OPINION: The 7Cs should incorporate sustainability throughout their curricula

Drawing of different majors in front of Earth.
(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

On Nov. 2, Matiaslan “Aslan” Ceccarelli PZ ’23 sent an email to Pitzer College’s student body asking students to sign a petition from the Claremont Climate Initiative, a newly formed 7C student group. “We are asking the Claremont Colleges to make sustainability a core tenet of all majors so as to help all students and faculty address the urgency of climate change,” Ceccarelli, the leader of the initiative, wrote in the email.

On first reading, I thought they were asking the 7Cs to require each major to include a sustainability course related to the field. However, the petition, which has gained over 200 student signatures, demands more: the incorporation of sustainability in all classes.

I encourage all 7C community members to sign and support the Claremont Climate Initiative’s petition. The 7Cs must integrate sustainability into all courses as an important part of the schools’ efforts to fight climate change.

Such a concept, which might seem new, has long had international support. 7C students did not pioneer the idea. In 2018, the National Union of Students of the United Kingdom surveyed university students worldwide about their experiences and opinions on sustainability education at their schools. According to their final report, 70 percent of respondents wanted to see “sustainable development actively incorporated and promoted through all courses.”

Per a recent report from the World Meteorological Organization, the average global temperature is currently one degree Celsius hotter than it was in the late 19th century. The report anticipates a 44 percent likelihood that the average annual temperature will temporarily increase to 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels within the next five years. 

“After 1.5 [degrees Celsius] there is a point of no return and life on Earth will be continuously afflicted with suffering, death, and mass extinction,” the petition states. 

Education on sustainability is becoming increasingly essential in an accelerating climate crisis. As organizations fundamental to their students’ development as citizens of society, higher education institutions bear a responsibility not only to exercise sustainability in their everyday operations, but also to equip students through education with the tools they need to contribute towards generating sustainable solutions in the greater world.

One might wonder why a class on sustainability as a general education requirement wouldn’t suffice. This would exclude 7C graduate students, who don’t have general education requirements. 

In an interview with TSL, Ceccarelli asserted that excluding the graduate schools from the Initiative’s demand “[would prevent] all of those students from also learning the skillset that they can use to add to solutions for climate change.”

For students in postbaccalaureate programs (such as the premed programs at Scripps College and Keck Graduate Institute), another class in an already intensive schedule could delay program completion. For undergraduates, more general education requirements would restrict options in selecting classes. 

“And maybe they wouldn’t understand how sustainability incorporates itself into all the other material that they’re learning. They might be like, ‘Okay, this is cool and everything, but how do I actually apply it to my discipline?’” Ceccarelli said in the interview.

Mandating a sustainability course specifically related to the field of a student’s degree or certificate would certainly mitigate the issue Ceccarelli described. “I do think that having a class that’s solely dedicated to sustainability would be amazing,” he said. “But … since sustainability is inherently interdisciplinary, how would it really be talked about in that one class?”

Weaving sustainability throughout the curricula would give students opportunities to learn about and consistently practice sustainability in a broader variety of ways, which they can apply to their careers and personal lives. A single course cannot encapsulate the numerous applications of sustainability in detail; multiple courses over the span of a student’s academic journey can. The latter type of education also embodies the spirit of sustainability as an ongoing effort — not just a one-time affair. 

Skeptics may contend that it isn’t feasible to implement the petition’s proposal in disciplines such as the arts, languages, certain social sciences and nonbiological STEM subjects. I don’t know how exactly every class would promote sustainability — that’s for the curriculum board of the 7Cs and the faculty of each academic department to untangle — but I have several ideas.

Math classes can incorporate real-life scenarios involving sustainability in problem sets. Foreign language classes can teach students how to discuss sustainability practices and environmental issues happening in countries where the language is widely spoken. Music ensembles can perform works inspired by the fight for a more sustainable world, just as the Claremont Concert Choir did in a Nov. 4 performance.

Music history courses can examine how historical practices and the environment influenced the changing construction of musical instruments over time, and how this in turn impacted the environment and musical works of the era. Psychology classes can cover the psychology of sustainable behavior. These are just some ways sustainability can be integrated.

The environment plays a role, no matter how tangential, in every aspect of our lives. With an impending climate catastrophe in the years to come, everyone must act against it. In order for everyone to contribute, solutions to the climate crisis must come from all fields, all areas of society. By infusing sustainability into their curricula, the 7Cs can lead the way in empowering students to collectively create a wide range of sustainable solutions and protect life on Earth.

Luciénne Reyes PZ ’24 is from Los Angeles, California. She credits an interview she conducted with Peter Dien CM ’25 for a past TSL article as having inspired her fall break adventures.

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