Guest Blogger Lena Fletcher
Lena is the Natural Resources Conservation Chief Advisor, Program Manager, and Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Lena is part of a team at UMass that created an experimental incubator programme entitled Talking Truth: Finding Your Voice Around the Climate Crisis with the goal of supporting and building on the understanding of climate disruption. They explore options for taking action while connecting participants with this weighty global challenge we all face.
As a professor in the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, part of my appointment involves student advising and mentoring incoming freshmen. In the late fall of 2015, I was invited to present at a “Meet the Faculty” event for first-year students, held in the evening in a dormitory lounge.
I had asked the students if there were guidelines around what I should talk about. There wasn't, so I asked to focus on climate change.
A resident student wandered in late and joined the group, just as I was passing out sheets of paper with the question, ‘How do you feel about climate change?“ This simple but powerful exercise is a practice we began on our campus as part of an experiential project, Talking Truth: Finding Your Voice Around the Climate Crisis. This exercise, inspired by 'Is This How You Feel?' is designed to support and build on the understanding of climate disruption. It is a way to connect participants to this weighty global challenge we all face.
After a quiet moment to reflect on the question, the students put pen to paper. However, the student who had just arrived immediately handed me back a blank sheet and said he was indifferent to the issue and didn’t want to write anything.
“Really, that’s fascinating. Will you write about that then?”
He shrugged and grudgingly scrawled a few sentences:
"My personal feelings on the matter are that I don’t really care." The student's letter
By then I knew his name:
The following semester, a local student group kicked into action calling on the University to be more environmentally conscious. They occupied the administrative building, demanding action. Over the course of several days, hundreds of students lined the halls leading to the Chancellor’s office. Outside, hundreds more rallied and waved signs. Television cameras rolled. As I stood listening to our students boldly demand the campus did more, the bullhorn was passed to a familiar person – Muhammed.
My jaw dropped. I nudged my colleague, shouting in her ear over the commotion. “That’s him,” I said. “Who?” she asked. “Blank page…the student who didn’t want to do the ‘How do you feel’ exercise.”
This summer he came to my office for academic advising and enthusiastically reported on his year abroad in Morocco and Nepal and his current internship at a local wildlife refuge.
As for changing his major, he explained that he had chosen Computer Science because it was a family expectation. Our early encounters opened his eyes to people’s passion and enthusiasm for earth stewardship.
He remarked, “I wanted to meet more people like that.”
And then I asked about the writing exercise.
"Did it play a role in your decisions?"
His answer was a resounding yes.
...The power of a question.