Sterling College is proud of its half-century of pursuing learning about and engaging with the natural world. In 2019, it placed itself among the first colleges to make a commitment to focus all programs on the climate emergency.
“An extractive economy cannot continue to extract indefinitely,” Sterling President Matthew Derr wrote in a 2019 open letter to college presidents. “Higher education is addicted to and promotes extractive economic growth and consumption. If we continue to support an economy that robs graduates of the livelihoods we promise, we will betray this and future generations.”
“Asking a generation to go into debt for an education that prepares them for the ‘careers of tomorrow,’ without ensuring a livable tomorrow, is a betrayal that undermines the entire high education enterprise,” he wrote.
At the time Derr’s letter was published, Sterling had been well established as a leader on the environmental and sustainability landscapes. In 2013, it became the first college in the state of Vermont to divest its investments in fossil fuels. It had, for several years, won awards from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), had been ranked nationally among America’s top 20 “greenest” colleges by Sierra magazine, and garnered praise from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
“We are proud to be recognized for our sustainability efforts and achievements on campus and in our curriculum,” said Christina Goodwin ‘02, Dean of Advancement & Alumni Relations, responding to Sierra magazine’s national ranking. “Sterling College uses education as a force to address ecological and social problems like the climate emergency and loss of biodiversity, and our graduates are prepared to effectively respond to these.”
By the time of Derr’s letter, he and the Sterling College Board of Trustees had boldly adopted a new vision for an affordable education focusing on the human relationship with the natural world, an education designed to advance ecological thinking and action by using learning as a force to address problems brought about by growth and consumption. A new 10-year initiative committed Sterling College to preparing knowledgeable, skilled, and responsible leaders to face the ecological crises caused by unlimited growth and consumption which threatens the future of our planet.
All of Sterling’s majors are focused on the environment: Ecology, Environmental Humanities, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, and Outdoor Education, along with self-designed courses of study. Sterling also offers a minor in Climate Justice, among others. The Climate Justice minor allows students to add expertise in this critical area to whichever major they are pursuing.
Students pursuing a minor in Climate Justice at Sterling College explore the multi-faceted environmental and social justice issues that both contribute to and arise from climate change. They learn to ask, and try to answer, complex questions about race, gender, and class and how they intersect with environmental action, questions that organizations like the Climate Justice Alliance are working to address. They strive to understand how efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance clean energy can promote food justice, transportation equity, and civil rights.
With a strong understanding of ecology, an introduction to climate science, and further studies in economics, policy and law, community organizing, and social change, Sterling students become uniquely qualified to engage critically in constructing effective responses to the climate emergency facing our planet today.