What Does a Peterson Residency Look Like?

Over the past five years I have taken part in short residencies at dozens of universities in the USA. As a speaker, I do not want to simply drop in, give my talk, and then disappear. I recognize the need for deeper conversations. My work is interdisciplinary–sustainability, climate change, gender and sexuality, theater, Bible scholarship, communications, and media. This gives me a chance to take part in a variety of classes and campus groups.

These residencies provide me with a rich experience where I learn a great deal, enjoy being part of a community, and get to stir up conversations. Lots of people come to the table to talk about issues they normally do not address in the pursuit of their studies and interests. People who have nothing to do with sustainability and climate change, hear about these topics in new ways. Environmental-minded students and science majors hear about LGBTQ issues, justice, and effective communication strategies.

Below you will find a letter written by Dr. Todd LeVasseur, Director, Sustainability Literacy Institute at the College of Charleston. After three days at his school, Todd sent me this amazingly affirming letter out of the blue. He told me, “Use it however you like.” I am grateful because it is challenging to describe the sort of work I do. In addition to describing what the experience of hosting me was like for him and his campus, Todd also includes the wonderfully full schedule he and his staff organized for my time on campus.

A dynamic sustainability speaker on a mission to reach beyond the environmental crowd from Peterson Thomas Toscano on Vimeo.

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To Whom It May Concern,

It is with pleasure and gratitude that I write this letter of support for Peterson Toscano.  This letter is not solicited, but is voluntarily offered, inspired by Peterson’s visit to the College of Charleston on Tuesday, February 12th and Wednesday, February 13th, 2019.  

I direct CofC’s Sustainability Literacy Institute, the institutional home of our Quality Enhancement Plant, “Sustainability Literacy as a Bridge to Addressing 21st Century Problems.”  This project is part of our reaccreditation and officially began operating in academic year 2017-2018.  As director I oversee all programming related to the QEP and its guiding definition of sustainability:  the intersection of social, environmental, and economic systems (also known as the Triple Bottom Line).  Each year of the QEP we have a “CofC Sustains/Solves” theme to help focus programming as sustainability is such a broad topic.  Our year 1 theme was water quality and quantity, and our year 2 theme (2018-2019, when I currently write this letter) is social justice and fair distribution.  

As director of the SLI one of my key goals is to provide a holistic literacy of sustainability to our students that moves beyond assumptions and stereotypes of sustainability as “white hetero environmentalism.”  Rather, the SLI’s programming is around intersectional identities and concerns for justice as these relate to social, environmental, and economic systems.  Given these goals as director I am always looking for professionals to bring to campus to help embed sustainability literacy who can address sustainability from such an intersectional perspective.  To this end I peruse the GreenSchool and Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences list serves for suggestions.  In spring of 2018 there was a request for a suggestion of a speaker who brings LGBQT+ and climate change issues together and someone responded to this request with a very positive recommendation of someone named Peterson Toscano.  Given the QEP’s year 2 theme of social justice and fair distribution, I immediately did a web search for Peterson and was inspired by his work and knew he would make a great candidate to bring to our campus.  I contacted Peterson to begin discussions about such a possibility.

Peterson is his own agent/manager and immediately responded, beginning a dialogue that culminated with his just completed visit.  Peterson was always timely and helpful in his communications with me, from emails and then brainstorming phone calls.  He provided a media package, a template for a flyer, and links to videos and articles he has produced that were able to be shared with faculty and students in advance of his class visits.  These resources helped with Peterson’s larger goal, where early in our discussions he shared that he sees himself as a resident scholar for the contracted length of time on campus and therefore encouraged me to keep him busy and to get him in front of as many people as possible while on our campus.  I am pasting below the resulting schedule, as I took him at his word.  Please note that the event with Corina Newsome was made possible by Peterson himself—he paid for her out of his own pocket to join him on our campus so that CofC could offer a discussion on race, justice, religion, and climate change!

I will unequivocally say the below things, given 2+ years of programming over 50 events for the QEP as SLI director, with some of these events costing thousands of dollars to bring to campus very famous people working in sustainability circles:

  1. Peterson gave the most freely of his time and energy to our students, faculty, and staff, with no complaints and unbounded positive energy the entire time on campus;
  2. Peterson’s in-depth schedule allowed for more sustained discussion about intersectionality and sustainability with the most students across our campus than any other programming we have done;
  3. Peterson generated a faculty workshop on “Queering the Classroom” that was attended by 11 faculty, all who learned insights about how to bring intersectional theory and content into classes, regardless of discipline;
  4. Peterson’s unique synthesis of LGBQT+, Biblical Criticism, and Climate Change insights captivated students in every class he visited—he is truly undertaking and performing ground breaking work, in ways that no one else is doing, so all of his interactions were based on a unique perspective that was fresh, engaging, intellectually rigorous, and relevant to many different disciplines on my campus;
  5. Peterson had the most respectful, engaged report with students, faculty, and staff compared to any other visitor we have brought to campus.  This is saying something, as I have brought a lot of good people to campus!  But Peterson has a gift of giving his full attention to any person and their question, and responding to those questions at the appropriate level of rigor.  

Peterson has just left our campus and I am already in dialogue with colleagues about bringing him back in two years for another visit as his visit was so powerful, moving, and engaging, and our students thoroughly enjoyed their time with him in a variety of settings.  I am unable to say this about many others that we have brought to campus, and for sure can say that Peterson is the only visitor I have brought that accomplished so much in his time, for such a reasonable price.  

If you are looking to diversify sustainability on your campus and to open your sustainability discussions to include LGBQT+ and other intersectional issues, then Peterson is worth every penny.  If you are looking to bring someone who has the skill of connecting with any member of an audience, from the most jaded male student who doesn’t believe in climate change to LGBQT+ students who are concerned about LGBQT+ issues but not climate change, then Peterson is worth every penny. (On the latter, in just 20 minutes he had two Women and Gender Studies majors say they had never seen climate change as an LGBQT+ issue but after hearing him speak now see those connections.)  If you are looking for someone to bring fresh energy, an ethic of compassionate engagement, humor, and the ability to connect with your students, then Peterson is worth every penny.

I close by writing from the voice and perspective of a campus-wide sustainability director: a visit from Peterson will amplify your sustainability efforts.  A visit from Peterson will also recruit new student interest and passion in sustainability.  These are core aims of programming around sustainability on any campus, and Peterson will deftly and eagerly help you realize these aims.

Sincerely,

Dr. Todd LeVasseur

Director, Sustainability Literacy Institute

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Official schedule of visit for Peterson Toscano, February 11-13th 2019, College of Charleston, SC

WHAT WHEN WHERE WHO 
Monday, February 11
Arrive 7:19 pm Harlan Greene will get Peterson and host for dinner and get to King George Inn
Check in to lodging 1C, King George Inn
Dinner
Tuesday, February 12
Breakfast Open Open Todd will get Peterson at 8:40am at King George Inn
Faculty training: Queer  Eye for the Classroom–an intersectional approach to instruction 9am-10:30am Stern 201 Todd will host
Class visit: Gender and Sexuality on Stage and Screen 10:50 to 12:05pm MYBK 223 Jesse Portillo, Todd will host
Class visit: Futurity and Restorative Environmental Justice 12:15 to 1:05pm Bell South 310 Kristi Brian, Todd will host
Lunch break 1:10p to 1:30pm TBD Todd
Class visit: WGST capstone 1:40 to 2:55pm MYBK 105 Kris DeWelde, Todd will host
Class visit: RELS 105, Introduction to World Religions  3:05-4:20pm ECTR 103 Ian Sullivan, Todd will host
Corina Newsome and Peterson discussion: Faith, Justice, Race, and Climate Change 4:30pm-6:00pm ECTR 118 Sofia will introduce, Todd
Wednesday, February 13
Breakfast Open Open Todd will get Peterson at King George Inn at 8:15am
Faculty Training: Queer  Eye for the Classroom–an intersectional approach to instruction 8:30am-10:00am Stern 201 Todd will host
Class visit: History of Queer America (HIST 210/WGST 320) 10:00am-10:50am MYBK 303 Sandy Slater, Todd will host
Lunch 12pm-1pm Mellow Mushroom I-CAN students
Theater Master Class 2pm-4pm Meet 1:45pm Cistern Yard Theatre 220 class, Todd will host
Open
Dinner Meet 6:40pm Cistern Yard
Performance, Everything is Connected—An Evening of Stories, Most Weird, Many True 7pm-9pm ECTR 118 Todd will host
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This post has 2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Meghann Jarchow on March 21, 2019 at 11:55 pm Reply

    Peterson was our keynote speaker for Earth Day last year. His performances were wonderful and did a great job of bringing a lot of groups together. I am also grateful that I now know Peterson – he is such an insightful, kind, and funny person.

    • Peterson Toscano
      Peterson Toscano on March 25, 2019 at 6:24 am Reply

      Thanks Meghann, It was so wonderful being on campus and seeing you in action. Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to the work you are doing at USD.

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