By Fay Pappas ’09

“I believe that the first step to resolving conflict is to understand it. To promote this understanding, four years ago I established the FORUM, a nonpartisan public talk series devoted to bringing all sides of a controversial issue to campus for an open dialogue with the community. One of our events, a week-long forum on social injustice, inspired Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Joe Siry to approach me with the concept building on the FORUM and its goals of education and social action by creating a course focused on environmental issues.

Thus was born Eco-Justice 205J. Launched in fall 2008, the experimental course was designed as a “boot camp” for activists that would provide in-depth information about all sides of serious environmental issues and then challenge students to put that knowledge to use to affect meaningful change. Students would be divided into teams, each tackling a particular issue by organizing a forum to discuss the topic and then immersing themselves in a related case of social injustice with the goal of helping to solve it.

Eco-Justice surpassed all of our expectations. After investigating with my six-person team the plight of uninsured ex-farm workers around Lake Apopka, Florida’s most polluted body of water, I was profoundly changed by the social injustice I came across. The community forum we organized to bring this injustice out into the open attracted the attention of local politicians and the ACLU. We went on to establish an internship for students at the Apopka Farmworkers Association and raise nearly $1700 in 10 days to provide 196 farm-worker families Thanksgiving turkeys. And our efforts are continuing: Projects to provide free dental checkups, expand a community health clinic, and even arrange a baby shower for expecting farm workers are in the works—all this after the class has officially ended. Due to the course’s success, a second course on advocacy is being offered this spring.

What’s truly incredible about this “experiment” in social entrepreneurship on campus is that the “Farm Worker Group” was just one of four amazing teams. The others took on the pressing issues of water scarcity, equal rights in education, and global warming. In August of 2008, 21 students, half of whom were only freshmen, didn’t know what to expect from this “unique” course for which they had registered. By December, we had not only used our education to empower others, but had shown ourselves that we have the power to do things we never thought possible. Now that is real hope for the future.”

Fay O. Pappas is a senior in the Honors Degree Program majoring in political science and minoring in creative writing. In addition to launching the FORUM, she co-founded the Rollins Undergraduate Research Journal, and oversaw a revival of the Brushing Art & Literary Journal, serving as its editor-in-chief. A 2008 national finalist for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship for public service, Pappas is currently a fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency in Washington, D.C. and an active member of the Roosevelt Institution, the nation’s first student-run think-tank, where she serves on the editorial board and edits “The Policy Farm Team” blog. She hopes to attend the University of Virginia School of Law in the fall.