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  • Genevieve Fontana

Canisius Eco-Hero: Dr. Russell

By: Genevieve Fontana, Contributor

Dr. Russell is a professor of animal behavior, ecology and conservation, as well as director of the anthrozoology program. He also recently helped to create the informal education and interpretation graduate program at Canisius University. His passion lies in exploring the intersections of psychology, sociology, critical theory, queer theory, ecofeminism and phenomenology, as well as the intricate relationships between children and the natural world, emphasizing our deep connection with all living creatures. 

Currently, Dr. Russel dedicates most of his time to teaching in the anthrozoology program at Canisius, while also leading a research team investigating the animal welfare movement, as well as the 4-H and agroecology movements through archival material.

As an alumnus of Canisius himself, Dr. Russell reflects on the progress the school has made as an institution in the environmental realm. While he admires the unwavering passion of the students, he acknowledges that there's still lots of work to be done. With this in mind, he co-initiated the Canisius Cup campaign years ago as a student, promoting sustainability by providing discounts to students who used recyclable mugs at Tim Hortons. Now witnessing the Sustainability Committee working on similar initiatives, he worries that the campus is not moving fast enough if we have to keep fighting for the same initiatives. 

In his courses, Dr. Russell adopts popular education for social change. He utilizes innovative methods like mural-making, visual metaphors and human sculpting to challenge binary thinking and encourage diverse perspectives on complex issues. One of Dr. Russell's courses, Conservation Education, draws conversation from the thoughts of educator David Sobel, emphasizing the importance of cultivating compassion and enthusiasm for the environment in young minds. He believes teaching children about the issues they face should go hand in hand with instilling a love for nature, like the kind often fostered through local experiences like exploring backyards and gardens. 

Dr. Russell urges an understanding of environmental changes worldwide while promoting a balanced perspective that combines gratitude for the Earth with a sense of concern for its future. He is especially concerned about the deficit model passed down to the next generation, which he worries focuses on viewing the Earth children inherit with a negative lens. Instead, he believes in empowering the youth by highlighting the beauties of our planet. 

He understands that guilt is not a good motivator, and that, instead, we should focus on what we can do in our lives to make a difference. He confronts this by asking questions, like “What are the things I am passionate about? What are the things I am good at, and What can I actually do?” Dr. Russell mentions that indigenous voices are a good way to recognize the resilience of our communities throughout history, and he emphasizes the importance of focusing on actionable solutions and supporting impactful movements.

Outside of work, Dr. Russell practices what he teaches. He and his partner are conscious of their dietary choices, opting for plant-based meals and reducing dairy consumption. They also prioritize sustainable living at home with curbside composting and an eco-conscious approach to transportation. He is an advocate for public transport and highlights its importance for the queer community. Furthermore, Dr. Russell encourages civic engagement, urging students to find their areas of impact, such as voting, volunteering or participating in local committees. He focuses on what he can do not instead of what he cannot and notes that having a positive mindset is motivating rather than self deprecating. 

Looking towards the future, Dr. Russell envisions Canisius as an institution that embraces our community garden spaces, incorporates sustainability into its curriculum and recognizes environmentally conscious choices as an institution. He is optimistic that with new leadership and its strategic plan, collaborative efforts will lead to a more sustainable Canisius. 

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