*This post is written by Haverford House Fellow, Ian Gavigan ’14.
Thirty five Haverford and two Bryn Mawr students took part in a series of intense workshops on social change work with two experienced local community organizers and social justice educators, Matthew Armstead and Nico Amadour, this November. The workshops helped participants prepare their social justice work through the lenses of “organizing”– a set of tools and practices that prioritize successful movement building and community involvement. Over the course of the workshops, students were asked to envision, model, and create methods of building community-based power, bringing together coalitions, and envisioning longer-term processes of change.
Many of the participants had attended previous Bending the Arc workshops, the series of social justice trainings led by Ian Gavigan, ‘14 (Haverford House Fellow), Emily Mayer, ‘14, and Waleed Shahid, ‘13, throughout the semester, while others came to the weekend with little exposure to the previous trainings. Students represented a diverse array of existing campus organizations, including the Black Student League, TIDE, ReThink Incarceration, ETHOS, SJP, Haverford Asian Students Association, SAGA, Haverfordians for a Livable Future, and Sons of Africa, while others came with deep commitments to issues relating to the LGBTQ community, feminism, economic inequality, racial justice, and immigrant rights, to name a few.
While many students came to the workshops representing distinct groups, the hours spent together afforded them opportunities to interact, share stories and ideas, and build relationships across multiple affinity groups and social justice efforts. In small groups, students set both hypothetical and real goals, mapping out realistic strategies to effect a particular change on their campuses. The facilitators led sensitive and meaningful discussions on building solidarity among groups who do not necessarily share the same struggles while also leading the diverse group of students in exercises that helped build interpersonal and inter-group connections in the workshops themselves.
Through hearing facilitators’ own stories of fighting for environmental, LGBTQ rights, and immigrant rights, both in college and non-college settings, students learned about real life models of hard organizing work leading to successful outcomes. Students posed numerous questions about strategies for social change based on the actual examples provided by the facilitators and began to make connections to their own work at Haverford.
The weekend of Training for Change workshops provided Haverford and Bryn Mawr students valuable space for thinking more critically–and materially–about how to effectively make movements for social justice a reality on our campuses. Instead of thinking purely in either theory or community-specific problems, participants learned tools for bringing proven strategies to bear on their local issues.
To follow up on these workshops, Gavigan, Mayer, and Shahid, will reconvene student participants in an effort to maintain and strengthen the bonds of the Training for Change workshops. In spring 2015, they will build relationships with campus organizers and offer individualized support to groups at Haverford. Over the course of the next semester, Gavigan will regularly host an “Organizers’ Table”–a space in which student leaders can meet, share, and further develop their work with a specific focus on activism at Haverford as they seek to make meaningful change in the college community.