When it comes to protecting South Carolina’s water resources, Chandler Jackson ’15 believes in the power of social media.
Using the hashtag #droughtshaming, Californians in the midst of a fourth year of drought have posted pictures of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s lush lawn and shared pictures of their neighbors using sprinkler systems.
To discourage excessive water usage in South Carolina, she’d like to follow California’s lead, but take a regional approach with hashtag #BlesstheirheartsH2O. “If we want to avoid being the next California, we need to embrace social media,” she said.
Jackson’s proposed advocacy campaign is part of a new May Experience course at Furman taught by Associate Professor of Communication Studies Brandon Inabinet ’04. The course is designed to bring attention to corporate, non-profit, and governmental sustainability messaging.
Much of Inabinet’s work at Furman has been linked to environmental sustainability, and he researches the ethics and effectiveness of advocacy that speaks to intergenerational audiences.
During the May X course, Inabinet brought field experts to class to talk about current climate and social issues. Experts included scholars who needed their research translated into everyday language to reach wider audiences, as well as farmers and local activists of differing views. Students grappled with the challenges of staying viable in today’s economy while also conscious of social and environmental consequences. Then they had to communicate those views in print and digital sources.
To be entirely embedded writers, the nine students also visited farms and community gardens, untamed wilderness and recreational parks, Lake Jocassee and the World of Energy, and stores selling local foods and merchandise. Their field trips were funded with support from the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) and The Duke Endowment.
Students’ ideas on a wide range of topics from cultural heritage to trash pollution took the form of infographics, videos, and editorial pieces that could be published in Upstate and students’ hometown newspapers.
“This class opened up me up to so many experiences that I hadn’t had before,” said Gar Tate ‘17, who prepared a presentation centered around maintaining Upstate populations of bees and small birds. “Many people don’t give much thought to such topics.”
Topics also included some that the broader public wouldn’t typically think of as “sustainability” related. For Victoria Ferrer ’15, the May X course gave her an opportunity to pursue her passion for cultural awareness and international travel. Her editorial project centered on secular France and traditions for Muslim women.
“I hope this will help people open their minds a little more… It’s so important to embrace people of other cultures and other religions,” said Ferrer, a native of Venezuela. “Embracing differences preserves heritage, makes belief sustainable over generations and allows for the full range of the human experience to be protected justly and fairly.”
Inabinet hopes to make the course an annual May X offering.
“I want each student to find their own voice amidst the research and the rhetoric, some of which tries to even deny the work of experts right here in the local community,” said Inabinet. “Most importantly, I want students to get in the habit of engaging broad public audiences and putting their liberal arts training to the best possible use.”