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Beyond the Stereotypes, Beyond the Battles, Beyond the Classroom

December 10, 2005View for printing

John Esp, of Big Timber, Montana, is the type of legislator you’d expect in a rural ranching and mining community: Republican, conservative, and not a big fan of environmental laws that might hinder his constituents ability to make a living.

Tom Roy, of Missoula, is the kind of guy that rural Republicans love to hate: a progressive-thinking academic who headed a program that’s specifically about environmental protection.

But a funny thing happened a couple of years ago, when Esp’s Republican colleagues made a push to eliminate state funding for Roy’s program: Esp and Roy found that the old stereotypes didn’t really fit one another. They found that they actually liked each other and fostered an informal partnership that is exposing tomorrow’s environmental leaders to rural issues and the real people caught in the thick of it all. In my last column, I wrote about the loaded labels we tend to use for each other and what can happen when we take the time (or muster the guts) to get beyond the stereotypes and have a conversation. The flourishing relationship between John Esp and the ranchers, loggers and miners in his community, and Tom Roy and his Environmental Studies students is an incredible example of just such a thing.

By Courtney Lowery

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