Big Issues, Chill Team: An Interview with the Ethical and Common Good-doers

Dylan Welch

This interview is the first in a series I’m sort of committing to about people at Hampshire doing work I am grateful for and think more people should  know about. Last week I met with Teal Van Dyck and Javiera Benavente who are the program coordinator and director of the Ethics and Common Good Project (ECG). Also on the team are George Fourlas, visiting professor of applied ethics, and Alina Ortiz Salvatierra, the relational leadership alumni fellow. The project officially started just over two years ago and they hosted the Culture of Radical Engagement Residency last year (my introduction). This year they’ve continued to organize perspective-shifting programming and have supported many people in making their own opportunities. I went up to their new office on the third floor of the library to hear about their plans for this semester.


Javiera began with a little of what’s behind the choices they’re making, going back to the Culture of Radical Engagement Residency as a foundation for the work they are doing today:

“One of the things that drew me to this project was the fact that it was bringing together this framework of the commons, ethical engagement, and leadership development. I spent the summer of 2015 talking to a lot of people about what was happening on campus, and what sort of support folks needed. I learned that people wanted to work together in collaboration, but there was a need for more support in how to do that well. I also heard from staff and faculty for wanting support around genuine relationship building. I connected with Cedar Landsman from the Relational Center and found out that they were working on a methodology that connected people through sharing stories and resonance in groups that enable us to build the kind of community that can hold complexity and address issues of justice in a meaningful way.”

A central way this work has lived on at Hampshire is through Building Resilience Together (BRT), a group for students of color that practices storytelling and resonance to build “deep community and support”. Unfortunately, Alina was feeling unwell and at home the day we talked, but I intend to follow up with her for a special interview about BRT.

Since then, something that’s interested Javiera is the question of facilitation and whether people want to learn how to facilitate “thoughtful” spaces “of learning [and] of collective action.” Hearing that many people are in fact interested, they have organized a workshop series that begins after spring break.

Javiera said, “We’re going to host a five week, five-part facilitation workshop that will be led by trainers from the Umass Alliance for Community Transformation (UACT). They have a robust peer education model – their trainers undergo a multi-year training program, the same that Alina did. A fair amount of Hampshire students have gone through the UACT training and I think there are about 6 in the program now. We’re looking to create a partnership with UACT to offer support to students who want to build upon those skills beyond the program.“

Seeing a need greater than what the team can fulfill by themselves, one of Javiera’s aims is to create a “cohort… of students committed and passionate about this work” willing to lead trainings and workshops with ECG’s support.

It turns out that Teal’s first connections to this work are rooted in their experiences as a Hampshire student, one who felt  inspired by a radical vision of Hampshire.

“I was on campus at a time when this idea of Hampshire campus as our commons… that this is a collective experience… had not yet been embraced across the campus as a whole. I fought for the experimental and interdisciplinary education that drew me here and it wasn’t always easy to access it, but I believed in Hampshire’s potential to be and to offer [a commons].”

This vision of Hampshire as a “collective place” still influences the questions driving their work.

“Especially now, what does it mean to build an ethical culture when we have such a toxic culture to contend with, one that lives outside and inside of us? What does that look like? How do we build that? I haven’t had a ton of spaces where I get to try. Often ethics can be too intellectual and detached from the real world, so we’ve tried to build a deeply engaged program that speaks about how our values inform our practices. I’m excited too, that the interdisciplinary nature of the program enables us to support students across all disciplines.”

ECG collaborates with local scholar David Bollier, whose work surrounding the commons broadens its definition to include any shared resource – cultural, scientific, digital, and also interpersonal. This interpersonal commons is a topic of focus for another ECG friend, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, an artist-in-residency at Hampshire this week. Leah is “a queer disabled nonbinary femme of color writer and cultural worker“ who is also active in movements for transformative and healing justice. As part of her stay, she is leading two workshops during the Five College Queer Gender and Sexuality Conference, one today (Friday) from 1-3pm titled Care Webs: Experiments in Disability-Made Collective Care and another on Saturday from 11:25am-1:25pm titled Femme Suicide Safety Strategies for Survival and Beyond. There is also a dinner scheduled with her on Friday from 6-7pm that is closed to QTPOCs. Check out her website – http://www.brownstargirl.org, to learn more of her story and to buy her books.

As I remembered Jordan Perry’s piece on emotional labor compassion fatigue (and this Black Girl Dangerous article by Tessara Dudley), I wondered how Javiera and Teal felt they could best be supported by the people at Hampshire. Here are some of their thoughts:

Javiera: “For me personally, my approach to this work is about making it possible for everyone, in whatever way makes sense for them, to take shared responsibility for doing this [culture building] work. I’m working towards building a network of people, not just individuals, that feel like they have the capacity to hold space. It’s important to me that we make the work visible and learn to value it too.”

Teal: “After leaving Hampshire, I realized that what I had learned here that helped me more so than any ideology or theory was the ability to hold complexity. I was often the only one in an office or group who wanted to have a non-toxic and inclusive work culture and to be isolated in that was an interesting challenge. We have this chance while we’re here together to double down on some subtle skills that can carry us into building another culture and a lot of really needed healing. It supports me when we remember together, both students and alums, that this very complicated and beautiful college is a place of opportunity to live into our vision.”

 


Unfortunately, my capricorn moon would not allow me to end on such a note. They suggested some precedent-setting questions:

Q: How does personal astrology play into your team dynamics?

Javiera: “With two earth signs and a cancer, we make solid earth and heart grounded work.”

Teal: “There are usually snacks and feelings, and always flip charts.”

Q: Any favorite foods?

Javiera: “Soup and shepherd’s pie.”

Teal: “I’m all about pocket foods like samosas, pupusas, dumplings and burritos.”

To say I’d been charmed would be an understatement.

Take care ruminating on all this. I’ll be back with more in a couple of weeks.

 

If you or someone you know is doing “awesome” or “inspiring” work, send me a message. I can’t promise everyone a full interview, but personal shout outs could be manageable!

 

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