Students for a Sustainable Stanford Proposes Addition to GERs

All Stanford undergraduates are currently required to take two classes in the following four areas in order to meet Stanford’s General Education Requirements (GERs): global community, ethical reasoning, gender studies, and American cultures.  Students for a Sustainable Stanford recently brought a proposal to the Faculty Senate that would create a fifth Education for Citizenship (EC) requirement, focusing on sustainability and what it means to be ecologically friendly in our everyday lives.

The proposal reads, “As global citizens in times of extraordinary challenge, we envision that Stanford graduates will have the ability to understand problems and contribute to solutions. We believe that through the retrospective and prospective study of areas in Humanities and Sciences, Engineering, and Earth Sciences, graduates will be best equipped to both lead and foster a ‘Sustainable Civilization.’”

Eli Pollak ‘12, a member of Students for a Sustainable Stanford and the co-leader of the group responsible for the creating of the proposal, shared the story behind the effort to add a sustainability EC.

“When a lot of students hear sustainability, their brains just shut off. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just that they hear it everywhere, everybody’s going green. So we said, how could we take that and turn it into something that is actually really important and powerful,” he said.

The group chose to take an interesting approach to the new EC.  The theme of the class revolves around connections between citizens of different generations because of the way that environmental concerns will be there for the next generation.

“What we wanted to look at is the way that education for citizenship requirements is set up. Each one addresses a different piece of citizenship- Ethical reasoning is personal citizenship, thinking through decisions, you’ve got gender studies, interpersonal citizenship, you have global community, that’s international, and then you have national citizenship with the American one,” said Pollak.

“The way we wanted to conceptualize ours was intertemporal citizenship. We want the central question of the course to be, what does it mean to be a citizen of the world, but also a citizen of a country in general over a time period? And so, we decided that this was not only where it had the most potential for success but also where a sustainability option made the most sense,” he continued.

The proposed EC is taking advantage of an ongoing study into the undergraduate curriculum.  Pollak said, “Ongoing at the moment is a study in undergraduate education that Dr. Bravman had been running. The idea is that we will work with the committee on undergraduate standards and policies to come up with a new proposal and tweak it and turn it into a final product.  We would then propose this to SUES with faculty input.”

Dr. Bravman’s looming departure is not supposed to have an adverse effect on the process, and will not affect the nature of this specific proposal.

The proposed EC is simply an additional option, and not a required class for all students. “One reason we think that this proposal is attractive is because it avoids the problem of adding an additional mandatory education requirement when there are already so many here,” said Pollak.

Interestingly, the global community EC already specifies the importance of environmental preservation. Students for a Sustainable Stanford did take this fact into account in their proposal.

It seems that this strategy could be successful in altering the undergraduate requirements. The proposal also emphasizes the possibility of increasing dialogue between the sciences and the humanities, according to English Professor Ursula Heise.

In sum, this proposal stands to offer undergraduate education a look into sustainability and citizenship across time, areas that are not currently addressed. In addition, this proposal has the potential to foster communication across disciplines on the topic of environmental preservation.

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