Visiting professor speaks on dignity’s role in sustainable development

Citing popes, world leaders, and philosophers, Clark discussed various schools of thought on dignity and development. She highlighted that the Catholic Church first recognized development as a human right in 1971–twenty years before the United Nations did so. Additionally, Clark discussed two different definitions of dignity: status dignity and conditioned dignity. Status dignity consists of the dignity with which we are born, while conditioned dignity represents dignity acquired or given by others. She said that both the United Nations and the Catholic Church struggle to mediate between the two. Clark also pointed out that both individuals and communities can and should have dignity.

Transitioning from theory to anecdote, Dr. Clark spoke of her travels in Africa, highlighting the “deeply personal” aspects of dignity-based development. When working in Northern Ghana with Catholic Relief Services, Clark witnessed the social empowerment of women involved in programs that tied together development and dignity. These programs helped women acquire not only greater economic power, but also self-confidence. While facts and data constitute an integral part of development, Clark argued that “unquantifiable” factors such as self confidence brought about by dignity also play an important role.

Clark displayed an original infographic titled “A CST Framework for Human Rights & Sustainable Development.” The infographic, a pyramid connecting subsidiarity, sustainability, participation, and solidarity, showed the relationships between these principles of development. According to Clark, subsidiarity allows both national and local governments to create solutions to specific development-related issues. She later listed the treatment of refugees as an application of subsidiarity, arguing that although many politicians define subsidiarity differently, this principle could allow the U.S. to “allocate sufficient personnel and resources” to refugee aid.

Clark explained that sustainability allows us to focus on development in the present while keeping the world’s future in mind. Participation, according to Clark, “holds [subsidiarity and sustainability] in check” by encouraging citizen involvement in development-related decisions. At the very top of the pyramid was solidarity. Clark emphasized that a dignity-based approach to development allows us to “walk together towards a civilization or a community of solidarity” rather than “reproducing existing power structures.”

Clark finished her lecture by further discussing sustainability’s relationship to development. She said that the UN defines sustainability as the practice of dignity that does not “[compromise] … future generations.” She added that “the poor…bear the greatest burden of ecological change” and that acts of pollution are unjust “to the environment, to the poor, and to future generations.” If we truly want to support development, Clark argued, we must also support sustainability.

Clark expanded on the importance of sustainability by describing the ways in which humanity intertwines with nature. She cited Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si, which argues that humans and nature are one and the same. Speaking from personal experience, Clark also discussed the similarities between humans and elephants, both intelligent and emotional organisms. For instance, she described witnessing groups of African elephants attempt to “heal” sick or injured members by returning them to wildlife integration centers, where veterinarians could aid them. Clark also linked environmental and human-centered exploitation by pointing out that ivory poaching can be used to fund terrorism.

When answering audience questions on humans’ role in the natural world, Clark said that all of “Creation bears the imprint of the Creator” and is “in a relationship with God too.” Thus, Clark argued, we do not have the “right to eliminate things that God created.” People must care for the environment for its own sake and not simply for the benefits it furnishes humanity.

Alison O’Neil is a freshman biological sciences major.  She enjoys long drives, the movie Forrest Gump, lying down in the middle of South Quad, and the sweet company of her long-lost Razor scooter, whose status remains unknown. Contact her at