Georgian Court University’s Critical Concerns Week 2021 will explore two topics that are among the Sisters of Mercy’s humanitarian priorities and also dominate newspaper headlines: Racism and the environment. A robust program of more than 20 events, all free and nearly all open to the public, will be presented virtually from March 18 through 25.
Typically, Critical Concerns Week would highlight one issue, said Paul DaPonte, GCU executive director of mission integration, but the COVID-19 pandemic required a departure from previous years.
“Our 2020 CCW theme was the environment, but because of the pandemic, we changed the timing from spring to fall, and had a one-day program,” he explains. “We decided to focus on both the Earth and racism this year. They will be discussed separately, but there’s also an intersection between these two Critical Concerns: environmental racism, in which a disproportional number of hazards, such as toxic waste, garbage dumps, and other pollutants, are located adjacent to minority neighborhoods, affecting their quality of life and often, their health.”
Exploration of Critical Concerns Through Discussion
The 2021 Critical Concerns Week events, while virtual, will take a 360-degree view of these topics with participation from GCU faculty, staff, and students, as well as distinguished external speakers. The format will vary, including two keynote addresses, panel discussions, an art exhibition, dance performances, films, and reflections. A schedule of all Critical Concern Week events includes links and passcodes.
The week begins with a greeting from U.S. Senator Cory Booker’s office, and over the next several days provides a variety of perspectives through a special Mass and designated times of prayer, including:
Two Keynote Addresses: GCU welcomes two nationally acclaimed speakers on the environment and racism.
Winona LaDuke, a rural development economist and two-time U.S. vice presidential candidate on the Green Party, co-founded Honor the Earth to raise awareness of indigenous people’s struggles for environmental justice.
Steve Curwood is the executive producer and host of NPR’s award-winning weekly environmental news program Living on Earth.
Presentations and Discussion Panels: Faculty, students, and external guests will explore the following topics:
Eliminating Racism in the Workplace (hosted by the GCU School of Business and Digital Media with panelists Jeremy Grunin, president of the Grunin Foundation; Joy L. Smith, Ed.D., GCU chief diversity officer for institutional and student affairs and director of EOF; and Nichoele Peguese, an attorney and human resources professional).
Impact of Climate Change: Flooding and Pollution Runoff (with Jim Waltman, executive director of The Watershed Institute).
The Eagle Has Landed, about the comeback of bald eagles (with Michael F. Gross, Ph.D., GCU associate provost for academic program development, professor of biology, and director of the arboretum; Jeff Schaffer, GCU director of campus ministry; and Michael Putnam, GCU director of university operations)
Interview: New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette and Deputy Commissioner Olivia C. Glenn
Race Matters: What Matters Most (featuring student members of GCU’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion)
Even virtually, says Dr. DaPonte, the arts can provide compelling insight into the week’s issues of racism and the environment. As in past years, GCU turns to its own community members to interpret and express these Critical Concerns through art and dance.
Rebecca Hartman, GCU individual giving officer, has cared about marine life and oceans ever since she was a child visiting Jenkinson’s Aquarium. Her virtual art exhibition, Thalassophilous (Greek for love of the ocean) is a 35-piece collection of pastels, paintings, and clay sculptures.
“Through my art, I show the devastating effects people’s actions and subsequent climate change have on vulnerable sea life such as corals and starfish,” says Ms. Hartman. Her acrylic-on-canvas painting The Brink of Day, part of the tour, compellingly depicts the critical point oceans are at. “And yet, I am optimistic that even small changes, along with education and awareness, can bring about change.”
Charisma Bosley, a senior dance major, choreographed All Lives Matter. The dance is performed to spoken word works Simon Says, Letter to Your Flag, and White Privilege. The piece was influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement and summer protests, says Charisma, however, “I always wanted to create a work of art revolving around racism and discrimination. Something as big as racism and discrimination can be expressed through many things, but dance involves everyone who sees and witnesses the piece.”
Other dance performances address housing discrimination: Redline, by faculty member Megan Mazarick and ensemble, and water pollution: (waste) Deep, choreographed and performed by GCU senior Tyler Rivera ’21, with dance students Daria Raguseo and Jessica Totaro, and Forgotten Bodies, choreographed by Silvana Cardell, GCU chair of the Department of Dance, and performed by the Cardell Dance Theater dancers.
Additionally, films related to Critical Concerns Week issues will be shown, including A Plastic Ocean and the multi-award-winning 13th (U.S. prison system.
Each part of the Critical Concerns Week program is designed not only to educate, but to challenge current ways of thinking and bring about action, especially within the Georgian Court community.
“We’re living at a time where hyper-individualism prevails,” says Dr. DaPonte. “During Critical Concerns Week, we have an opportunity to reflect on these important issues and change who we are as individuals and as an academic institution.”
Contributed by Sheila Noonan.