September 26, 2016
Communications Staff

Oberlin College has been awarded a four-year, $400,000 implementation grant through the Luce Foundation’s Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment (LIASE) program. The program encourages “innovative approaches to Asian studies at the undergraduate level through the lens of the environment and sustainable development,” as well as expansion of “Asia-related curriculum across the disciplines.”

Launched in 2010, LIASE is designed to foster broader understanding of Asia to address environmental challenges that demand global cooperation. This will require engaging individuals with interdisciplinary training, comparative perspectives, knowledge of local conditions, and an understanding of historical and cultural contexts, all aims of Oberlin’s LIASE project.

The implementation grant builds upon a one-year (2014-2015) LIASE exploratory grant from the Luce Foundation, with both awards centered on the theme Sustainability and Resilience in the Face of Environmental Stress and Extreme Events. The current implementation grant will engage  faculty, students, and staff across  the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and Conservatory of Music. Oberlin’s LIASE programming uses the lenses of natural/physical phenomena and the underlying geological, biological, chemical, or physical processes responsible for either extreme events or gradual environmental change; the context of the built environment and the ways in which human infrastructure, population distribution, and economic and other factors relate to a topic or question; and the cultural, ethical, behavioral, and social implications of the ways human societies create meaning in relation to the non-human environment. Activities will include faculty development seminars, guest speakers and visiting artists, curriculum development grants, study tours in Asia for student-faculty groups, and support of student research on Asia and the environment.  

The first event held under the auspices of LIASE implementation grant was a September 8, 2016 symposium on “Slow Violence and Resilience in Asia: Intergenerational Environmental Legacies” featuring Brett Walker, Regents Professor of History at Montana State University, Bozeman, and Tang Ya, professor of environmental science at Sichuan University, Chengdu, China. Tang opened the standing-room-only event with a lecture entitled “Ecological Engineering in the Treatment of Environmental Problems in China,” and Walker’s presentation was entitled “Natural and Unnatural Disasters: 3/11, Asbestos, and the Unmaking of Japan’s Modern World.”  As part of their visit, Professor Tang met with students in Associate Professor of Geology Zeb Page’s first-year seminar The Anthropocene, and Professor Walker spoke with students in Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Chie Sakakibara’s 300-level Environmental Studies class Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change. Students from a range of majors discussed environmental topics and education with the guests during a lunch meeting.  Walker and Tang also met with faculty from East Asian Studies, Environmental Studies, Geology, and Sociology.

Looking ahead, Ann Sherif, professor of Japanese and co-director of the grant, described plans to “increase content about environmental issues in our intermediate- and upper-level Japanese and Chinese language classes, and design co-curricular activities so that students in elementary language classes can engage.” Steven Wojtal, professor of geology and LIASE co-director, is excited that the grant will encourage the study of Asian languages and culture among students with little or no prior training in those fields, in particular students majoring in the natural sciences. For students with no prior experience in studying Asia, the grant will support a tiered approach, beginning with on-campus programming such as lectures, exhibitions on Asian art and nature at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, and on-campus Winter Term projects, continuing with expanded curricular coverage of Asian environmental issues and study trips to Asia, and culminating with support for student and faculty research on Asian environmental issues or in Asia.  

Sherif notes, “We value experiential learning. We value being in that place, breathing in that air—whether it is clean or dirty—and talking with people, meeting with people, walking around and getting a sense of the place, but there will be a strong academic component too. Before all of the trips there will be some kind of class so students can learn about the issues they are going to explore, something about the history and the culture of the places, and also establish learning goals. The better prepared they are, the more they know going in, the more they will learn.”

The next LIASE activity will be a November 14-15 event on “Activism and the Environment in Indonesia.”

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