Faculty from departments as diverse as accounting, philosophy and biology will be incorporating content and activities about sustainability into upcoming courses under University of Richmond’s new River City Project.

Six faculty members participated in a workshop last spring to learn how to use Richmond’s natural resources, including the James River, as a teaching tool. Some will add river visits to their courses and labs, such as Amy Treonis, associate professor of biology, who is working with student researchers this summer, while others will use readings or visits to local businesses to initiate discussions about sustainability.

“What is so great about this program is that it promotes interdisciplinary teaching, service-learning opportunities and our desire to teach in ways that prepare students to face the challenges of environmental stewardship,” said Treonis.

She is working with three undergraduate research students this summer to assist Renew Richmond, a nonprofit organization that encourages healthy living through growth and production of food.

Her students have participated in “green team” meetings at a city elementary school and continue to help with the team’s garden now that school is out for the summer, including taking and testing soil samples.

While a biology class might be a logical choice to incorporate sustainability, philosophy and European cultural studies seem more of a stretch.

Ladelle McWhorter, professor of philosophy, environmental studies and women and gender studies, says she has both personal and professional reasons to participate in the program. “I regularly teach environmental ethics that has two interrelated components: ethical theory and ethical issues and practices. The River City Project also integrates theory and practice in relation to environmental issues, so it was a natural way of developing my expertise for the course.”

Personally, she said, she really does care about those issues: “As a practicing philosopher in my daily life, I know I need to reach out for new ways of thinking and living to expand and enrich that (philosophical) tradition.”

Yvonne Howell, professor of Russian and international studies, said that “unless we start to think creatively about what it means to live with and within our physical environment sustainably — in a way that is good for us physically and spiritually in the long run — we will not be able to imagine any different way of relating to our environment.”

While sustainability has become a buzzword with a lot of economic and sociopolitical implications, “I think it has to do with something more fundamental: the cultivation of some kind of trust and respect for the space you inhabit.”

She plans to incorporate into her teaching Russian contributions to our thoughts on what comprises a “sustainable” friendship between humans and nature. “We’ll explore everything from Leo Tolstoy’s honest dilemmas about being a worldly intellectual who also believed in raising his own food, bees for honey, and so forth, to the works of Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov, who pioneered the concept of crop biodiversity and established the world’s first seed bank in St. Petersburg.”

As a signatory to the Presidents’ Climate Commitment, Richmond has adopted sustainable construction techniques for new projects, said Megan Zanella-Litke, sustainability manager. The university also provides low emission transportation, from bicycles to ridesharing to free bus passes, and promotes recycling and energy savings.

“The River City Project takes our commitment to sustainability into the classroom, lab and city, where students from a variety of disciplines receive exposure to sustainability issues that are relevant to everyone regardless of their major,” said Zanella-Litke.

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