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SGIS professor Stephanie Kane strives to connect community, environment in the classroom

Feb. 17, 2016

During her time at IU Bloomington, Stephanie Kane has flourished as a scholar and a teacher while being an advocate for environmental appreciation.

Now a professor in the Department of International Studies in the School of Global and International Studies, Kane was offered a visiting teaching position from IU in 1992 for her research on AIDS intervention. The culmination of this work can be found in the second of her three published books, “AIDS Alibis: Sex, Drugs, and Crime in the Americas” (1998, Temple).

Since she's been in Bloomington, Kane has taught classes in criminal justice and gender studies, but as time has passed she has come back to her true passion: culture and ecology. Kane said that environmental issues are among the most important in the world today. Her courses help draw attention to these serious issues.

In the fall 2015 semester she taught “Nature in the City,” a service-learning course that included  fieldwork in the local parks, helping students understand the relationship between Bloomington’s campus and the natural resources that communities rely upon. She developed the course with a curriculum development grant from the IU Office of Sustainability. With the new semester came a seminar on environmental justice.

Kane’s passion for teaching students about the relationship between people and their environment stemmed from a trip to Brazil in the early 1980s. While getting her master’s in zoology from the University of Texas at Austin, Kane received a scholarship to study frog calls and bird songs in the Amazon. At one point, she found herself staring at a section of burned forest outside the hut of subsistence farmers who had migrated into the Amazon. She had a revelation in that moment when nature and humanity collided.

"Rather than systematically tracking the decline of animal populations, I realized that I needed to understand how the relationship between people and the forest drives deforestation and the decline in biodiversity," she said.

Thus began Kane’s relationship with ethnography, which she describes as research grounded in participant observation methods. “The world is not boring when you’re an ethnographer,” she said.

A further understanding of any given population’s relationship with the environment is one point Kane strives to make in the classroom. “The reality is that the planet is urbanized. These courses pose the question ‘What is this new nature and how does society continue to live in it?’”

Kane said social sciences can be inclusive, and bring various areas of study together.

“Some students may think that studying the environment is all about science and policy, but it is much more than that. It is humanities, the arts and social sciences, too," she said. "These courses make students more aware of multiple ways to understand our environment.”

Kane provides welcoming and eye-opening courses that can be applied to any area of study, whether it's from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the College of Arts and Sciences or the Kelley School of Business.

“Social sciences connect people,” she said.

Kane confirmed she will teach three courses in the 2016-17 academic year. One will focus on global healing and another on health and the environment; in the spring, she'll teach a seminar on global activist arts.

Describing her career path as “serendipitous,” Kane is thankful to have ended up in Bloomington.

“I thrive in the intellectual atmosphere created with my colleagues across campus (and IUPUI) and the many extraordinary visitors to our centers, institutes, departments and schools and through the Patten Lectures.” IU Bloomington’s Patten Lecture Series invites eminent writers, scholars and artists for weeklong visits to campus, during which they present a lecture, meet with students, take part in faculty colloquia and share their scholarship with the community.

“Through the years, I have developed my scholarly endeavors in working groups, symposia and conferences that are organized to bring interdisciplinary perspectives to bear on the important and ever-changing themes and questions of our times,” Kane said. “There is always something going on!”

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