Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment, or SLICE

When Sarah Hamill (Art History) arrived at Sarah Lawrence in 2018, she began thinking about teaching a course on art and ecology: “I wondered, how can we equip students for critical thinking and also get them to think about [climate change] within the classroom?”

Hamill began having conversations with fellow faculty members teaching environment-related courses, such as Michelle Hersh (Biology) and Charles Zerner (Environmental Studies). When she saw that Eric Leveau (French, Literature) was teaching “Studies in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition,” she initiated a conversation with him about creating a course cluster to highlight how many disciplines across campus engage in environmental humanities and science and to connect the dots to sustainability efforts already in progress.

One of those already-in-progress efforts was the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE), a group of faculty and staff who are doing environment-related work, with the goal of “sharing information, building collaboration, and forming climate actions.” An Li (Economics) spearheaded the effort, along with Hersh and Bernice Rosenzweig (Environmental Science), the OSilas Endowed Professorship in Environmental Studies. Rosenzweig’s arrival on campus this year significantly boosted the energy around environmental initiatives at the College.

When Hamill and Leveau learned about SLICE, they proposed the idea of a course cluster. “It was a real kismet moment,” Hamill says.

In the spring 2021 semester, SLICE launched an interdisciplinary course cluster and event series focused on Climate Justice, featuring visiting speakers, faculty, interdisciplinary discussions among students, and a student symposium where students presented their conference projects.

The course cluster created a unique—and very Sarah Lawrence—opportunity for students from different areas of study, like biology and art history, to come together and share the tools of their specific disciplines. “The course cluster has been a really nice way to seize on what Sarah Lawrence is already doing and push it in a new direction,” says Hamill.

Hersh, whose course "Giving, Taking, and Cheating: The Ecology of Symbiosis," was part of the course cluster, says, “The science [on the climate crisis] has been clear for some time, but the impetus to take action has been lacking, and that’s where I think a broader perspective becomes critical. We need to be working together across disciplines to tackle climate change, to not only come up with practical solutions but to change hearts and minds.” 

SLICE’s virtual event series kicked off on March 8 with Plastic Inheritance, a talk from Dr. Heather Davis, Assistant Professor of Culture and Media at the New School, who explored how plastic has transformed the material world. On March 15, The Climate Justice Faculty Panel featured faculty members, including Hamill, Hersh, Leveau, Li, Rosenzweig, Zerner, Niko Higgins (Music), Marie Howe (Writing), Linwood Lewis (Psychology), Joshua Muldavin (Geography), and Fiona Wilson (Literature).

The format of the panel, which was moderated by Hersh and Li, was “lightning style talks,” five-minute presentations from each faculty member addressing how they view climate justice through the lens of their discipline. Li says, “The complexity of climate change means that no single discipline can provide an adequate understanding of it. Interdisciplinary discussions such as the faculty panel are needed in order to forge a holistic and systemic understanding of climate change and find solutions.” Watch the full panel discussion here 

On April 28, in a talk titled, Integrating Environmental Justice into Climate Action, Dr. Christian Braneon, an urban climate expert and scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, led a discussion on how the present moment offers a unique opportunity to imagine alternative futures in which policies, infrastructure, governance, and value systems are recalibrated with equity and sustainability at their core.

Michel GelobterThe Climate Justice Series concluded on April 30 with a keynote address, Climate Justice: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, from Dr. Michel Gelobter P’24, the CEO and Founder of Cooler, Inc., the first consumer-facing climate software company. Gelobter discussed the history of climate justice, which emerged in the mid-1980s in response to President Reagan’s successful erasure of progress of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

“The signaling we see to this day by politicians was an effort to erase the idea that there was social injustice in the United States,” Gelobter said. “The environmental justice movement was a brilliant approach to raise that [issue] again, highlighting how, as the Bible says, even the rocks and stones themselves cry out for justice.”

Gelobter also spoke about climate justice in terms of the present-day efforts of the Biden administration, which he called “astonishing,” and how John Kerry, the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, has been meeting with officials around the globe to discuss the climate crisis and create “a common language.”

Particularly this year, Gelobter noted, “We’re all... linked, we’ve learned that through the pandemic and also through climate change… The rocks and stones of climate change justice are a call for a more universal type of action.”

On the same day as Gelobter’s address, SLICE held a symposium for students to present their conference work. In five sessions, more than 30 students shared their research on a range of topics, including Kyla Shindler’s “Eve vs. Lillith,” Jess Schreer and Maggie Mohler’s “Sarah Lawrence Sustainability Contract,” and Quinn Van Buren’s “Ruminant Livestock Methane Production & Mitigation Strategies: The Prospect of Red Seaweed Asparagopsis.”

Overall, SLICE's programming created a chance for greater connection through a shared passion—a connection that took on added meaning in a year of remote learning, with students scattered across the globe, creating a dynamic sense of belonging and purpose. Hersh says, “The amount of student energy around this joint project has been truly inspiring.”

About Sarah Lawrence College

Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, coeducational liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. Sarah Lawrence is known for its pioneering approach to education, rich history of impassioned intellectual and civic engagement, and vibrant, successful alumni. In close proximity to the unparalleled offerings of New York City, the historic campus is home to an intellectually curious and diverse community.