Worldwide Climate Teach In At Drew University

By Nicole Giao | Assistant Opinions Editor and Staff Writer

5 mins read
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Professors and students gathered to learn a wealth of information and engage in conversations that promote effective solutions to environmental issues at the World-Wide Climate Teach-In hosted at Drew University in the Hall of Sciences on March 29, 2023. 

Sean Hewitt introduced the second annual teach-in by highlighting its coordinator, Elisabeth Sauerman (’24). Hewitt closed out his opening remarks by saying, “Sauerman is dedicated to the cause and hosts difficult conversations with great ease. We can create actionable plans for our climate.” 

Sauerman invited Chekwube Okunowo (’24), the chair of the Racial Justice Committee, to read the Land and Labor acknowledgement to tribal communities. “We are on their territory and the first step is acknowledging that,” said Okunowo.

Okunowo then introduced the Chair of the Student Health and Accessibility Committee Julia Caldwell (‘24), who spoke about able-bodied supremacy and encouraged students to understand ableism. Caldwell said, “We are awesome because of our bodies, and as a society, we all have to understand that.”

The first guest speaker of the night was Dr. Shagufta Gaffar, who came to the United States from Bangladesh in 2015 to pursue her PhD. She is currently a researcher in the fields of soil science and environmental science with a particular interest in biochar and its effects on various aspects of soil health and plant growth. 

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Biochar is a type of charcoal that is made from organic materials and that can be used to improve soil quality, sequester carbon and mitigate the effects of climate change. Gaffar advocated for the use of biochar and for incorporating it into sustainable agriculture. She mentioned that “it can be used as a soil conditioner to improve plant growth. Biochar is more affordable on a large scale than anything we are using currently.”

The following guest speaker was Mark Odenwelder, who works in a homeowner’s energy company. Odenwelder worked in Cuenca, Ecuador for many years and just recently came back to the United States. During his time in Ecuador, he directed educational non-profits and volunteered for Fundación Raiz, which created emergency bamboo houses for displaced people in Ecuador. Odenwelder highlighted the concept of “minga,” a Quechua word from an Indigenous group in Ecuador that means “each community helps one another.” Odenwelder emphasized that his work would have not been completed without help; he also said, “bamboo lasts up to 30-plus years.” 

Odenwelder began his discussion of his time in Ecuador by mentioning a recent landslide in Alausi, Ecuador that caused seven deaths and destroyed more than 150 homes. Odenwelder visited Alausi, and he spoke about how the landslide is affecting a vulnerable community. Citizens of Ecuador who reside in Alausi are living on the sides of mountains, meaning it takes them double the time to get to school or work. Odenwelder is currently working with Morris Habitat for Humanity, which seeks to build affordable housing for those vulnerable to climate change. They are currently closing a deal in Randolph to build 25 homes for 25 families. 

The last guest speaker, Adrian Mendoza (‘23) spoke on behalf of Drew’s Theological School. Mendoza passionately described the creation of a community garden and its benefits to all students on campus. 

“We work together to nurture our fruits and vegetables,” Mendoza said. Mendoza encouraged all Drew students to help dispel any rumors that the garden was meant only for the Theological School. Students then engaged in conversations about racial and environmental justice, the strengthening of community environmental partnerships, creating sustainable campus unity and environmental and disability justice. For more information on how to assist with sustainability efforts on campus, please contact Sauerman at esauerman@drew.edu.

Nicole Giao is a sophomore majoring in international relations and minoring in French.

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