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Philosophy of the Calvin Environmental Assessment Program

By Dr. Janel Curry
Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies
Calvin College

In higher education we work at challenging students to see issues in a framework that goes beyond the limitations of their parochial, or locally based experiences - college is meant to be a broadening experience. This is easy because most faculty are themselves "rootless professors," using the words of Eric Zencey. Professors are supposed to belong to the world of ideas rather than places. An alternative is to see education as a deepening of local understanding.

When we deepen our understanding of the places where we live we gain a greater understanding of who we are, the intricacies of our place, and our responsibilities. Then we may in turn have the skills to learn to appreciate and care for other places. Perhaps broadening experiences include the route of understanding the "other" via a deepening of our understanding of who and where we are. Historian Christopher Lasch claimed that allegiance to the "world" is ineffective because it stretches our capacity for loyalty too thin. In reality, we love particular people and places. Abstract ideals need to be made concrete through loving, understanding, and caring for particular people places.

The Calvin Environmental Assessment Program (CEAP) at Calvin builds on this need to serve and show caretaking through the process of paying attention to that which is closest at hand. CEAP involves faculty across the college, but mainly in the sciences, who each dedicate regular lab sessions or projects to collecting data that contribute to an overall assessment of the environment of the campus and surroundings areas. Some of the initial findings show how the surrounding neighborhoods impact the water quality of campus ponds. The open spaces created by the ponds are in turn used as recreational space by our neighbors. Thus CEAP is increasing our understanding of what it means to be embedded in a natural and social system.

CEAP is built on the philosophy that this knowledge must then be put to the service of the campus and the larger community, perhaps becoming the basis for a more community-based approach to campus planning. Ultimately, the hope of the Calvin Environmental Assessment Program is that students and faculty will become better caretakers and citizens on this piece of the Creation and that they may in turn learn what it means to take care of the other places they encounter throughout their lifetimes.

Related Information

For more information about CEAP, consult the following links:

Funded Grant:

Institution and Research in Community Context