I just declared my environmental studies (ENVS) pathway, like a million years late. It was delayed by the fact that 1) I was told almost a year ago that it had no exact due date because covid had switched things around, but it turns out that actually wasn't supposed to mean "leave it until you get emails saying it's past due," and 2) I was assuming my pathway would be about food systems and food justice until suddenly, this fall, I was swept up by herbal healing practices and radical herbalist thought. For a while, I was letting this document rot because I wasn't sure my specific areas of interest would be supported within the ENVS pathway model, and I also wasn't sure if it was worth it to deviate from the tried and true path. A mid-degree crisis went into this document!! The good news is, once I really sat down and thought about it, I knew exactly how my areas of interest intersected, and a pathway of my own creation flowed out of my fingertips. The even better news is that my advisor (shoutout to Jay Fiskio, she's literally the best) wants to use it as an example to incoming ENVS majors of how a make-your-own pathway could look.
Okay okay, I'll slow down. What is an ENVS pathway, anyway?
Environmental Studies is a very vast field. To even be an ENVS major, you have to take classes in a bunch of different departments (not my favorite thing but I guess I appreciate the broad skillset or whatever), which have so many different ways of thinking, types of information, and approaches to addressing the issues of environmental degradation. In order to make sure you actually specialize in some way, ENVS majors have to propose a more specific pathway within their studies. The department has a list of areas of interest that you look at when you're choosing a pathway. These areas of interest could be the actual title of your pathway (and the department outlines sets of courses that could go with each), or they could just be guiding topics for a pathway with a different title. Here are the areas of interest:
-Agriculture & Food Studies
-Art & the Environment
-Climate Change Studies
-Energy & Society
-Environmental & Ecological Design
-Environmental Literature & Media
-Environmental Politics & Policy
-Global Environmental Issues
-Indigenous Environmental Issues
-Sustainable Enterprise & Entrepreneurship
-Urban Sustainability (or Sustainable Communities)
-Water & Society
I told you the range was vast! Thankfully, though, I'm not limited even by that long list of pathway ideas that the department sets out. I want to share the document I turned in outlining my own pathway proposal. It makes me squeal. The moment you propose a pathway doesn't necessarily lock you into taking those classes and having those experiences, though— it's a plan that you make for guidance and direction, and it's allowed to be a living document.
A. Statement of Goals and Intent
Area of Interest: Agriculture & Food Studies, Environmental Justice, Political Ecology
Pathway Title: Plant-Centered Healing
Approval to share: Yes
1) Describe the coherent theme embodied in your proposed pathway.
The theme of my pathway is the many ways in which plants act as catalysts for healing. Interpretations of this that I am interested in include regenerative agriculture (healing for soil and ecosystems), herbalism (healing for human bodies, both physical and spiritual), and food justice (the returning and reclaiming of nutrition, which is preventative medicine, back to marginalized communities). I am especially interested in modes of healing that honor the agency of nonhuman beings and imagine beyond racial capitalism by refusing to rely on models like industrial agriculture or the medical industrial complex.
2) List and comment as necessary on the main questions that your proposed pathway is designed to answer.
- How do different cultures think about health and healing? How does worldview affect what kinds of systems are set up to heal people?
- How do ways of engaging with, cultivating, viewing, using, and collaborating with plants differ cross-culturally? How does human worldview affect the health of soil and ecosystems?
- How have BIPOC food justice activists and community gardeners reclaimed nutrition for their communities?
- What caused the continent-wide shift in Europe from an indigenous/ Earth-centered/ holistic/ spiritual worldview to a colonial/ anthropocentric/ mechanistic/ Christian hegemonic/ white supremacist worldview? What are the conditions that allowed a colonial mindset to be created?
- How are politicized herbalists leveraging herbalism for social justice movements?
3) What knowledge, skills, and expertise will your pathway help you develop?
- The organizational/corporate structure of industrial agriculture
- Major organizations and activists prominent in the regenerative agriculture, food justice, and politicized herbalism movements
- Basics of regenerative agriculture systems and techniques
- Harvesting and making herbal medicine from an Earth-centered worldview
- The histories of the medical industrial complex and industrial agriculture model
- The histories of the regenerative agriculture, food justice, and politicized herbalism movements
- Knowledge of the healing properties of various herbs and methods of application/ consumption
4) Describe how the pathway relates to your educational goals at Oberlin and your plans beyond Oberlin.
The fields I am most interested in are holistic medicine and environmental justice. Food systems and herbalism each intersect both. I plan to become licensed as a massage therapist after I graduate and pursue a career in the nonprofit world. I hope to integrate my understanding of human systems for consuming and healing with plants as foundational knowledge for the rest of my endeavors.
5) What course work will be particularly important to achieving your pathway goals? What is your rationale for your proposed sequence of courses?
Much of the coursework that I have done so far is peripherally related to my pathway, especially courses that discussed somatics, healing justice, community care, and indigenous vs. settler colonial worldviews in regards to the agency of nonhuman beings. These courses include:
- Introduction to Environmental Humanities
- Improvisation in Dance and Mind
- Sanctuary, Solidarity, and Latinx Practices of Accompaniment
- Capoeira Angola I
Much of the coursework that I plan to do in the rest of my time at Oberlin is more directly related to my pathway. These courses include:
- Food, Health & Culture
- Taste the Nation: Culture, Consumption, and American Identities
- Practicum in Agroecology at the George Jones Farm, Part 1 and Part 2
- American Agricultures
- Environmental Justice and Local Knowledge
- Global Agriculture and Food Production
- Medical Anthropology
- Private Reading in Somatic, Herbal and Collective Healing
(Note for you prospective students reading this: a private reading is a course that you basically invent with the guidance of an advisor and take yourself. You and the course advisor gather the course materials and syllabus together.)
6) What opportunities outside of traditional course work might contribute to your pathway (i.e. winter term, summer, study away, extracurricular experiences, etc.)?
Art Internship with More Gardens, Spring 2021
Teaching an ExCo on massage as holistic medicine, Spring 2022
Herbalism Internship with More Gardens, Summer 2022
Teaching an ExCo on politicized herbalism, Fall 2023
Winter Term Project (TBD), January 2023
7) What ideas do you have for your capstone experience and how might the capstone experience fulfill the goals of your proposed pathway?
A private reading in Somatic, Herbal and Collective Healing would combine the interest areas of this pathway into one coherent thread. I would curate a chorus of voices to help me understand the act of living in right relationship to the Earth, to oneself, and to collective liberation as a mode of healing for both an individual worldview and for society at large. The class would culminate in a final essay that would integrate lessons of my studies from what are typically seen as separate fields in an academic context, but are inextricably connected.
B. Course Trajectory
Instructions: In the area below, list by name and number the courses that you have taken and intend to take that are related to your ES major during each semester. Be certain that the complete set of courses fulfills all requirements on the ES Majors Checklist necessary for you to graduate. Distinguish between those courses that are related to your chosen pathway (mark with a P) and those that fulfill major requirements (mark with an R). If a course accomplishes both, mark it with both an R and a P.
First Year, First Semester (2019): ENVS 101 Environment & Society R
First Year, Second Semester (2020): EAST 295 Chinese Earth & Environment
Second Year, First Semester (2020): ENVS 201 Environmental Humanities R P; DANC 207 Improvisation in Dance and Mind P
Second Year, Second Semester (2021): BIOL 103 Environmental Biology R; Sanctuary, Solidarity and Latinx Practices of Accompaniment P; DANC 161 Capoeira Angola P
Third Year, First Semester (2021): CHEM 051 Chemistry and the Environment R; ENVS/POLT 208 Environmental Policy R
Third Year, Second Semester (2022): ANTH 436 Food, Health & Culture P; CAST 416 Taste the Nation: Culture, Consumption, and American Identities P; ENVS 336 Practicum in Agroecology Part 1 P; GEOL 115H Coral Reefs: Biol, Geol & Polt
Fourth Year, First semester (2022): GEOL 120 Earth's Environments R; ENVS 220 Global Agriculture and Food Production P; ENVS 230 Environmental Justice and Local Knowledge P; ENVS 337 Practicum in Agroecology Part 2 P
Fourth Year, Second Semester (2023): ANTH 227 Medical Anthropology P; CAST/ENVS 302 American Agricultures P; private reading in Somatic, Herbal and Collective Healing P
I hope you enjoyed this peek into my studies, which is also a peek into my mind/heart/plans/dreams. I am very blessed to be able to align my studies with the rest of me.
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