The Community of Scholars gives Wofford students the chance to develop important researching skills in an environment stressing independent thought. One of the projects this summer, Color Me Verde, involves students Krista Jones and Nathan Redding, as well as associate foreign languages professor Laura Barbas Rhoden. The three were asked to discuss the project and what they hope to accomplish.
Tell us about the Community of Scholars project you are overseeing with Wofford students Krista Jones and Nathan Redding.
Laura Barbas Rhoden: Krista and Nathan are both good students, and their project really is groundbreaking.
Color Me Verde is located at the intersection of two issues of immense importance to our region...the growing Latino population in the Upstate and the future of our environment, both locally and globally. Krista and Nathan are putting together research that will bring local, not-for-profit environmental organizations into dialogue with an important group of stakeholders in our environment, particularly those Latino children and youth who grow up here as the children of immigrants, and who will, in all likelihood, make the Upstate their home. These children will join long-time residents in making decisions about land and resource use.
Conservation and environmental organizations in the United States, particularly in our area, have until very recently been associated with white, middle and upper-class populations who advocate for green spaces on aesthetic, recreational and scientific grounds. This means we’ve often preserved “wilderness” areas or areas of historical significance, but that we’ve neglected urban spaces and rural communities. That is beginning to change, especially with activists. What is still missing from the picture in the Southeast is collaboration with the Latino community by established, environmentally oriented non-profits.
What Krista and Nathan are discovering in Color Me Verde is a willingness on the part of non-profits and educators to be involved with the Latino community in meaningful ways. Their project is collecting information that will empower non-profits, educational institutions, and leaders in the Latino community to act on projects that are meaningful to all of us, with a particular focus on the education of young people. We also hope Color Me Verde will serve as a model for other institutions of higher education, which, like Wofford, support civic engagement by students and look for productive collaborations between community organizations and academic programs, like our majors in Environmental Studies and Spanish.
What led the two of you to join together on this project?
Nathan Redding: We’re both “Spanish and something else” majors. I’m Spanish and biology.
Krista Jones: And I’m Spanish and environmental studies.
NR: Dr. Barbas-Rhoden came to us because we are looking toward a Spanish and environmental direction with our studies. She thought this might be something we’d be interested in. So we checked it out and talked about it and that’s how this project came about.
KJ: It was a collaboration of the three of us.
How much has your faculty sponsor, Laura Barbas Rhoden, helped you with this project?
NR: She’s been a lot of help. She has a lot of ties to the Latino community here. She’s worked with other students through Arcadia. Part of her 303 class is a service component in the local Latino community.
KJ: The reason we volunteered at ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) originally was for that class. She has helped form that relationship between the Spanish department at Wofford and the local Latino community.
Have you both been involved with the local Latino community?
KJ: Yes, and soon we’ll be even more involved. We’ve been in the same classes, and this past fall we volunteered at St. Matthews Episcopalian Church on West Main St. We volunteered for ESOL classes out there. We taught English to speakers of other languages…in this case Spanish…every Wednesday last fall. Then this spring I went to E. P. Todd Elementary School and was part of Spanish Academy, where I taught kindergarteners some Spanish. So from adults to little kids, both were fun and rewarding.
In your interaction with the community to date, did you see a need for environmental awareness?
NR: The approach we’ve been taking is that originally when immigrants came to the United States, they didn’t settle in one place at first. They would move with the crops.
KJ: Specifically Mexican and Central American immigrants.
NR: But the trend that we’re seeing now is more Latinos establishing themselves in places instead of moving with the crops, and setting up communities. We thought that one, a lot of these green spaces are possibly not publicized well enough…we didn’t know about a lot of them ourselves until we started this project.
KJ: A lot of them we found just by chance in suburban areas, such as the Cottonwood Trails here in Spartanburg. It’s in the center of a middle class area. It’s not necessarily where other communities are, and since they don’t publicize a lot it’s hard for the Latinos to know about them. So we’re hoping to bridge that gap.
NR: And we’re hoping that by using Spartanburg’s green spaces we can assimilate the Latino community into the whole Spartanburg community.
Can you describe some of the research you’ll be doing?
KJ: We started out figuring out who we should talk to. We’ve interviewed a lot of people and I think we’re almost at the end. But we’re still talking to people to figure out what they have and what they do in their jobs and what that means. We talked to SPACE (Spartanburg Area Conservancy), Hatcher Garden, the principal of Arcadia Elementary. We visited E.P. Todd Elementary and looked at their nature trail out there to see if that could be something we could replicate as part of this project out of Arcadia Elementary. And we visited Clemson Extension (the organization in charge of Spartanburg’s Master Gardener program) and plan to go back there. We also visited Cottonwood Trails and Hatcher Gardens and took a lot of pictures. We’re hoping to make a visual product as well.
What kind of program do you envision?
NR: As far as products go, it would be great if we could take some of the brochures and translate them into Spanish. Have maybe a front and back, English/Spanish. Take some of the signage out on the areas and make them bilingual. Things like that to make the Latino community more welcome and to let them know about it. With the new environmental studies major at Wofford and with Dr. Kaye Savage coming this summer, we’re really hoping that the connections we are making can be used and continued in the environmental studies program.
KJ: Wofford has already had a long-standing relationship with Arcadia Elementary for about seven years and also La U y Tu. Hopefully, doing what we’re doing this summer can be the beginning of another relationship Wofford can have with the Latino community.
NR: In talking to some of the non-profits, they’re really excited about the prospect of future Wofford interns and stuff like that. Having environmental studies majors coming in and working with them at some of the local parks and green spaces.
How important are environmental issues in the Latino community?
NR: I think we’re seeing a trend in American society in general where all kids are getting away from nature. They’re growing up playing video games, hanging out inside…not having back yards to go explore, climb trees, play hide-and-seek. Hopefully we can combat some of that with this…get families back outside, which I think is very important in a city where you don’t have wild woods to go explore.