New Humanities Lab gives insight on social justice and energy

The course will begin in the upcoming spring semester

A new class is being introduced to the Humanities Lab this spring that will focus on the social justice issues surrounding energy sources and the energy industry. 

The lab will focus on the move to cleaner energy sources and the negative social aspects of that change, which one of the course teachers said is an important local issue to Arizonans. 

The course, which is called Energy and Social Justice will be co-taught by two professors from two different colleges. 

Associate professor Christopher Jones with the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies will teach the class with professor of practice at the School of Sustainability Gary Dirks, who is senior director at the Global Futures Laboratory and director of LightWorks at ASU.

Finding cleaner ways to produce energy is important, but so are the ways local communities are affected by those changes, Jones said. Often, the loss of industry and jobs in these communities is not considered, and the class will focus on that issue.

One example Jones gave is the Kayenta Mine in the Navajo Nation that recently closed and cost the community hundreds of jobs. 

The course came together from the discussions between Dirks and Sally Kitch, the University and Regents professor of women and gender studies and founding director of the Humanities Lab at ASU.

The humanities lab is aimed at creating interdisciplinary teams of professors teaching students about the biggest social challenges, like sustainability, Kitch said. She added that teaching the issues from a humanities perspective is helpful in creating change 

“Energy, while it gives us a great gift, exacts a great price,” Kitch said. “Who's been paying the price? How can those costs be more equitably distributed among our society? Those are some of the questions they will be asking.”

At the beginning, the professors will provide background information on how energy works in America and what changes the industry is undertaking in order to produce greener energy, Jones said. 

The students will then look for their own solutions and will look into how communities have been affected by the changes, he said. 

“The whole point of the Humanities Labs courses is that they are expositions that are student-driven,” Jones said. “What our goal as instructors to do is to enable students to come to their own conclusions about what should be going on and how they want to address it.”

Jones added that the class is not just about shutting down power plants to burn coal, it's also about the social and economic problems the community will face. 

In many places where the economy relies on energy, people who once made their livelihood in the industry are forced into new jobs that are not always available, he said. 

One main focus of the class will be what Kitch and Jones call "narratives." Each student has their own
life experiences with energy and they will have the opportunity to tell those stories, Kitch said. The class will allow students to express these narratives with different techniques including writing, videos and podcasts, Jones said.

A librarian will be embedded into the class to assist with doing research and creating the students' final projects, said Debra Riley-Huff, the director of the Design and Arts Library, division head of Humanities and librarian in question.

“We want to make sure they can cite things correctly and that they are able to take a deep dive into their research,” Riley-Huff said. “It’s not just about the research and learning, it’s also about the real life skills.”


Reach the reporter at wmyskow@asu.edu and follow @wmyskow on Twitter. 

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