Dr. Jaquette Ray speaks on mental health and climate change

Eva Mihelich, News editor

On Wednesday, April 19, Sarah Jaquette Ray, Ph.D., visited Mercyhurst University to speak at the annual Earth Day Lecture Series. Ray is an environmental humanist who works at the intersection of social justice and climate emotions.

Ray is a professor and program director at Cal Poly Humboldt, or California State Polytechnic University. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies, her master’s degree in American Studies, and her Ph.D. in Environmental Studies. Besides teaching college courses and leading her department, Ray speaks on the issue of social justice and climate issues.

She has recognized in many of her classes that students are experiencing burnout and embracing it rather than solving it.

Ray spoke that her students have many feelings related to climate change that are rather discouraging, and she aims to turn those negative feelings into positive ones to take closer steps to fixing the problem.

She defines some of those negative feelings as pseudo inefficacy which is the feeling that the problem is too big, so one does not contribute at all to help it due to the apathy and fear that this awareness gives the person.

She said her students have expressed pessimism towards humanity, and that they feel like they are headed towards an unclear life course, so they do not want to even bring children into the world.

Ray said that she felt saddened when her students shared this with her, but she understood their hesitancy to take action against climate change when they were struggling to just show up to class.

Ray then went onto a part of her presentation where she talks about the importance of emotions. She said that this is important to discuss because we have been taught to suppress emotions in academic settings and to simply focus on subjectivity, but she points out that emotions dictate decision making, and that suppressing those emotions only leads to grief and anger, which fuels the problem more.

All of these points were to get to the eventual point of her talk: how can we, as students, help climate change and the many anxieties that it brings to us as the climate generation?

During these types of talks, this is usually where audience members expect to hear the usual tips to help climate change: use reusable straws, bring your own cup to Starbucks, and take a bike instead of driving. However, Ray offered advice that you don’t usually hear in a talk about climate change.

Ray said that the first step in all of this should be to rest. “Rest is a resistance to ‘grind’ culture,” said Ray. She said that our culture glorifies under-eating, under-sleep- ing, and under-caring for yourself.

Ray pointed out that this is harmful to our overall well-being, and that in order to take the steps to help fix climate change, you must first take care of yourself and make sure you are in the right headspace.

Next, Ray said to focus on what you love, not on what you fear. She stated that you can usually turn a negative into a positive, such as focusing on how much you love the world around you, not how much you fear its ending.

The next step that Ray gave the audience is to embrace ambiguity, and that you should not live in fear of the unknown, but rather face that unknown.

She expressed that we will never fully know what is going on, so that is not a reason to step back when it comes to climate emotions.

Her final step is to resist urgency. She laughed as she said this, because climate change seems to be an urgent, pressing issue, with scientists constantly giving us timelines of when we will be too far gone to reverse the effects of climate change. However, Ray said that if you look at climate change with an urgent lens, then you will never begin to face the problem due to your preoccupation with your fears.

Ray spoke to the Mercyhurst Community in the Walker Recital Hall filled with students and faculty about issues that are difficult to bring up. After she spoke, there was a Q&A portion of the talk where many people asked interesting questions to her.

The annual Earth Day Lecture is named after Sister Maura Smith who took great steps to make Mercyhurst University a more sustainable campus.

Ray hopes that students learn how to prevent burnout this early on in our lives so that we can face climate change with a view of optimism and a desire to help, rather than a lens of pessimism and apathy.

There was much to learn from her, and she hopefully opened the door for some students to take up environmental studies as a career path.

As the 2022-2023 academic year comes to a close, remember to take care of yourself in the midst of finals and the many stresses that come with the end of the year.

Graduating students might also be facing a number of difficult emotions, so do not forget to take a couple moments each day to simply breathe, and to use Ray’s tips to emotionally balance yourself.

Her tips are useful for anxieties about climate change, but also about any stress you might have in life.

Learn how to prevent burnout in academics and social justice issues by reading one of Dr. Sarah Jaquette Ray’s books.