Stories for Sustainability with Dr. Sasi Balasundaram

“Climate change is overwhelming and students need to understand that they can make a difference—I want them to feel empowered and give them hope.”—Dr. Sasi Balasundaram

Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology Dr. Sasi Balasundaram, has been spinning in many circles as of late. With a life-long-interest in environmental and social justice issues, Balasundaram has been working in various ways to initiate profound conversations regarding people and our planet. If you speak with him for just five minutes, you will learn a multitude of ways that even you, yourself, can start challenging what most people view as “the insurmountable issues.”

Recently, Balasundaram held his environmental anthropology course in the Fuller Dome, hosting four guest speakers. “Stories are incredibly powerful, that is why it is important to have guest speakers. We have enough data, what we need are more stories–we need to hear about other people’s experiences,” commented Balasundaram. “The issues that we are facing today are not just one person’s issues, they are everybody’s.” Balasundaram holds the belief that in hearing people’s stories, we will then arrive at action. “All of the things that people are doing to make the world better—we can do that too.”

Rooted firmly in experiential learning, Balasundaram’s students have participated firsthand in a number of action-based initiatives, beginning on campus. One class researched how we recycle on campus and increased recycling with simple improvements in bin location. “I want to create awareness,” Balasundaram expressed, “and I want to see what is happening in our communities and how we can solve these issues together.”

Balasundaram is well-known for his impactful classroom assignments like his zero waste homework that requires students to save all of their trash to become more aware of their consumption style and reconsider the ways in which they consume. “It is going to take a collective effort to change the way we live, but we can start now. This holiday season, I am encouraging people to give zero waste gifts,” he said. “Consider making a homemade gift or card. These things are not only zero-waste, but are more personal and meaningful to the people in your life.”

To close out his class, Balasundaram cooked a full meal for his students to show them how to make a healthy meal on a budget. In February, he will host a cultural cooking workshop to teach how to easily prepare healthy meals that are good for both you and the planet. Some local environmental activists and he recently formed Confluence Collaborative, an ecological working group that he hopes will soon become a useful resource on campus. Balasundaram is also a member of SIUE’s Sustainability Action Group (SAG) committee and is currently working with Jen Zuercher, PhD, RD Assistant Professor, Nutrition Program Director, Department of Applied Health, on a proposal for creating a global garden project. This September, his book, “Global Mountain Regions: Conversations toward the Future,” was released.

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Filed Under: AnthropologyHuman Interest


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