Santa Clara University

Ethics-based environmental leadership

SCU Senior Emily Eng created a cookbook, Ethical Recipes for Fish, about preparing sustainable species of seafood. Matthew Valdin ’05 developed a postcard advocating a “Sabbath for the Sea,” which was used to promote the expansion of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Senior Aroba Hafeez put together a slide show on “Islam and Environmental Ethics.”

All three participated in SCU’s Central Coast Environmental Vocation Internship last year, focusing on biodiversity conservation ethics. They worked with local faith communities on protecting marine biodiversity.

The internship is part of the Faith, Ethics, and Vocation Project, directed by Keith Douglass Warner, OFM. The project integrates research, community-based learning, and courses, taking ideas like the ones developed by Center for Science, Technology, and Society Director Geoffrey Bowker (see article) and bringing them to students.

“For education to be transformational,” Warner said, “it has to include critical reflection and real-world experience.” The Vocation Project incorporates “getting out into the community, listening to community leaders talk about environmental challenges, and learning how communities can respond.”

Another group of interns learned about the environmental challenges of California’s Central Valley. In a reflection on his experiences last year, senior Melvin Gaines, an East Palo Alto, Calif., native, explained why he became involved in the project:

Certain scents bring tears to my eyes. I’m not referring to pleasant smells, such as those of fresh baked apple pies…. I’m referring to sinus-penetrating stenches, such as those of toxic fumes.… It’s my knowledge of the results of such stenches that brings tears to my eyes. Working for social and environmental justice for the past five years and living in a community plagued by environmental injustices for the past 21 years have made me overly aware of the harsh circumstances, such as cancer and asthma, that accompany exposure to such scents.

Gaines and fellow senior Waide Hicks spoke to more than 600 parishioners in the Stockton Diocese about what Catholicism has to say about environmental justice. In turn, they heard firsthand from a young parishioner about the impact of environmental injustice, when he explained how he developed asthma from the 1999 Westley tire fire.

The Faith, Ethics, and Vocation Project brings together many strands of an SCU education. First, it’s interdisciplinary, as is its home, the Environmental Studies Institute, which Director Amy Shachter describes as “a community of faculty, staff, and students dedicated to understanding the interactions between humans and the natural world.”

It also combines experiential and classroom learning. Besides their classes on “Faith, Ethics, and the Biodiversity Crisis” and “Environmental Justice,” interns worked with churches and community organizations. The combination, Warner explained, “offers students a theologically grounded vision of stewardship that embraces social justice as well as advocacy for the intrinsic value of creation.”

Finally, the internship builds on the work of the DISCOVER Project, an ongoing program that encourages members of the University community to “discover their personal calling by aligning their gifts with the deepest needs of the world.” Warner said he was “thrilled to come to Santa Clara,” where the conversation about vocation had been going on for several years. “I wanted to integrate that conversation into specific needs of society for environmental leadership,” he said.

Warner traces his view of those needs to Pope John Paul II, who said humanity collectively has “an ecological vocation” to steward the earth on behalf of God and future generations. Warner sees the possibility of creating a nationally recognized environmental studies program at SCU because of this distinctive approach. “We teach more than competency here at Santa Clara,” he said. “We also develop ethical leadership and deepen our vocations.”

For more information on the Faith, Ethics, and Vocation Project, visit