Speaker series aims to promote discussion around societal and environmental issues

Earlier this March, I had the chance to attend a speaker series event here at St. Kate’s that is promoting discussion around some of today’s important issues. This particular event was concerned around the topic of environmental justice.

Karen Monahan of the Sierra Club, senior organizer for the Beyond Coal campaign, started off the event by giving a little bit of background into her activism in environmental justice. She then led a discussion with the audience to talk about some of the issues concerning the environment and ways to solve them, as well as the things the audience wanted to learn about in regards to environmental justice.

A highlight of the event was that Monahan explained that she believes there is much more emphasis being put on environmental issues today than there was in earlier years.

“The conversation around climate change has been happening, and also around renewable energy, so I think with weather patterns and then the whole conversation around renewable energy has really elevated the conversation surrounding climate change,” said Monahan.

However, environmental issues are still not a priority simply because there are many other injustices affecting us right now, so it is hard to look towards the future when it comes to the environment. Monahan also believes that environmental justice is a community effort.

“I think that there needs to be more community action. When you talk to folks on Capitol Hill and Washington it is an issue, but it’s still not within…the top three issues…because there has been so many issues that are impacting people right now,” said Monahan.

It is also important to consider that environmental issues may impact certain people differently than others; this is another reason why environmental issues might not have as much standing in the face of other issues.

The main idea of Monahan’s lecture was that many of the social and economic issues of today can in some way, shape or form be influenced by an environmental issue or injustice, and that information in and of itself is something to be considered when seeking solutions for those issues.

After meeting with Monahan, I later was able to interview Shvonne Johnson, Assistant Dean of Students of the St. Kate’s Minneapolis campus; Johnson is the person responsible for helping to gather the speakers for this series.

This speaker series, known as the Seeking Solutions through Justice, Dignity, Integrity & Action series, was created with the intent of giving people access to information on today’s issues, as well as to provide a place to talk about solutions to these issues.

“The speaker series was derived out of the idea that we’re seeking solutions while challenges arise so we identified some of the things that are going on in society that are plaguing our times…so this speaker series was derived out of the need for us to be relevant as an institution also leverage our community partners and talk about solutions versus talking about despair,” said Johnson.

This speaker series is a new event this year and is open and free to the public. However, this sort of even could become an annual occurrence depending on the response of the St. Kate’s community.

“This can be annual if this community expresses that it’s needed, but these community partners are coming here for nothing; they’re doing this because they believe in the mission of the institution, they believe in the importance of partnership and they value St. Catherine University,” said Johnson.

Johnson stressed the fact that this is a free event that aims to encourage discussion around today’s issues with speakers, such as Monahan, who are not being paid for their valuable information but are doing it because they believe in change.

“You’re gonna’ get free information that people are doing real work…we as institutions of academia think that we’re the only people pushing the belt, we got community organizations who are changing the state; we need to learn from them. We’re not the only people that teach,” said Johnson.

This speaker series aims to show the community that there are people out there trying to make change happen, and by attending the events in this series, students are not only given access to information, but are also pushed to make a difference.

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