Two weeks ago, we wrote about Christiana Peppard, an OpEd Project Public Voices Fellow at Fordham Univeristy, being the featured educator in Microsoft’s educational blog, “Daily Edventures”. This week, Claudia Garcia-Rojas, our Social Media Fellow, asked Peppard to share some additional insights on her expertise and on the need for public scholarship.
Tell us something about your field that, we, the general public don’t know?
I am an expert on fresh water, with a focus on economic globalization and environmental ethics in an era of climate change. I am also an expert on theology and science. From those realms, most people don’t know what an aquifer is and why it’s important for fresh water supply! I like to say that an aquifer is the most important thing you’ll never see. (You can watch her TEDEd lesson on fresh water below.)
[People also don't know that] Darwin loved beetles, and he was also (through his mother and through marriage) heir to the Wedgewood pottery fortune—yes, that’s right, Wedgewood as in contemporary wedding china. In other Darwin factoids: The Catholic Church affirms Darwin’s insights about evolution but wants to maintain that human uniqueness and soul are not necessarily part of the evolutionary process.
Tell us about an article that you authored and its impact? For example, did it lead to any collaborations?
The most immediate impact came from an article I published with the Washington Post, “For Catholics, a new kind of pro-creation,” which was the impetus for an invitation to be on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC. And the more that I publish on water, the more I’m called as an expert source, for example by the Christian Science Monitor and CNBC.
Do you feel there is an ethical need for public scholarship? If so, why?
Public scholarship is an ethical need in at least two directions.
First, enlightened self-interest: it’s empowering to write for a broad audience, because it’s an opportunity to dialogue with non-specialists in ways that can forge interesting connections. It’s a terrifying process at first—rejection hurts, and many online commentators are jerks!—but it does bear fruit, both in terms of thick skin and eventual publication. It also challenges us to write accessibly and clearly without losing academic integrity; that’s a skill that goes far beyond public forums and can improve the caliber of our scholarly discourse, too.
Second, contribution to the shape of public opinion: There is room for many more voices at the table of public discourse—especially thoughtful, nuanced opinion, which happens to proliferate in scholarship. We traffic in detail and nuance in our scholarly publications and in our teaching; why not in other venues, too? Clear thinking on a public level happens when we can mobilize (in a clear, accessible way) the insights that come from longstanding attention to detail, careful nuance, and rigorous analysis. Moreover, for women and scholars of color to take a public stand is a powerful model for younger generations that the world need not always be defined by the people who inherit vast amounts of money or political power.
Peppard is published in many outlets. You can find two of her Huffington Post op-ed articles here.