Students Raise Money to Fight Hate Crime

Campus Nurtures Student Leadership in Community Service and Civic Engagement

Juniors Faisa Sharif and Eva Thornton saw the work Coffee Club, headed by senior Jehan Worthy, was doing: raising money to rebuild the predominantly African-American Macedonia Church of Springfield, MA, burned down the night of President Obama’s election. All year long, students in Coffee Club brewed java and baked goodies to sell, donating all proceeds to the Church’s effort to rebuild.

A few days before the man who confessed to arson and pleaded guilty to civil rights violations was to be sentenced, Faisa and Eva took action. Earlier in the semester they had petitioned Community Council (Bard College at Simon’s Rock’s student government) and received funds to produce events through their own organization, Chill Club, but at that crucial moment they decided to use the money to support the work Coffee Club was already doing.

Faculty Salon SeriesFaisa and Eva planned an auction where students offered services like Arabic lessons or rides into town to the highest bidder. They raised more than $2,000 in one night. On a Campus with just under 400 students, that’s an extraordinary number. It’s also a good example of the power and resourcefulness of students at Simon’s Rock: animated by their connection to the greater Western Massachusetts community, they acted independently to start an organization, produce an event, and raise funds.

What’s clear is that Simon’s Rock students are leaders in many senses of the word. They mentor and tutor their classmates as well as students at local schools, volunteer in soup kitchens every week, serve on Community Council and bodies like the Anti-Harassment Anti-Discrimination Committee, and organize trips to New Orleans and to Haiti to participate in relief work.

For the 2010-2011 academic year, there’s a strategic initiative around student leadership. Social action and leadership like this is endemic to the culture of a school that celebrates the fact that liberal education serves the public good and in doing so becomes one of the most powerful vehicles for social transformation. This year’s strategic initiative serves as an opportunity to renew this commitment and to build on the work already being done on campus with the addition of dedicated staff and new requirements for service learning.

Active Community Engagement

One aspect of the leadership initiative that’s already in place is a reimagining of the College’s health and wellness workshops and activities under a new title: Active Community Engagement (A.C.E). “We understand now more than ever that any programming that seeks to address health must involve a service component. We can’t produce healthy individuals without healthy communities, and vice versa,” says Residence Director Keon Diggs.

A.C.E. requires all students to participate in service learning in each of their first three semesters on campus. While a great many students are already participating in various activities, both on- and off-campus, the requirement serves to formalize the college’s commitment to and emphasis on community-based learning and leadership. The focus is on building sustainable, mutually-beneficial relationships based on the recognition that both the College and its community partners have resources to offer and needs to be served.

“Our work is not just to create educated people, but to help individuals become citizens of the world who are capable of understanding the issues they face individually and as members part of communities both local and global,” says Diggs. “That begins with connecting the work students do inside the classroom to action that they can take here and now, action that puts what they’re learning in context.” With this new initiative, students across the campus will be taking part in an invaluable labor: thinking through the classrooms they sit in to the issues facing the world they live in.

Empowering Student Leaders to Do More

Erin Cannan, Bard Dean of Special Projects, is a new face on campus. With years of experience empowering student leaders and student activists at Bard College at Annandale, Cannan is working with students through the Win Student Resource Commons to develop leadership skills in social action and social change. Plans include creating a leadership corps and a virtual center for connecting students to ongoing service projects and resources for developing leadership skills in social action and social change.

“I’m working specifically with first-year Acceleration to Excellence Program (AEP) students. These students have already demonstrated a lot of leadership work, and we’ll support them as they continue to develop what they’ve already begun,” Cannan Says. “Because of Simon’s Rock’s small size, and because some students stay for two years rather than four, students step onto campus the first day with the opportunity to lead.”

To do this, Cannan will network first-year AEP students with the organizations and resources the campus offers. This coming academic year, she hopes to host a post-Writing and Thinking Workshop meeting with these students to introduce them to civic engagement opportunities, to hone some particular skills, and to reflect on the importance of the experience. “The goal is to have new student leaders plugging into programs on campus as soon as they arrive,” Cannan says. Students will learn about Community Council; about how to run a meeting; how to propose a new organization or seek funding for their projects; and how to cultivate relationships in the broader community.