The second cohort of environmental studies majors will graduate from Kenyon this year. With rising concern for the environment both globally and at the College, it is apt time to examine one of Kenyon’s newest majors.
The environmental studies track started as a concentration in 1990, but the major was only created in 2017, largely due to the efforts of Professor of Biology Siobhan Fennessy and Professor of Economics Robert Alexander, who currently serve as the co-chairs for the major. Greg McNeer ’19, who is completing an environmental studies major and an anthropology minor, said that there were pros and cons to pursuing such a new major. “I felt like there was a bit of disorganization,” McNeer said. “It was kind of a gamble to invest classes into a major without it actually being implemented yet.”
Hannah Goulder ’19, another environmental studies major and biology minor, agreed that there was a feeling of disorder. However, Goulder and McNeer both expressed optimism about the major’s trajectory. McNeer believes that, as the major becomes more stable and visible, it will draw larger enrollment.
Goulder encouraged the department to utilize more student opinions as the major continues to adapt to the college and changing world.
The students majoring in environmental studies are required to pick a specific area of study in an otherwise broad field. This can be achieved by completing a minor, concentration or specific number of classes in a related, but separate area. Goulder notes that it is difficult to do this if you do not begin specializing early.
“It’s one of the most requirement-heavy majors at the school,” she said, “Especially so if you want to double major.” Both McNeer and Goulding noted that the breadth of classes offered can be at odds with specialization.
“I think other schools probably have more focused programs for environmental studies,” McNeer said, “like they are going to be looking at particular sections of the field, where as a liberal arts school … we cover a lot of bases and I think that is reflected in the major.”
The major requires classes in biology, economics, political science, and classes specifically designed for the major. In addition, the major requires one unit of “cultures, societies and environments,” a series of select courses in the humanities and social sciences. This complexity seems to be inherent in the study of the environment, as almost every area of human study happens within the context of our world.
“It’s interesting how it touches on so many different things,” Goulder said. “If you are speaking about a specific environmental problem, you are going to touch on an aspect of all the things we study here.” Gould also said that his approach has changed the way she looks at the field. “There is so much we don’t know and so much we could study. I am just in awe of the complexity.”
Both McNeer and Goulder plan to work with the environment after they graduate. They spoke in unison about the importance of education about environmental issues. Goulder had no opportunities to take classes until she reached Kenyon. McNeer said that in his education before Kenyon, “they [brought] up that the climate’s changing, but they never taught me how to be aware of what I’m consuming, or how to be aware of what I’m putting out into the environment and how to reduce my effect, and I didn’t learn anything about it until I reached Kenyon … That’s basically 18, 20 years lost, where I could have been doing things differently.” He concluded: “There needs to be a ground up, nationwide change in the way we think about things.”