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At the final intensive of the quarter, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a panel for incoming students. Both Gifford Pinchot, BGI President, and Scott Schroeder, Dean of Academic Affairs were present. One of the incoming students asked a brilliant question, one that was actually extremely relevant and timely. She basically asked how the ensured the integration of Social justice into its course work.

Scott answered this question, citing the example that had just taken place, where the faculty and staff of the school had just recently decided to change the entire first-year foundations sequence, so rather than breaking it up into Foundations of Sustainable Business (mainly focused on environmental issues), Social Justice and then Systems Thinking in separate quarters, that you instead take them concurrently, so the three elements are all present in three consecutive courses. You get the same amount of time with each of the three subjects, but rather than segmenting them into separate time frames, you get to experience them all together, weaving the connections between them as you go.

Gifford’s answer to this question actually ended up putting all of my BGI education thus far (two quarters). While I can quote him exactly, Gifford had a way of clearly explaining this in a few pointed sentences. He basically stated that as you learn more about the environmental issues, you discover that they are all actually social justice issues. For example, if the environmental issue is pollution, it isn’t just affecting the environment, but also the communities of people that live within and depend on that environment.

I really like this perspective, because it allows us to view things in a more holistic sense. My initial introduction to environmental issues was through my education in Interior Design, as it related to the relatively new phenomenon of “green building.” However, BGI is allowing me to view the world from more of a Social Justice Lens. I no longer think about things in terms of their environmental impact alone, but now consider social justice impacts as well.

One of the more recent ways that I have personally changed in this regard has been my changed perspective on charitable giving. I used to give money to environmentally focused charities because I thought that they were having a positive impact. However, one of the things that this quarter in Social Justice has taught me is that the amount of money I give to environmental causes is nothing in comparison to the demands that industrialized nations put onto to third-world countries that encourage them to continue degrading their local environment in order to make money to pay off international loans. Rather than put my dollars towards organizations doing environmental reconstruction work, I now am providing funds to third world countries in, what I believe to be, a much more effective way.

I have been taking part in micro lending through Vittana.org, a local, Seattle-based, micro-lending organization that provides student loans so that students who may not be able to afford an education otherwise can do so. I personally view education as one of the largest social justice issues that we must overcome in the next few decades. By providing others the opportunity to get a quality college education, we as a global society become smarter and will be able overcome more and more of the challenges that we face in the future. By keeping poorer nations in poverty, the industrialized nations may be ensuring their place as global leaders, but they do so at the extremely high cost of the loss of more global innovation and technological advances.