Two Titans of Sustainability at Emory, Peggy Barlett and Bobbi Patterson, Retiring

As OSI reviewed the legacies of the many impressive faculty retiring from Emory College of Arts & Sciences this year, we were overwhelmed with the reality of two titans of sustainability at Emory, Peggy Barlett and Bobbi Patterson, retiring. The sustainability landscape at Emory and across the nation have been shaped by their tireless work to build networks intended to foster equity, compassion, and environmental consciousness; to push institutions, including Emory, to adopt and integrate these values at every level; to publish cornerstone scholarship on these topics; and to challenge and inspire their peers and students to integrate sustainability practices into their work, studies, and lives.

Dr. Peggy Barlett, Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology, is a leader of sustainability in higher education nationally. She published Sustainability on Campus with Geoff Chase in 2004 and Sustainability in Higher Education, also with Geoff, in 2013, which have shaped the strategies and cultures of hundreds of higher education institutions across the globe. Peggy helped elevate this work and gave it and the people undertaking it legitimacy and significance.

In addition to writing seminal work on sustainability in higher education, Peggy and Geoff Chase partnered on workshops for faculty from all over the country to learn methods to integrate sustainability into their curricula and research. These courses have been taught for 15 years to over 500 faculty from all over the country. The concept is for those faculty to then go to their institutions and set up their own versions of Emory’s Piedmont Project, training other faculty to teach hundreds of students in these now sustainability-related courses.

Peggy’s impact at Emory is evident in every realm of campus sustainability life. Peggy chaired the Ad Hoc Committee on the Environment, co-chaired both the first and most recent sustainability visioning committees, led the Sustainable Food Committee and Sustainability Faculty Advisory Council, and served as Faculty Liaison to OSI for 13 years. Peggy advocated for the moon shoot goal of 75% local and sustainable food procurement at Emory, a goal we haven’t yet reached, but which has led to a transformation in the way Emory and other higher education institutions see their responsibility to students, staff, farmers and communities to provide healthy, local food. It was her vision that led to the Oxford Organic Farm, Emory’s Farmers Market, the Emory Educational Garden Project, and the annual Sustainability Food Fair. Peggy also strongly advocated for and led the founding of the Sustainability Minor in interdisciplinary studies, which continues to provide students in Emory College a course of study in sustainability in addition to their varied majors.

Dr. Bobbi Patterson, Professor of Pedagogy in Religion, is a leader of teaching and engaging at the intersection of sustainability, religion, pedagogy, resilience, and justice. As she has for so many others, Bobbi has served as a reflective, compassionate and soulful voice for OSI, whose inspired leadership helped expand the realm of sustainability work most directly through her contributions to the Emory As Place initiative. As a Faculty Associate with our office, Bobbi co-developed this initiative to provide members of the Emory community a way to explore Emory by educating themselves about histories, places and ecologies. Bobbi employed her expertise in experiential and narrative teaching to create tours of campus forests, an Emory civil rights tour, and a campus-wide scavenger hunt and other activities for student residents. Bobbi also played in integral role in creating an Emory As Place video, which is still sent to all recently hired Emory staff, to help those joining the Emory community to discover the place, learn to inhabit it, and care to help sustain it.

Bobbi has served many critical roles for Emory University since she started in 1981, and in the classroom, she has worked at the intersections to broaden our minds and our hearts. She has taught students and trained other faculty about methodologies to teach about religion and ecology, contributing to the American Academy of Religion recognizing Bobbi with the Excellence in Teaching Award. Bobbi also helped students immerse themselves in sustainability work by coordinating an internship course that placed students in sustainability-related organizations in Atlanta. In every way, she has embodied and taught from a grounded place of pedagogy, engagement and care for people and planet.

Bobbi has also been a fearless champion of the social sustainability work that has contributed to making Emory a more diverse, tolerant, and transformative institution. Bobbi served on the committee that led to the creation of the Emory Center for Women and on the Task Force on Dissent, Protest and Community that eventually led to the University’s current Open Expression Policy. Bobbi also chaired the first president’s task force on LGBT issues. Bobbi is a visionary that depicts, often through her incredible poetry, a world built around values of community, compassion and courage, a world for which she works tirelessly and that is made much more loving and resilient because of her presence.

Both Peggy and Bobbi leave us in a good place, a place made much stronger by their legacies. Yes, we have miles to go in our journey toward a more sustainable campus and community, but we are indebted to these principled trailblazers who have helped us to see a vision for and pathways to a better world. We wish them fulfilling and nourishing retirements.

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