CRAFTSBURY COMMON – Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, affecting every aspect of human life and the natural world. As we grapple with the consequences of environmental degradation, it has become increasingly evident that addressing climate change requires a multidisciplinary and inclusive approach. Liberal arts education, with its emphasis on critical thinking, community engagement, and social justice, plays a pivotal role in shaping future leaders who can combat climate change. I wish to explore the importance of liberal arts education in the fight against climate change, focusing on the values of authentic community development, the intersection of climate justice and racial justice, and the transformative potential of small, rural, and strengths-based community action. A prime example of an institution nurturing these leaders is Sterling College, which fosters fair labor practices, strength-based leadership, and ecological thinking and action.
Authentic community development is built upon the principles of respect, inclusivity, and collaboration. In the context of climate change, this approach recognizes that effective solutions cannot be imposed from the top down but must instead be rooted in the needs, values, and traditions of local communities. Liberal arts education equips students with the critical thinking skills necessary to understand the complexities of community dynamics. It enables them to co-create solutions that resonate with the people directly impacted.
At Sterling College, students are encouraged to engage deeply with the surrounding community and work closely with local stakeholders in addressing environmental challenges. By collaborating with residents, businesses, and organizations, students gain a comprehensive understanding of the unique socio-cultural and environmental aspects of the area. This authentic engagement fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility, empowering students to become change agents who can drive meaningful, sustainable progress.
Climate change is not a solitary issue but rather intersects with numerous social justice concerns. Vulnerable communities, particularly those comprising marginalized racial and ethnic groups, often bear the brunt of environmental degradation and climate-related disasters. This reality highlights the importance of acknowledging the intersections between climate justice and racial justice, as addressing one cannot be achieved without the other.
A liberal arts education empowers students to recognize these connections and to develop a deep sense of empathy and understanding. Sterling College promotes courses and dialogue that explore the historical injustices that have led to present-day environmental disparities. This education equips students with the necessary tools to advocate for and support climate policies that prioritize the well-being of vulnerable populations, promoting equity and justice.
While global climate action is crucial, the power of local initiatives should not be underestimated. Small, rural communities can serve as incubators for innovative solutions and grassroots movements that ripple outward, inspiring broader change. A strengths-based approach focuses on identifying and building upon the unique assets of each community, empowering them to leverage their resources effectively.
Sterling College’s location in rural Vermont provides an ideal setting for students to immerse themselves in small community dynamics. By working collaboratively with local residents, students gain insight into the challenges faced by rural areas and the potential they hold for sustainable solutions. This approach empowers students to view small communities as essential contributors to the fight against climate change, thereby promoting inclusivity and fostering a sense of collective responsibility.
Sterling College stands out as an institution that prepares climate change leaders through its unique blend of liberal arts education and environmental focus. The college’s curriculum emphasizes fair labor practices, strength-based leadership, and ecological thinking and action, cultivating well-rounded individuals ready to drive positive change.
[Moxie Mehegan is dean of admission and financial aid at Sterling College.]