Strengthening Community Environmental Partnerships
April 2023 – Drew University joined tens of thousands of universities, colleges, K-12 schools, and faith communities to take part in the second annual Worldwide Teach-In on Climate and Justice.
The initiative aims to create climate and justice dialogues across the globe. “This is an opportunity to talk about how we can build community together around the idea of climate change, social justice, and environmental sustainability,” said Director of the Center for Civic Engagement Sean Hewitt.
The University-wide event encouraged the Drew community to plan and participate to cultivate solutions surrounding environmental justice.
Through last year’s inaugural event, Drew students founded the Environmental Sustainability Council, a group dedicated to creating lasting sustainability practices and efforts on Drew’s campus.
The event was hosted by Elisabeth Sauerman C’24, Action Scholar and member of the Environmental Sustainability Council. “Through events like this, we can create actionable change,” she said.
At the onset of the event, Julia Caldwell C’24 shared a disability affirming statement and Chekuwbe Okunowo C’24 outlined the indigenous land acknowledgement.
Attendees heard from faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and community partners as they discussed climate change, challenges, solutions, and ways to improve sustainability at Drew.
Shagufta Gaffar, assistant professor of environmental science, educated the group on biochar, a special kind of charcoal that is beneficial to the environment in many different ways. Often used as a soil additive, biochar is a carbon negative technology with the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent.
Created from organic waste or already fallen trees, biochar acts as a soil conditioner and fertilizer. “We are learning from nature and incorporating it into sustainable practices,” said Gaffar.
The group was joined by Mark Odenwelder, director of program development at Morris Habitat for Humanity, the largest chapter in New Jersey. Prior to this role, Odenwelder spent the majority of his adult life in Ecuador teaching English and supporting housing challenges after environmental crises.
“Through this work, I was able to see with more clarity the inequities that people face and the significant contribution that climate gives to these inequities,” he said. “Over the course of my life and career, I’ve become much more aware of the importance of the intersection of climate and justice.”
Odenwelder has utilized sustainable building practices in both Ecuador and the U.S. “We build all homes to be extremely energy efficient and work with community to restore land and build homes.”
Drew Theological School student Adrian Mendoza T’23 spoke about TERRA, a student-run organization that provides opportunities for education and advocacy regarding ecological issues. “TERRA integrates professional research and practical experience into our theology,” said Mendoza.
The students then gathered into working breakout groups to discuss sustainability at Drew, reconvening to share their outcomes and reflections.