Bestselling Author and Botanist Inspires Students to Transform Themselves and Their Community
October 9, 2023 — Students filled the McCann Arena last week to hear from Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, the celebrated and award-winning author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Her book was selected as this year’s First-Year Seminar (FYS) Common Read.
A New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times Bestseller that illuminates a cross-section of impactful topics, Braiding Sweetgrass weaves together themes of identity, inclusion, environmental sustainability, climate change, and stewardship, making it applicable to students across many disciplines. The Common Read is integrated into the first-year experience with all students reading the book before arriving on campus. The Common Read aims to inspire campus-wide conversations outside of the traditional classroom through lectures, discussions, and co-curricular programming.
“Hearing Dr. Kimmerer speak truly allowed me to understand the importance of being proactive and asking myself how I can acknowledge what I have learned from nature,” said Cassandra Williams '27, a fashion student. “We are so lucky to be able to speak directly to the author and understand her stories on a deeper level.”
Students across different First-Year Seminar classes take lessons from the book and apply them to real-world teachings and experiences on and off campus.
Dr. Radka Wildova (far right) demonstrates the use of vines for braiding and weaving to Dr. Richard Feldman's (second from right) students in the FYS Braiding our Relationships with the Natural World last week in Fern Tor Nature Preserve. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.
Braiding Sweetgrass consists of nonfiction essays that reflect upon nature through Kimmerer’s perspective as an Indigenous woman, trained botanist, loving mother, and dedicated professor. Through personal stories, scientific insights, and cultural narratives, Kimmerer encourages readers to deepen their connection to the environment.
At the event, Kimmerer spoke about her book in a conversation moderated by Dr. Patricia Tarantello, Lecturer of English and First Year Seminar Director. Kimmerer discussed how students can better their relationship with the earth and make impactful changes for themselves and the world at large.
“You may not realize the power that you have to catalyze change in your own communities, to think about, 'how could I change the Marist community?' " Kimmerer said. “We each in our own spheres can do so much to recognize our own power and agency. We can change not only our own thinking but we can contribute to system-wide change.”
Dr. Kimmerer speaking at Marist. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.
“With every piece of advice Kimmerer offered, she opened my eyes to all of the impactful experiences I can have in this world,” said Samantha Mattioli '27, secondary education and history student. “She taught us how we can be the leaders of our own life, especially to benefit planet Earth.”
The event concluded with a standing ovation for the author and an opportunity for students, staff, and faculty to get their copies of Braiding Sweetgrass signed by Kimmerer.
"Kimmerer's book resonated in a special way this year, both inside and outside of the classroom," said Dr. James Snyder, Dean for Academic Engagement. "The First-Year Seminar program did an amazing job, collaborating with our Center for Teaching Excellence, to foster conversations among faculty about Kimmerer's vision before the start of the semester, and this helped them integrate the book into their courses in unique and unexpected ways."
Kimmerer is the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. As an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, her work introduces the benefits of traditional ecological knowledge to the scientific community in a way that respects and protects indigenous knowledge. She is known for the role of traditional ecological knowledge in ecological restoration and the ecology of mosses. Learn more about Kimmerer’s work here.
Members of the Marist community can access Braiding Sweetgrass through the Marist library.