Valerie Peña ’22 is the global justice coordinator for Campus Ministry at Mount Saint Mary’s University. For her, Earth Day is a chance to enlighten others on how environmental justice often directly connects to social justice issues.
“I work with our justice team to find ways to inspire the Mount community to learn about justice issues and to advocate for those who don’t have a voice,” Peña says. “We believe the first step to becoming an advocate and making a difference is through education.”
There will be plenty of educating going on this Earth Day within the Mount community. “The Mount Cares for the Planet: Celebrating Earth Day 2021” will offer students and faculty chances to learn, debate and take action on behalf of their communities. The day’s activities are sponsored by the MSMU Department of Biological Sciences; Campus Ministry; the CSJ Institute; Facilities; and Sports and Wellness.
Earth Day 2021 Activities at MSMU Include:
- “Unifying Love and Healing: Intersection of Racism, Migration and the Climate Crisis”: In this talk by Sharon Lavigne, the founder of RISE St. James, she’ll share efforts to protect the health of her parish in Louisiana and its fight against plastics pollution and environmental racism. Sponsored by the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
- Laudato Si and Student Perspectives on Climate Change Across the Globe: This student-led conversation on environmental justice is grounded in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si call to care for the earth, our common home. Students in a related course will present their research, including reflections on the community-level impacts of climate change.
- Caring for the Earth: An Earth Day prayer service with the CSJ Institute and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ) focused on the importance of caring for the planet — and all of creation as the dear neighbor.
- Crafting With Campus Ministry: Origami-making and terrarium gardening with an Earth Day theme.
- “Mossville: When Great Trees Fall”: Documentary and discussion about a centuries-old Black community in Louisiana that is contaminated and uprooted by petrochemical plants.
- Easter 20 on Earth Day: Prayers for New Life for the Earth: The day will conclude with music, reflections and Scripture.
“At the Mount, we’re committed to being an anti-racist institution as well as reducing our environmental footprint,” says Gaile Krause, assistant director of Campus Ministry. “And those goals fit the vision of our CSJ founders, who always focus on meeting the needs of the times. Over the decades, the CSJs expanded their guiding principle of unifying love to include not just love of God and love of neighbor but also love of the planet and love of creation. When we love our planet, we’re taking care of creation and all of those in need who depend on it.”
Our Campuses Join in the Fight
In addition to the 3Rs of friendly environmental living — reduce, reuse, recycle — here’s a glance at some of what our campuses are doing to be thoughtful about using Mother Earth’s precious resources.
11 EV (electric vehicle) charging stations
Solar panels: Brady Hall, Carondelet Hall, Charles Willard Coe Library, Faculty Residence and Rossiter Hall. Work in progress on the Josè Drudis-Biada Art Gallery and Fine Arts Building
--John Deeb, associate director, facilities management
48 EV charging stations
Solar panels: Buildings 4 (Ahmanson Weingart Hall), 8.5, 3, 5 (Fritz B. Burns Health Education Building),11 (Ahmanson Weingart) and 15 (McIntyre Hall)
--Carlos Garcia, facilities manager
Earth Day, All Year Long
The Mount’s Laudato Si Earth Day event is tied to a new upper-division environmental science course. The class examines the earth as a complex system, drawing from a wide array of viewpoints —including physical science, chemistry, biology, political science, sociology, spirituality, ethics and law — to better understand the relationship between society and the environment.
Students in the course study both global and local concerns related to climate change, pollution, land use and biodiversity loss, as well as the roles that race/ethnicity, gender and class play in environmental justice.
“I enjoy teaching environmental science with embedded attention to social justice issues,” says Adriane Jones, PhD, professor of biology. “This semester, we’ve centered our discussions around the ‘we’ in climate change. The climate change we are seeing today is a direct result of anthropogenic actions; however, not all people equally contribute to the problem, and not all people are equally impacted by the consequences.”
That’s something that Peña, a psychology major, understands well. She also knows that many people who may want to combat climate change might not have the means or the knowledge to take action.
“That’s why I am so passionate about the importance of education in environmental issues,” Peña says. “It’s not about changing your whole lifestyle to be 100% eco-friendly, it's taking small steps as a community to create a wave of difference. My hope in doing this is to slowly create a healthy environment for us to live in so future generations can see the natural beauty our planet has to offer.”
To that end, Peña will spend her Earth Day posting to Campus Ministry’s Instagram platform, sharing tips with followers on how they can positively impact the environment — and their own communities. She’ll also be practicing what she preaches. Peña plans to start a small garden in her family’s backyard on Earth Day and take new steps to make their home more environmentally friendly.