"Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
Arundhati Roy, The Pandemic Is A Portal, April 3, 2020
What could another world look like?
In the academic year 2020-2021, Barnard students learned from visionaries on the front lines of imagining it, and then asked themselves, “What can I do right now, with what I have and where I am?”
After all, Barnard students don’t wait around when it comes to taking action — and in ThirdSpace@, a two-part, virtual co-curricular program (SPARK + BUILD), our students were doing that from Mumbai to Massachusetts and a ton of other places around the globe. To support them, ThirdSpace@ brought together their peers, experienced guides, and Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership, Office of the VP of DEI, and Center for Engaged Pedagogy.
ThirdSpace@ centers critical questions about how to envision another world, like:
- What leadership are we already seeing? What can we learn from the work of others?
- How do we tackle this need for change through the lenses of equity and inclusion?
- How do we connect what we’re learning in the classroom to the urgency of challenges that exist outside of it?
Participating students were grappling with these and other questions as they acted with and in their own communities. Together, they were considering where they wanted to act, what they wanted to change, and with whom they need to act.
Keep reading for descriptions of and FAQs about SPARK and BUILD.
This program acknowledges the fact that this academic year, we will not have the on-campus life we had hoped for, and in fact has been designed with that in mind. Being spread out all over the world gives us the opportunity to pursue change all over the world - and to think about what change looks like in different places, while connecting with each other to talk about that.
SPARK is a virtual experience.
On September 25, 2020, we hosted a live conversation about best practices for student-led change projects. View it here.
Then visit barnard.edu/spark to view SPARKs, short, powerful videos and resources from changemakers who have integrated their thinking and action to alter our world for the better, in the context of three interconnected challenges:
- community safety measures that fail to keep all of us safe
- inadequate economic safety nets
- access and participation gaps in education
We're adding new SPARKs to this site all year.
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Open to all members of the Barnard community.
BUILD is our students' turn! BUILD participants have been assigned to a BUILD Circle — a group of 8-10 students from a range of majors and class years — to consider their approach to tackling these challenges. Can you build upon any of the ideas or practices shared in SPARK? In what way can you meaningfully collaborate with others? Guided by a facilitator, students will:
- Develop their plan for tackling one of the SPARK challenges with your BUILD Circle and local community partner
- Implement their plan in their local community
- Reflect and iterate their work with their BUILD Circle and local community partner
BUILD Circles convene virtually for three hours on the first Friday or Saturday of the month. The time commitment outside of this depends on the project students get involved in creating or participating in, but on average, we think students can anticipate spending around 5 hours per week.
So much! There is fascinating thinking and doing happening all around us. We're capturing some of it in the below spreadsheet and we'd be thrilled to have you contribute to it.
In addition to the time commitment described above, students need reliable internet access, because SPARK is a virtual experience, as are BUILD Circle meetings.
What we've said to students: You don’t need to have an idea for how you want to tackle a challenge in your community just yet — the purpose of SPARK is to ignite some ideas for you. Whether you do or don’t already have an idea, your BUILD Circle will help you improve and execute it.
Partnership is key to success, so finding a local community organization, organizing collective, congregation, or other group of people committed to change will be key to learning and success this year. BUILD Circles can also help you network.
So glad you asked! More than ever, we need leaders who are creative, collaborative, and resilient — because few challenges worth addressing are addressed through a single approach, by a single person, or in a single try — as well as ethical and balanced. This program will help students become such leaders.
Students will also develop stronger relationships with their peers, through their BUILD Circles. Students also receive $500 and the opportunity to apply for additional funding at the conclusion of the program.
Great question. Here's what we've said to students:
Say you’re interested in exploring what better economic safety nets could look like.
At SPARK, you hear about Fixup, founded by Barnard community members Prof. Sandra Goldmark and Michael Banta. Fixup is a startup social enterprise repair service — a solution to the frustrating and damaging cycle of use-and-discard consumer goods, harnessing the skills of local artisans and matching it with people’s real world needs.
In your BUILD Circle, you share your excitement about this work with your peers. Together, you talk through what a social enterprise repair service could look like in your community. Does one already exist? Could you participate in that, or build on this idea? What do you need to better understand about your community before you get started? You develop a plan for how you want to approach this, and over the course of the year, explore these questions and more. As your peers develop their own plans, you offer feedback and get ideas for yours. Throughout this experience, you’re guided by a skilled facilitator who challenges you to consider what truly meaningful — i.e. meaningful for all parties — community engagement looks like.
To take this one step further, perhaps you're a student who has experience in a maker or fix-it space sets up a virtual community of fix-ers in their home community. You collaborate with the makers of an app, like MendIt, or with a community center, like a local library or thrift collective, or your local public media station, to create a COVID-safe fix-it drop-off/pick up shop, or cost-free good exchange, or lending library, etc. The BUILD Circle provides you space to discern which approach you will take, how COVID realities must be considered, and to reflect on the experience.
Or perhaps at SPARK you hear about the work of Mia Birdsong — specifically, her podcast, More Than Enough, which explores the concept of guaranteed income, or “universal basic income,” through conversations with the experts, people who experience poverty in America. That gets you thinking about whose stories we’re not capturing right now.
In your BUILD Circle, you discuss this topic, and develop a plan for collecting stories from members of your Muslim community in California. How has COVID-19 affected them? What impact has the pandemic had on their economic security? Is anyone collecting these stories already? Over the course of the year, you learn how to collect oral histories, and then actually do that. Your BUILD Circle and its facilitator are crucial thought partners for you in this work.
2020 is in many ways defined by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Movement for Black Lives, both of which have illuminated the need for deep change and a complete reimagining of our approaches to community safety, economic security and access to education. These three interconnected topics provide thematic structure for SPARK and for the year-long experience as a whole.
Here’s how we are defining them:
COMMUNITY SAFETY: What does a world in which every one of us feels safe look like in practice? Mutual aid networks, alternatives to policing, restorative and transformative justice communities, and abolitionist movements have imagined this world in theory and are putting it into practice.
ECONOMIC SECURITY: What do small- and large-scale economies look like in practice when structured to promote and preserve life, rather than monetary profit? Triple bottom lines, renewable energies, B corporations, social entrepreneurship, collective ownership and mutual aid, universal base income, cradle-to-cradle design, urban agriculture and a new future of work are al ideas that suggest a stronger economic safety net can be built.
ACCESS TO EDUCATION: What does a world with universal access to information and learning look like? Smartphones revolutionized access to information and social media platforms have played major roles in elections and political education campaigns in the last decade. Student-centered, non-traditional educational models that center the experiences of BIPOC students and leverage technological advances are a window into the future of more open and democratic learning, responsible reporting, and critical media consumption, with the ultimate promise of greater civic participation.
If it feels like the an issue does not appear to be represented in these themes, we invite you to question whether that's really the case -- after all, each of these themes impacts and intersects with each other theme. Similarly, equally pressing challenges, especially sustainability, intersect with each theme. BUILD co-curricular student projects need not fall neatly within one of the SPARK themes identified above. The critical aspects of BUILD projects are that they are meaningful to the student proposing them and relevant to the student’s community.