A Different Path to Environmental Care

Humanities students are using a new minor to gain better insight into the natural world

October 24, 2023

An academic minor making its debut this fall in the College of Arts & Sciences can trace its genesis back to a heartfelt conversation between a professor and one of his students.

Dr. Josh King, professor of English and director of the new environmental humanities minor program, can clearly remember the student sitting in his office, weeping.

Dr. Josh King
Dr. Josh King

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

She replied, “I’m just growing up in a time where I feel like disasters are in every front all over the world. The problems seem so immense, and I can’t do anything about it. I just feel like — why do I even want to try?”

Then King told her, “All right. We’re going to try to design a program of study that won't just analyze these kinds of problems, but it will seek solutions and involve the humanities in that.” Many months later, Baylor’s environmental humanities minor was born.

Interdisciplinary Effort

To help jumpstart work on creating the minor, King applied for and received a University Teaching Exploration Grant from Baylor’s Academy for Teaching and Learning. With that in hand, he pulled together faculty from several academic units across the University to help.

“We had an advisory team of 12 faculty from different disciplines who all came together and thought about, ‘Okay — what's the best shape this can take?’” King said. “What courses need to be involved? Who have we left out? And how can this reasonably work at Baylor and fit alongside all the curricular structures and requirements that students have?”

Team members agreed that while the environmental studies aspect of the minor would typically fall under the umbrella of the sciences, it was vital to appeal to students in the humanities as well.

As the Baylor team developed the environmental humanities curriculum, directors of similar programs at the University of Pennsylvania and Texas Tech University offered their assistance as outside consultants.

“There were a lot of existing courses at Baylor in this area, but they just didn’t have a way to fit together,” King said, “and some new classes had to be created.”

Engaged Learning

With all the pieces put into place, the resulting environmental humanities minor requires students to complete 18 credit hours, choosing courses from more than a dozen academic programs across campus. There’s also an engaged learning requirement, which students can complete through projects, field work, independent study classes or some study abroad programs.

Prof. Julie king
Prof. Julie king

Julie King, undergraduate program director of environmental sciences and senior lecturer in environmental law, teaches courses in environmental law and environmental policy, and has developed an additional course on environmental justice. All three courses are eligible electives for the minor.

“The environmental humanities minor is critical for a number of reasons,” she said. “We know that everything depends on the natural world, and the appreciation of the natural world and stewardship of it is a Christian responsibility.”

On the first day of her environmental policy course each semester, Julie King — who is no relation to Josh King — surveys her students by asking, “What’s the most pressing environmental problem we face today?”

“With every class I’ve given that survey to, the leading answer is climate change,” she said. “There are other issues too, obviously. Pollution and environmental justice come up, and the ignorance about environmental issues and apathy towards it. But climate change, for this generation, is a great concern. Students are very ready to engage in and look at different dimensions of these problems and of these issues, and really to do their part in trying to solve problems in the natural world that we've caused as humans, or at least contributed significantly to.”

Community Support

The environmental humanities minor got a boost when it was included as part of the SCRAP (Sustainable Community and Regenerative Agriculture Project) Collective, which recently received $150,000 from Waco’s Cooper Foundation and the Funders Network. Other SCRAP beneficiaries include the City of Waco and local nonprofit agencies.

Josh King said the grant funds will be used to create faculty workshops as well as service opportunities within the minor, including work at the Baylor Community Garden, which is located at Ninth Street and James Avenue.

“The garden used to be very active until COVID-19, and then it became neglected,” he said. “Now, a good number of us are trying to revive it.”

Dr. Stephanie Boddie
Dr. Stephanie Boddie

Dr. Stephanie Boddie, who serves as associate professor of church and community ministries in Baylor’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work as well as the George W. Truett Theological Seminary and Baylor School of Education, serves as an affiliated faculty member for the environmental humanities minor. Her work will include racial bridge building for the SCRAP Collective, a summer workshop for public school teachers and faith leaders, and additional service opportunities for students in schools and congregations.

“I am excited to work with Dr. King and other colleagues to deepen the relationship between the humanities and sciences at Baylor by forming new interdisciplinary courses and community service opportunities,” she said. “This will allow our students to engage in transformative leadership activities that seek solutions to local challenges contributing to our environmental crisis.”