Expo in Boston, a valuable team-building experience and something a traditional class wouldn’t have the time to do.
Students have read and written individual reflection papers and presented to the class both solo and in groups, at an Environments and Change LC gathering, and at the fall semester’s LC Symposium. Steve and Sara have served as guides and collaborators. Students sent weekly updates to the Hampshire community on everything they undertook. Together, CAU has determined each next step.
In addition to the climate action plan as a final product, each CAU student will leave the class with a portfolio and a toolkit for continuing with sustainability work. Some students will likely go on to conduct related independent studies or supported projects; all will know they contributed something concrete to help guide the College to a more environmentally friendly future.