University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh holds annual Earth Charter week of events

Guest post by Brad Spanbauer ([email protected])

Aside from homecoming and brisk autumn days, early October at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh also means it is time for the Earth Charter Community Summit, a tradition with a focus on global awareness. Signed in 2002, UW-Oshkosh was one of the first universities in the United States to sign the document and is the only university signatory in Wisconsin. UW-Oshkosh has upheld the principles of the Earth Charter, such as the respect and care for the community of life, for many years. Each year, the Earth Charter committee plans events that span a wide range of topics and cover the principles of ecological integrity, social and economic justice, democracy, non-violence, and peace found in the Earth Charter.

The week started off this year with an event focused on Fair Trade clothing. As the first Fair Trade university in the United States, UW-Oshkosh proudly supports Fair Trade events throughout the year. This year’s speaker was Sonja Parr with Liz Alig clothing, who talked about the working conditions for manufacturers of clothing and the social and economic implications of traditional clothes-making.

Tuesday’s events focused on divestment from fossil fuels and a political debate by local candidates. The Change the Climate Campaign is a student movement focused on educating the campus community about what it could mean if UW-Oshkosh were to divest from fossil fuels. The divestment movement has been gaining momentum and several other institutions worldwide have committed to this change in their policies.

The candidate debate was sponsored in part by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the university’s American Democracy Project. The first round was the debate for State Assembly district 54 featuring incumbent Gordon Hintz (D) and newcomer Mark Elliot. The following debate was for the 6th Congressional District representative featuring Mark Harris (D) and Gus Fahrendorf representing the Libertarian party. Glenn Grothman (R) did not attend the debate. The campus has been actively engaged in elections for many years and seeks to sponsor events such as the candidate debates to increase awareness of political issues.

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Eric Klinenberg, from NYU. Klinenberg is a sociologist who focuses on community responses to climate change and how people can come together to fight what is being called the greatest environmental challenge of our time. Jim Feldman, professor of Environmental Studies and History, was very pleased with the turnout at the banquet this year. “The biggest take away for students from Eric’s talk [is] that we can respond more intelligently to climate change if we think about social factors and the things that make our communities stronger,” Feldman said.

UW-Oshkosh has recently reformed its general education, with a new program called the University Studies Program (USP). The university’s advancements and leadership in sustainability among institutions of higher education tie into the Earth Charter and also align with this general education reform. “USP requires students to attend out-of-class events, and thereby learn about the intellectual life of the university,” Feldman said. Throughout their first year at UW-Oshkosh, students in the USP program encounter courses focused on intercultural knowledge, civic engagement, and sustainability, which directly connects with principles outlined in the Earth Charter. Feldman stated, “Both institutions, the Earth Charter and the USP, require us to think deeply about the ways that these different categories overlap and intersect with each other.”

Keeping with the theme of strong communities in response to climate change, UW-Oshkosh was proud to host Winona LaDuke during the Earth Charter Community Summit this year as well. With standing room only, students, faculty and staff crowded the theatre in Reeve Union to hear Ms. LaDuke’s presentation. Environmental Studies student Emily Husar Martin was extremely inspired by Ms. LaDuke’s presentation. “Winona is a great activist who inspires me to continue my efforts towards a more fair and sustainability-focused future,” she said. Ms. LaDuke’s presentation focused on intercultural knowledge and sustainability as she has devoted her life to protecting the lands and ways of life of Native communities.

The week wrapped up with students working together to close down the community gardens for the winter. “The garden party was a success as far as the amount of work that got done.” said community garden vice president, Kasey Stewart. “I am trying to reach out to local growers to get some in to give talks and things or possibly do field trips. We also have a logo competition coming up soon,” Stewart said. In accordance with the Earth Charter, groups at UW-Oshkosh continue moving forward to promote the principles of the Charter campus-wide.

Find out more about University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh sustainability activity.