Extinction in the curriculum

Extinction+in+the+curriculum

Nirupa Basnet

Elizabeth Kolbert answers questions about her book “The Sixth Extinction.”

Photos by by Hana Isihara 17
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College focuses on the Sixth Extinction as part of yearlong theme

In an attempt to convert the first-year reading experience into a yearlong discussion, art installations, performances, brown bags and speakers were woven throughout the 2014-2015 school year with a focus on the theme of extinction.

“REQUIEM, Ectopistes migratorius”, a multi-media exhibition at the William Arts Gallery memorialized the centennial of the extinction of passenger pigeon. The exhibition became the impetus for choosing the concentration of extinction.

The coordinators for new student orientation, Dean of Students Paul McLoughlin II and Dean of Advising & Co-Curricular Programs Erica D’Agostino, assigned Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History after receiving numerous nominations from faculty across various disciplines for the summer reading for the class of 2018.

“We then discovered that the Williams Center Gallery was hosting the Requiem: Ectopistes Migratorius exhibition which seemed to be a perfect fit with the book,” D’Agostino wrote in an email. “After a group of staff and faculty read [the book] we unanimously decided to go with Kolbert’s book.”

The school wanted to provide a text that demonstrates the value of liberal arts and how it can help students in the future. Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about a science topic as a journalist. She made the complex topic of Earth’s potential for a sixth mass extinction very accessible, McLoughlin said, which is an important factor while determining a book for 635 incoming freshmen.

The book and resulting theme allows students to gain awareness of an issue that is often discussed.

Lafayette has held various events related to extinction such as Northeastern University professor Ronald Sandler’s talk about the ethical issues surrounding de-extinction, Lafayette professors Megan Rothenberger and Mike Butler’s lecture on resurrection ecology and the concert “Avian Requiem” by the Lafayette College Contemporary Music Ensemble as a supplement to expand student’s understanding of extinction.

At Kolbert’s talk at Lafayette on Feb. 5, students were able to pose questions to the author about the threat of the sixth extinction and her experience reporting about it. A student posed a question concerning the best way to utilize personal resources to help with the issue of the sixth extinction.

“The most effective thing you can do is to… make your local state and federal representative aware of your opinions and what you care about,” Kolbert said.

The theme of extinction brought a new perspective on the urgency of environmental issues and how everyday activities can affect them, Deniz Bengi ‘18 said.

“The challenge for higher education system is that you want to both educate and inform but you don’t want to dictate,” McLoughlin said. “The institution doesn’t have an agenda outside of educating… I wouldn’t say that we have a political agenda, conservative or liberal. That’s not the role of higher education.”