Researching MSU’s Tradition of Sustainability

be spartan green logoAs part of an ongoing project on the history of sustainability practices at Michigan State University, Jennifer Bengtson and I are working a grant proposal aimed at understanding sustainability from the past to the present. MSU is offering grant money for proposals that use the campus itself to interpret and implement sustainability policies. Our proposal, titled “Sustainability as Campus Culture: An Anthropological Approach to Understanding Community Participation in MSU Sustainability Programs” will utilize a multi-tiered approach to understanding sustainability on campus. We suggest that, previously, sustainability studies have focused on a top down approach, without giving much weight to individual and campus-wide attitudes towards these policies. Our social science perspective can provide a unique and valuable component to understanding, evaluating, and implementing MSU sustainability goals. As such, we propose an anthropological investigation that frames sustainability within the purview of historical and contemporary campus culture.

Our approach will be holistically anthropological, with contributions from three sub disciplines in order to engage the campus as, “a living learning laboratory” per the directives of the grant.

Ethnohistorical documents will aid us in interpreting the evolution of official sustainability policy and the ways in which they were understood and experienced by the larger campus community throughout time. Documents include those from the MSU and State archives which discuss patterns of energy and food use. From archival data we can explore first hand accounts of what was occurring on campus from 1855 to the present, including student diaries and notes from the campus meetings.

Butchered Cow ‘Elbow’

Campus Archaeology data will allow us to access the material remains of past food, energy, and transportation related activities, while supplementing documentary analysis (corroboration or contradiction of historic record). One example of this is the work being done to analyze the faunal remains. By looking at the refuse of the historic campus, we can better understand how food was used.

Finally, sociocultural analysis will allow us to understand the ways that today’s official sustainability policies and goals are appreciated, received, and participated in by the broader campus community (students, faculty, staff). If we are able to secure this grant, we hope to have a sociocultural anthropologist design a study asking participants about opinions on sustainability practices and current MSU policies.

The unique contribution of this grant to the narrative of sustainability on campus is that we aim to determine the personal connections that individuals have in implementing sustainability practices, and how those motivations and opinions have changed over time due to external factors.

As of now, we are still in the literature review process. In the next few weeks, we will formulate more of the writing and discuss our proposal with Dr. Goldstein. We look forward to continuing work on this grant and will submit our final application in late November. We will keep CAP updated with any news about MSU’s longstanding traditions of sustainability.

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