Tempe partners with ASU course to discuss equity, sustainability

A new graduate-level course will advise the city on developing its equity-driven climate action plan update

A new project-based graduate course will help guide topics on the city of Tempe's 2021 Climate Action Plan update. 

The course, Equity in Climate Action, will be taught via ASU Sync in the Spring 2021 semester by Lauren Keeler and Marta Berbés-Blázquez, assistant professors at the School of the Future of Innovation in Society

"It's going to be fairly experimental," said Berbés-Blázquez of the course's content. 

Braden Kay, the city of Tempe's sustainability director and senior sustainability fellow at the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, will also be involved in the course. 

"I try to pop in about somewhere between three and five times over the course of the semester," Kay said.

The course focuses on exploring the interaction between equity and sustainability. Kay defines equity as giving more attention and resources to those who have been historically marginalized and left out of government programs.

"What we'll be working on in this class is how do you use the climate movement to also address the social justice movement," Kay said.

Keeler said she regularly works with Kay and the Tempe government on a number of climate-related projects. Kay said their long working relationship was at the core of getting Tempe and ASU to collaborate on climate action projects.

Tempe's first Climate Action Plan, adopted by the Tempe City Council on Nov. 7, 2019, was developed as a collaboration between ASU and the city of Tempe.

READ MORE: City of Tempe continues work with ASU to craft climate action plan

"I helped write the city's first Climate Action Plan, and the stakeholder engagements that were a part of that first Climate Action Plan were organized by a graduate studio that I ran," Keeler said. "This is an update to the Climate Action Plan, and the city of Tempe actually asked us if we would organize a course again."

This new course means students again will have the chance to affect the ways in which the city of Tempe addresses climate problems.

"We are charged with helping the city think about how it foregrounds equity, equity in general and racial justice in particular, in its update to its Climate Action Plan," Keeler said.

Keeler said students will be "designing conversations" with Tempe's communities to assist the city in developing an equity-driven climate action plan. 

"(Students) are going to be taking some of the policy ideas that came up in the climate action sessions and then helping us figure out how we have conversations with these target groups about those," Kay said.


Keeler emphasized the importance of understanding how climate action and social justice are inextricably linked.

"There is a need in the curriculum for a course that not only engages critical theory around equity and climate action but also teaches students who will be future sustainability practitioners in a variety of places how to do social justice work around climate action," Keeler said.

Although this is a graduate-level course, undergraduate juniors and seniors are encouraged to apply. Undergraduate students must contact their advisors and request permission to enroll.

Keeler said the course could be "an important opportunity for graduate students to mentor undergraduate students. I think that ASU tries to frequently remind us that sustainability doesn't happen in a single department."

"I think that you do gain from having different undergraduates and graduates who come from different disciplines," Berbés-Blázquez said.

The ongoing partnership between ASU and the city of Tempe serves as a model for what to expect from other University and municipal collaborations, according to Kay.

"Here's a group of professors and folks at the city of Tempe that are sort of experimenting with the very beginning of what that would look like," Kay said.

The spring Session C course is being offered at the Tempe campus on Tuesdays from 3 to 5:45 p.m.


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

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