Many alumni focused on environmental justice credit their depth of understanding to opportunities they received at Augsburg.
Monica McDaniel, Augsburg’s sustainability officer, said the university community uses a multi-faceted approach to intersectional environmentalism, which challenges advocates to protect people as well as the planet. The university does this work through committees, including the student-led Environmental Action Committee and the Environmental Stewardship Committee, which includes students, faculty, and staff.
How that plays out at Augsburg, McDaniel said, is through holistic programs on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods that consider not only what is needed now, but how needs and protections can be carried out in the future.
Originally developed by Bemidji State University, the university’s “wellness model” derives from ancient Ojibwe teachings that the environment is the foundation that holds wellness, social health, and economic health in place. Think of it like a solar system, with the environment being the sun around which wellness, social health, and economic health orbit.
McDaniel said Augsburg’s focus is on three areas: food sovereignty (making sure people have unimpeded access to healthy nutrition), a mutual aid circular economy, and renewable energy.
Augsburg supports more than 100 community garden plots and an indigenous medicinal garden. These gardens reflect the communities they serve, and every aspect is intentional—from the types of items planted, such as rue, a common herb used in East African cooking and medicine, to the ways each garden is tended.
“It’s one way that we’ve been trying to move beyond just planting food and eating it,” McDaniel said. “We want a space where people can see themselves represented, too.”
On campus, the ShareShop supports the circular economy component. Made by students for students, the shop is a place where small kitchen and other household items can be borrowed, swapped, or taken for use.
Each semester, McDaniel said, the ShareShop saves at least a dumpster’s worth of items from being thrown out. The lasting effect, though, is about changing behaviors.
Some of that lasting impact is in the interest new students have for a living and learning committee that focuses on sustainability. More than 50 students applied for 14 spots in the fall, McDaniel said.
“That demonstrates to me that this generation genuinely cares about these issues,” she said.
Work continues on renewable energy efforts underway at the university. From replacing less-effective light bulbs with LED lighting and upgraded HVAC systems, to major initiatives like studying the possibility of on-campus solar, the renewable energy conversations involve all members of the Augsburg community.
Across all fronts, McDaniel said, she tries to keep one eye on the present and the other on what’s coming.
“Programming helps because it gives us an immediate win,” she said. “The challenge is looking at the systemic change we’re trying to implement.”
Top image: Monica McDaniel and students in Augsburg’s Environmental Stewardship Committee discuss the plants in the community garden plots outside the Hagfors Center. (Photo by Rebecca Slater)