To travel across the ocean to Spain, to eat lunch surrounded by prime ministers and presidents, to protest climate injustice with youth activist leaders from around the world, then to publish a peer-reviewed journal article - this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Each year, the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University take about 20 students to the United Nations Climate Conference, where world leaders negotiate climate change policy. In 2019, Corrie Grosse, an assistant professor of environmental studies, taught a two-credit Global Climate Policy class in the fall, preparing students for the conference, then accompanied them to Madrid. CSB/SJU are formal observers to this UN conference, receiving a limited number of badges each year to take students.
“There are very few schools that have this status, and even fewer take undergraduates, and then even fewer that have any type of organized program for helping their students really get a lot out of it. So, it’s a very different experience,” Grosse said. “It’s a great learning tool.”
This year, not only did Grosse guide students on this life-changing journey, but she invited a student, Brigid Mark ’20 to conduct research with her.
“I just really want to emphasize how out-of-the-ordinary it is to have a professor take a student to a U.N. conference, take them step-by-step through the research process, and produce a peer-reviewed article,” said Mark, who graduated Egregia Cum Laude with degrees in biology and environmental studies.
The duo co-authored a paper based on in-depth interviews and participant observation at the UN conference titled “A Colonized COP: Indigenous Exclusion and Youth Climate Justice Activism at the United Nations Climate Change Negotiations,” which was printed in the December 2020 special issue of The Journal of Human Rights and the Environment.
Each day, Grosse and Mark would devise a strategy to decide which speakers or panels to hear, events to attend, and protests to participate in, often staying after to interview a panelist or protestor. They completed 22 interviews with youth activists in a span of a week.
“We hit the ground running,” Grosse said. “In our interviews, we asked how they were feeling about the current state of climate solutions, what they thought the relationship was between gender and climate change and then between colonization and climate change, and their hopes for the future. That was the kind of the guide for our interviews.”
For Mark, who is currently a Ph.D. student in the Sociology Department at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the experience helped boost her confidence and move her toward a future career.
“I was able to sit in on her interviews, receive feedback on interviews I led, watch how she analyzed interviews and analyze them myself and be a part of the writing process from start to finish. Given that I planned to go to grad school, the experience of observing a sociologist at work, step-by-step through the process, was invaluable,” Mark said.
Co-authoring a paper with a student is certainly out-of-the ordinary and demonstrates Grosse’s commitment to growing young student’s potential.
“This is a co-authored paper, and I mean that completely,” Grosse said. “We learned equally, and equally contributed everything from the brainstorming through the writing to our response to the peer reviewers. Brigid is a stellar student.”
The findings of the paper are critical of the conference on several fronts. It lacked progress on policies for climate justice and “ignored the IPCC’s 2018 warning that we must reduce emissions by 45% by 2030, a target that the world is not on track to meet.”
At the conference, “Indigenous peoples, the Global South, youth, the queer community and women were disregarded, and in some cases, mistreated and denied entry, creating an intersectional exclusion that is integral to colonialism.”
Grosse and Mark hope that the paper will convince authorities to listen to the voices of the marginalized.
“…we would hope it would spur continued discussion and debate about how we can have more effective global policy,” Grosse said. “If activists are able to access the article, [the article can help] make more inclusive climate justice movements.”
For Mark, the opportunity of attending this conference and co-authoring a paper has been life changing. Growing up in Olathe, Kansas, she chose to attend CSB/SJU because of its “strong commitment to community and collaboration,” and because her mom, grandmother, uncle, and two aunts attended the institutions.
“Corrie introduced me to the concept of climate and environmental justice, the intersection of environmental health and social justice, to which I have decided to dedicate my life,” Mark said.
“She (Grosse) also introduced me to climate justice activism which gave me hope and purpose. It can get pretty disheartening to learn about all the environmental and social problems that exist, about all the power of those who wish to keep profiting off of environmental degradation, but to join a movement which is fighting to create a better future is hugely powerful.
“Corrie completely altered the way I see the world and changed the direction of my life. She is a groundbreaking educator, devoted adviser, skilled researcher, and outstanding role model. She is one of the kindest, smartest, most resourceful, considerate and driven people I’ve ever met. To work with Corrie is an absolute honor,” Mark said.