Campus Community

Examining Sustainability

Written by Mike Thee

March 26, 2014

a crowd of people on a tour of edible plants on campus

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Mission Day is an opportunity to celebrate the university’s leadership on sustainability, while collectively envisioning a deeper commitment.

When the Mission Day Planning Committee gathered to choose a theme for this year's event, there wasn't much need for discussion. Joe Orlando, assistant vice president for Mission and Ministry, and Jen Tilghman-Havens, associate director of Jesuit Mission and Identity, had previously suggested sustainability as a possible topic in a conversation with Peter Ely, S.J., vice president for Mission and Ministry. When Father Ely presented the idea to the committee, it received resounding support. 

"This topic of the environment is really in the air," says Ely. "You have our new Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability (CEJS). And it's a huge interest on the part of our students-they are deeply convinced of the overriding importance of this." 

"A Call to Environmental Justice and Sustainability at a Jesuit University" is the official theme of Mission Day, which takes place 8 a.m.-12:15 p.m., Thursday, April 10, in Connolly North Court. (Continental breakfast will be available at 8 a.m. with the program beginning at 9 a.m. Classes are canceled from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to allow for faculty and staff to attend Mission Day.)  

The annual event brings faculty and staff together to consider the values and priorities most fundamental to our identity and purpose as a Jesuit institution. 

For Seattle University, this year's Mission Day is an opportunity to celebrate the university's leadership on environmental justice and sustainability, while collectively envisioning an even deeper commitment. 

There is, of course, much to celebrate, including the Green Washington Award the university received from Seattle Business Magazine last fall. On Mission Day, Rob Schwartz, associate vice president for Facilities Services and co-chair of the President's Committee for Sustainability, will share some highlights on how SU is progressing in meeting the goals in the university's Climate Action Plan, and specifically how we are advancing sustainability in academics, co-curricular programming and operations. 

Leading up to Mission Day, faculty and staff are being asked to complete a survey to gauge the campus community's literacy on sustainable issues-if you haven't had a chance please take the survey now. Phil Thompson, director of the CEJS, will provide an overview of the results at Mission Day. 

Mission Day is also intended to spur conversation on what more the university can be doing to promote environmental justice and sustainability. Helping the facilitate that dialogue will be a four-person panel  featuring Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, associate professor of theology and religious studies; Shannon Britton, grounds manager; student Ames Fowler; and alumnus Troy Hutson, who works at Puget Sound Energy. 

Panelists will take up these three questions: (1) How does the call to environmental justice and sustainability hold meaning for me at the level of the spirit and the heart? (2) What gives me hope as I witness and participate in what we are doing as a university? (3) What gives me pause? Where do I see possibilities for deepening my own commitment and our university's commitment in light of our mission? 

Ely and other organizers are hoping that Mission Day provides a space for faculty and staff to address the more challenging issues that might emerge around sustainability. For instance, Ely mentions Sustainable Student Action's recent push for SU to divest from fossil fuel companies. While the university has decided not to proceed in that way, it's an example of an issue that Mission Day committee members are encouraging attendees to wrestle with. There will be opportunity to do so through small-group discussion and by submitting questions and concerns. 

"We don't want to start off with, 'Well, it's about time Seattle University did something about sustainability,'" as if we're not doing anything," says Ely, "but then we don't want to rest on our laurels either."

It is precisely this balancing act that we will attempt to strike when we gather as a campus community for Mission Day.

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