Monday, November 23, 2015

"Why Can’t We Be The Model?"

By Dr. Mike Williams

This last week marked an important moment at the University of San Diego as students from the Black Student Union, PRIDE, the DARE Collective, and other allies presented a list of demands with respect to changes they want to enact on our campus.  In this post, I am not going to respond to the specific demands, but instead, I want to voice the reasons why I support their actions and their overall goals, and I why I stand in solidarity with their cause.  I also want to speak honestly about the ways in which I initially responded to the protests and the evolution of my thoughts over the last few days.

Earlier this semester, President Michael Roth (of Wesleyan University) delivered a lecture on the relevance and significance of a liberal arts education.  His main point was that a liberal arts university – such as the University of San Diego – must promote curriculum, programs, and a campus culture that guarantees opportunities for students to learn about, and express, new ideas (liberate), to become passionate about their ideas (animate), to work with others in pursuit of their passions (cooperate), and to take actions to produce the changes they want (instigate).  As I stood in the back of Salomon Hall on Wednesday night and watched students take over the space, respectfully submit their demands, and facilitate a dialogue with other students, faculty, and administrators on the issues that “set their hearts aflame,” I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was watching students model what a liberal arts education, and changemaking, is all about.

This reaction, where I situated their actions into conceptual categories relating to the liberal arts and changemaking, misses the point of the students’ protest, however.  While I can easily situate their actions into these categories, and while do believe that this sort of student expression exemplifies the liberal arts and changemaking, the students might resist this classification.  I know this now after speaking with numerous students, faculty, and administrators after the protest.  The students who protested, it seems to me, are coming from a lived experience where the very institutions and spaces that many faculty and administrators (including myself) believe are there to support their actions are actually perceived as inhibiting change.  This perspective, however, is one that is difficult for many faculty, administrators, and students to embrace.  For those students who can easily step into the changemaker space to take actions on those issues that they are passionate about, this perspective may seem unfounded.  For those of us (faculty and administrators) who have dedicated our careers to advance the interests of students, to advance civic engagement on and off campus, to advance a campus culture that is more inclusive and accepting, this perspective hurts because it is a critique of what we have created. In other words, speaking for myself and not for others, the “work” that I have done at USD is not just career oriented, it is very personal as well.  Thus, the critique, the distrust, and the belief that what I have created actually inhibits change is difficult to endure since it seems to be a personal attack in addition to an attack against the “business” of USD (many student protesters on Wednesday night referred to USD as a “business” rather than a “university” to highlight this point).

Photo Credit: Dr. Greg Prieto
Thus, I think one immediate reaction to the student demands is defensive.  It is to present them with stories about changes that have taken place at USD over the years.  I left Salomon Hall envisioning ways to share what USD has done over the years, and is currently doing, to address their demands.  I also started scheming of ways to “program” events for the students so that they can advance their interests.  Instinctively, I wanted to “help” and “collaborate” because I believe that in my current position as director of the Hub that I have resources that could be useful for the students.  Instead of taking a step back, taking a deep breath, and pausing to listen to the students in meaningful ways, my inclination was to take action with the students, but also, on behalf of the students. 

I am now convinced that such a strategy is bound to fail without first taking the students’ perspective seriously.  To do this, I believe it is necessary to engage with them in a way that can build trust.  As I was speaking with a colleague on Friday afternoon, and as he was presenting many of these arguments to me, it struck me that what he was suggesting I do at USD is something that I consciously do in other communities – specifically, the village of Makuleke in South Africa.  As I self-reflect, it occurs to me that I have not learned anything “new” about my understandings of community engagement and social action, but instead, the students’ protest, and the conversations that have occurred in the wake of the protests, have given me the space to think critically about how I engage students in South Africa versus how I engage students at USD.  Just like other places where USD provides students with opportunities to practice community engagement (such as, South Africa, Jamaica, or Linda Vista), USD is a diverse community and there is no “one size fits all” model on how to engage with students.  I am grateful that the students’ protests have created the space for me to self-reflect and to think about what this means for how the Hub can engage all of the students at USD more effectively.

What this will look like, I am not sure.  I am stepping back from the inclination to design a program to make this happen.  Through listening, through joining community, through practicing empathy, through practicing immersion at USD, I am hopeful that the processes, institutions, and resources that are needed to turn demands into material change will emerge.  At the protest on Wednesday night, someone asked for an example of university that creates a campus climate and space for action that the students demand.  A student immediately responded, “why can’t USD be the model?” – to which there was applause from everyone in the room.  This is the challenge and the opportunity for our campus community as we move forward.  I have always believed in the power of students to create change on their campuses as well as off their campuses.  For me, the changemaker designation at USD is one that holds us accountable to do this.  The reason I love my job as director of the Hub is so I can be a part of institutional change.  This change, however, must come with student energy, with student critique, and in spaces that are autonomous from USD structures of power.  As a faculty member, administrator, and member of the USD community, I stand in solidarity with the student protesters because they are asking difficult questions that require meaningful cooperation.  I stand in solidarity with them because I believe that what we encourage our campus community to do off-campus, we should encourage them to do on-campus: to practice empathy, to listen, to seek out other sources of knowledge and wisdom, and to take action in ways that promote participatory democracy and inclusion.  These practices and goals are not antithetical to our mission as a university.  In fact, these practices and goals embody what we aspire to be at USD.   

*As always, I invite readers to post your comments – especially if my own interpretations of the goals of the student protesters are inaccurate or misinformed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Twelve People, Eight Weeks, One Community: A Life Changing Summer

By Madison Ryan '17

I spent this past summer in an unusual way. I was a part of the Mulvaney Immersion Communities for Action and Humility (MICAH) Fellowship with 11 other students - 5 from the University of San Diego and 6 from Saint Mary’s College.

Here’s what I knew going into the summer:
We would live in two housing units at Alameda Point Collaborative. APC is an abandoned US Naval Base that has been converted into over 200 housing units that house and form a community to support formerly homeless families and residents. Each fellow had been placed with a community partner where we would serve throughout the week. I was placed at the Prescott-Joseph Center for Community Engagement in West Oakland where I would help establish a Family Resource Center and assist in the Healing Arts Therapy program. The way the fellowship was set up was very intentional. We were each going to be given a twenty dollar food budget every week to pool with our apartment, and we would be given two vans to utilize between the twelve of us. We were also going to be provided mattresses, basic kitchen supplies, and a folding table with chairs as basic furnishing for the apartment.

I went into this summer thinking that I would meet new people with similar interests, get to see the Bay Area, and have a meaningful internship. I left the summer with a new grasp on who I am and how that relates to the communities I am a part of, family-like bonds, and a tattoo (sorry, Dad!).

It’s difficult to put into words what occurred over the summer, but in the course of eight weeks, I genuinely changed as a person. I went into the summer prepared to give up the comfort of the luxuries I had become accustomed to. What I was utterly unprepared for was the way in which I would be challenged to give up the comfort of the various masks I used to protect my vulnerabilities. In committing to the creation of an intentional community, the twelve of us connected more deeply, authentically, and quickly than I can convey. Rather than coming home from work and scrolling through facebook while eating something I threw in the microwave, I came home from work to cook a meal for the family we had created. In our barely-furnished apartment, we sat at dinner and cried tears of laughter while we shared silly memories we had of our very different families and upbringings. We spent hours planning our grocery and cooking strategies for the week. We biked around the island we lived on and read books and woke up an hour early so our friends could get to work on time and spent time with the APC kids at the playground across the street. We pulled chairs into the kitchen to sit and talk while others cooked. We fought about how much salt to use in our cooking, and whether or not hot sauce should go in the cabinet or the fridge, and, at times, more serious things. We sat together every Wednesday night as a member of our new, temporary family shared authentically in what we called a “case consultation”. We gave honest, sometimes difficult to hear feedback, but always ended the night closer than we had begun. Like all families, we were sometimes passive aggressive, inconsiderate, and complicated, and we spent our Sunday night community dinners working through that - bringing both home cooked meals, transparency, and commitment to bettering our small community to the tables we pushed together to fit all 12 members into one apartment.

For me, this summer was full of feeling loved, accepted, and seen for who I truly am. It was also full of some of the hardest conversations I’ve had and the scariest risks I’ve taken. I came home and had no other way to explain it to people than as an personal “rip the band-aid off” experience. It was often challenging, and, at times, painful, but the ways in which I grew and healed will always make the difficult moments worth it.

I sat alone on the last day of the fellowship and reflected. I looked at the tattoo I had gotten the night before that signifies the lessons I learned and the self-love that I experienced. I realized in those silent, reflective hours what I had really gleaned from the tears, laughter, challenges, and successes that filled my experience. Over the eight weeks, I discovered who I am. I saw my strengths, gifts, and vulnerabilities mirrored in the people I lived and worked with. What’s more, in learning to love them (flaws and all), I learned to love myself. I will always carry that with me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Creating Space for Engaging Conversations about Food

By An Nguyen '16

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.
-       Elsa Schiaparelli
Providing food at college campus events is nothing novel. It’s how college administrators incentivize students to stop by a lecture, a panel discussion, a book reading, an art exhibit. Unfortunately, full schedules give students minimal time to eat three times a day let alone cook. So it’s no surprise that Dinner With Foodies, a Changemaker Hub and Office of Sustainability sponsored event, offered dinner on a Thursday night to students. However, when they entered the 4th floor of the Student Life Pavilion, the usual stacks of pizza boxes were nowhere to be seen. Rather they were greeted with freshly made falafels, skordalia (garlicky mashed potatoes), yalandjai (stuffed grape leaves), pita bread, grilled eggplant, and Greek mountain tea. Plates from the SLP and reusable Changemaker Hub-branded cups were also available. With the phrase “Love food, not waste” projected on the big screen it was evident that this was no ordinary campus event but rather a sit-down dinner. A dinner date. A dinner date with foodies to be exact.

            Formally invited to the event was Beau Broughton, the San Diego Director of the Humane League, Laura Yamaguchi, a community organizer from Mid-City CAN, Dr. Jonathan Wadley from the USD International Relations/Political Science Dept., and Sam Eller, a third year USD student and fellow changemaker. At the event, students were able to have personal and honest conversations about what they were enjoying at the moment: food. These conversations weren’t merely about food’s taste, aesthetic, or convenience. No. These conversations over dinner were much more interesting. Issues of food justice, sustainable eating, and food education were all on the table, no pun intended. In order to have meaningful conversations, students were divided into small groups and were dispersed all along the SLP 4th floor, led by one of our four food enthusiasts or foodies.

            Dr. Jonathan Wadley became Jonathan for the night, separating his academic self from his more relatable self. He and his group sat down on the carpet area while talking about the ethics of eating meat and dairy products. In other settings, it might be unsettling to talk about the harrowing plight of farm animals especially in factory farms, but at Date With Foodies, students, omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, and everyone in between, were all ears. Students opened up about their own personal views about eating animals for substance.
            Beau Broughton and his group, among many things, talked about how the media has perpetuated the prominence of meat in the American diet. Students also expressed their disgust on how mainstream media use the sexual objectification of women as a tool to push for a more meat-filled diet. You don’t have to go much further down the hill to see a Carl’s Jr. franchise with life-size cutouts of photoshopped models eating burgers in an overtly sexual manner.
            Laura Yamaguchi alongside with four other community resident leaders led a conversation about food justice on the local level. Students learned about the City Heights community and the unmet dietary needs in local high schools, especially for Muslim students who adhere to a halal diet. Students learned that food justice is not just about food, but about people and communities as well.
            Lastly, Sam Eller led his group into conversations about ethical eating when dining others who have different viewpoints on food. Eller also educated students about sustainability initiatives on campus, like our composting program.
Despite hectic schedules that don’t allow students and faculty to enjoy food, let alone talk about it, Date With Foodies gave the USD community a space to talk about something as intimate and controversial as food. During closing time, students shared about how these genuine conversations have emboldened them to act and collaborate with one another to address food injustices on and off campus. In a time when animal agriculture is one of the top contributors to environmental degradation and climate change, in a time when global food waste and global hunger are rampant simultaneously, in a time when our national food policies allow big corporations to heavily commodify food instead of treating it as a human right, in a time when factory farm animals endure cruel treatment that would never be inflicted upon household pets, conversations like the ones during Date With Foodies should be the norm not the exception.

In order to be a campus that develops “ethical and responsible leaders committed to the common good” (Ethical Conduct, USD Core Values), USD, as a collective, needs to address food injustices locally, county-wide, state-wide, and beyond. This can be overwhelming, but talking about these pressing issues with full stomachs, open minds, and good intentions is a good place to start.