June 10, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2008

Wakefield, Peter

Project Summary

My experiences in the Piedmont Project (PP) in 2008 will have a lasting impact on my teaching, both conceptually and practically. I discuss first the conceptual insights gained, then present three pedagogical innovations I will make in the coming academic year, including a syllabus for IDS 200 for fall 2008 that includes units formulated in response to ideas gained through the two-day PP workshop in May.
Conceptual Insights Gained from Piedmont Project. The most important concept I take away from PP involves understanding Emory University as a place. The place that is Emory is situated geographically, ecologically, socially, and communally in specific ways that should be shared with students and made transparent through pedagogy. To understand Emory under the concept of place is to reject the reduction of the university to the role of a service-provider. Students are not clients and the process of education is not a commodity deliverable simply upon payment of tuition. Emory is more than a business, an employer, or a validation on student degrees. Emory’s sense of place touches historically on the South, on segregation and racial discrimination, and on the city of Atlanta—its architecture, its cultural attraction, its politics, and its traffic patterns. Emory’s students should understand the ramifications they participate in as members of a broader institution. Such awareness begins with elemental physical and natural observations. Climate must be acknowledged beyond the air-conditioned class and dormitory room. Terrain, land use, water availability, and the conscious organization of physical space should be interrogated as a regular feature of classes. Who cleans the classroom? Who built the walls that permit the class to function? How does Emory’s physical environment not only organize (limit? enable?) student behavior, but also make each student and professor responsible to a larger society for environmental choices made? Such questions, raised as co-curricular reflections, occasionally supplemented with an excursion into the brush and surrounding forests of the Druid Hills campus, put students in the presence of ignored others and the otherwise featureless contexts of their daily studies, anxieties, and cell phone conversations. No single definition of Emory as place will emerge for all students. The conceptual goal, rather, is to bring each student to notice, even, eventually, to love, some aspect of Emory’s place. More, students must accept their agency in defining Emory as place. The Piedmont Project’s active, planning dimension—through the Office of Sustainability—sets a model that students can shape and participate in. One of various factors of leadership that I hope to integrate as a co-curricular learning outcome of my classes, the sense of responsibility for the form of Emory—its daily visual appearance, its social role in the city, state, and nation, and its environmental footprint—is something that each student can come to understand through resources already provided by PP. Where do students drive? Have they ever taken public transportation? Do they know who takes the bus in Atlanta? Where does their water come from, and go, as it passes through the sinks? What does Emory do with its old computers? What have students done to facilitate the responsible stances that Emory might take in response to any of these questions? Finally, PP opened my eyes to the effectiveness of sustainability as a paradigm of interdisciplinarity. A question posed on one topic, or from a particular disciplinary perspective, pushed just a step further opens other fields and forms of inquiry that are necessarily germane: How efficient is Emory in its use of energy, for example? We begin to think of light bulbs and the mileage ratings of campus vehicles. But what about those who work here? Perhaps we shouldn’t dictate what sort of vehicles employees drive, but is Emory as an institution responsible for urban sprawl, housing patterns that push workers who make the least to live farther from campus, and thus to drive distances that substantially contribute to air pollution? Could conscious attention to housing choices improve Emory’s energy efficiency? Could it also improve Emory’s employee productivity? Its intellectual and cultural life? Could it advance social justice? What constitutes a satisfying, or a sustainable form of life? We begin to consider social spaces, interpersonal relations—the way we might foster these through programs or physical spaces conducive to social interactions. The PP May workshop pressed such questions and courageously assessed Emory’s current efforts to integrate the many dimensions of sustainability. Such a model of inquiry is integral to my teaching, and I will adopt the example specifically in my courses to illustrate the interdisciplinary approach that is the mark of my department, the Institute of Liberal Arts (ILA).

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