Digging into Sustainability

For many people, the word “sustainability” calls to mind images of recycling and hybrid vehicles. Both are important, but genuine sustainability goes much further: it is comprehensive, deeply rooted, as it were, in how we as a community and as individuals approach our place in the world. Berea is fortunate to have a tradition of thinking about sustainability guided by the Seventh Great Commitment, which calls us to adopt “a way of life characterized by plain living, pride in labor well done, zest for learning, high personal standards, and concern for the welfare of others.”

These same goals are reflected in the definition of “sustainability” that guides the work done by students in our Office of Sustainability, led by Joan Pauly. Their definition of “sustainability” refers to the capacity of individuals, communities and societies to coexist in a manner that maintains social justice, environmental integrity and economic well-being today and for future generations.

Sustainable DashboardThe college has long been mindful of the need to recycle, to reduce carbon emissions and to limit our use of electricity. Now, thanks to Joan’s team, led by Tsering Dhondhen ’17, data tracking & analysis coordinator, and with the help of Dr. Scott Heggen, lecturer in computer science, and his student Phyo Phyo Kyaw Zin ′16, we can all see the progress being made through a newly developed dashboard that tracks our efforts on a month-to-month basis. It can be accessed here.

While the dashboard shows the College’s overall progress, we are also interested in what can be achieved in single home. Clover Bottom House, the 110-year-old log house that serves as the new headquarters for the sustainability program, models sustainable retrofits for single family homes. Some features, like the use of solar panels, high performance windows and a biomass-fired generator for creating electricity, support energy efficiency, while others, like a Victory Garden and a Monarch Butterfly Station, encourage good nutrition, self-sufficiency and environmental health.

Clover Bottom House

Soon, we may have the opportunity to achieve a first in the state of Kentucky, when a Tesla Powerwall battery is installed in the house. Joan believes the battery will store enough power to enable the home to be energy self-sufficient. We are also taking this initiative on the road with grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, enabling Berea College to become a center for energy efficiency. Working in partnership with Kentucky Highlands Corporation, the Promise Zone Board and Jason Delambre from Midwest Clean Energy Enterprises, our students will perform energy audits for businesses like grocery stores and small factories in Eastern Kentucky helping them to reduce energy costs and thereby enabling them to grow and support the region’s economy.

Laurie and I are joined by members of the men's basketball team to plant trees to offset carbon emissions as part of the Green Game project.

Laurie and I are joined by members of the men’s basketball team to plant trees to offset carbon emissions as part of the Green Games project.

Lest anyone think this is all hard work, we also have a lot of fun with sustainability on campus.  In each of the last two years our athletic program has organized “Green Games” in which the community, working together, takes measures to fully offset the carbon footprint of an athletic event. We celebrate at half-time (https://youtu.be/5GivUstO5xo), and afterwards the teams lead the community in planting enough trees to offset the carbon emissions from building energy use during the game and the bus travel.

And that brings to mind what we’re doing in the College Forest, but that’s a story for another blog.

Fostering the growth of an inclusive community: The Women’s and Gender Studies program

Fellow Bereans,

As we approach the close of Women’s History Month, the time seems right to celebrate past contributions and give thanks for the efforts to shape our future regarding the sixth Great Commitment. From Matilda Fee onward, Berea has been fortunate to have so many of our community committed to gender inclusion and equity, and in this blog I’d like to draw special attention to the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program. That program’s formal origin came in 1991 when the faculty recognized Women’s Studies as a minor in order to promote gender awareness across the campus, and it became a major 10 years later in 2001.

While one tends to think of academic programs in terms of opportunities for students, it is important to recognize, too, how the WGS program and the values it stands for strengthen the whole community – faculty, staff as well as students. As Berea’s founders knew more than 160 years ago, a healthy community develops and draws on the perspectives, strengths and abilities of all its members, which is why Berea began as a coeducational institution committed to diversity and inclusion. And, it is why today we are committed to learning to see beyond the simple binaries of “male and female” or “masculine and feminine” or “gay or straight” and to understanding gender identity as the richer spectrum it really is. The WGS program plays an essential role in helping our community as it learns to be a welcoming and supportive environment for its transgender members as well.

Group Photo

From left to right: Peggy Rivage-Seul, professor and program chair of WGS; Carrie Jadud, WGS program associate; Shahwar Ali ‘16, WGS labor student; Marcella Fitisone ‘17, WGS major and labor student; Qrescent Mason, assistant professor of WGS

The practice of living out this commitment has changed over time. For most of the College’s history, it is fair to say that the male voice has been privileged. But, more recently, the WGS program has been instrumental in moving us toward a dialogue in which all voices are heard and valued. The signature program for creating this dialogue is “Peanut Butter and Gender,” a series of lunch meetings held 10-15 times per year where Bereans gather to share a simple meal, hear a presentation and then discuss a significant issue of the day. Past speakers include Dorothy Allison (author of Bastard out of Carolina), bell hooks (feminist author, social critic and distinguished professor-in-residence at Berea), Judy Chicago (artist and creator of the “Dinner Party”), Winona LaDuke (Native American activist, environmentalist, economist and writer), Lori Wallach (director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch), Vandana Shiva (author, physicist and biodiversity activist), Carol Browner (administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), Nikki Giovanni (poet) and Gustavo Esteva (journalist and advisor to indigenous groups in Mexico). It is worth pausing for a moment to consider just how remarkable this line-up of visitors to a small school in Kentucky really is!

Laurie and I have enjoyed participating in supporting some of these wonderful visits, and I have been privileged to play a part in Berea College’s Women in Public Service Project, which has connected Berea College to influential woman leaders all over the world.

For all these reasons, I want to thank the members of the WGS faculty for making Berea a stronger, more thoughtful, community. Special thanks to Barbra Wade, the first chair of the program, to Peggy Rivage-Seul, who currently guides the program and organizes “Peanut Butter and Gender,” and to Linda Strong-Leek, past program chair, division chair and now Berea’s vice president for diversity and inclusion. Please join me in actively supporting Peggy, Linda and the entire WGS program as they provide leadership in living out our sixth Great Commitment and our ongoing effort to be a community that welcomes “all peoples of the earth.”

Faithfully yours,


You can follow me on Twitter @RoelofsLyle.

Celebrating Gender Equality with the Berea Concert Choir

Fellow Bereans,

As I’ve become part of Berea College community, my admiration for it has increased, especially its members’ capacity to learn and grow while remaining true to its founding principles. The pattern of articulating, examining and reaffirming our beliefs and how we act on them is woven into the fabric of the institution. In it one can trace how founder John G. Fee’s ideas became the Eight Great Commitments, and one can still see the process at work today, shaping how we live out these principles as individuals and as a community.

Over time, there have been changes in the process of self-reflection, one of which – a very good one, I believe – is how the conversation can be shared with the larger community through social media. To take advantage of this, each month I will make a post (or two) highlighting the work done in support of the Great Commitments, celebrating the accomplishments of dedicated Bereans and, in return, I hope to hear feedback from the community at large.

March is Women’s History Month, so it seems fitting to focus my inaugural post on the sixth Great Commitment, “To create a democratic community dedicated to education and gender equality.”

Berea College Concert Choir

Laurie and I accompanied the Berea College Concert Choir on a recent tour to the Chicago area as they performed at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, the Bahá’í House of Worship, the First Unitarian Church of Chicago and Field Museum. All were noteworthy venues, and the choir, 60 voices strong, brought great credit to Berea College through its moving performances. Particularly remarkable too was the visit to the Bahá’í House of Worship, a thoroughly impressive structure located on the shore of Lake Michigan north of downtown Chicago. The photo shows choir members in front of this amazing building after their performance.

Bahai Temple

The Bahá’í faith emphasizes “unity in diversity,” an interesting belief that resonates with Berea’s motto, “God has made of one blood, all peoples of the earth.” The Bahá’í faith is based on seven Core Principles, which like our Great Commitments, form a mutually reinforcing unity, but my attention settled particularly on the third of those Core Principles – “Equality of women and men.” How striking is that? The wording matches ours exactly (!), and how remarkable for a system of faith to elevate gender equality to the level of central dogma. These are not just words either. In a short video presentation on the history of the National Center of Worship, we visitors learned that female and male adherents of the Bahá’í faith are equally involved in leadership and were similarly equally involved with planning all aspects of their magnificent building.

What a delightful coincidence that this visit occurred in the month of March! My next post will celebrate Berea’s Women’s and Gender Studies program, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Faithfully yours,


You can follow me on Twitter @RoelofsLyle.

If you would like to hear some of the Berea College Concert Choir, check out the video below.