The third annual University Without Walls (UWW) Social Justice Residency weekend was held at the UMass Center in Springfield September 18th-20th. A group of over twenty UWW students, staff, and faculty convened at the UMass Center in Springfield over the weekend to study the theory and practice of social justice activism, particularly as related to racial and economic inequality in Springfield, MA.
Keynote speaker was Mr. Carlos "REC" McBride from TRGGR Radio in Springfield who is also a teacher at Commerce High School in Springfield. Opening with pictures and stories of one hundred men of color who have been killed by police officers this year, Mr. McBride addressed the urgency of activism in our contemporary moment. He emphasized individual, community, and national healing as activist work which became a theme of the weekend. “The Friday night's speaker was inspirational. I want to be more like him,” stated Cynthia Beaton, a UWW student participant, after Mr. McBride’s presentation.
Students prepared for the weekend by reading a selection of theoretical and cultural texts related to the meaning and practices of social justice. The event included discussions of these texts, presentations by organizers in local social justice activist organizations, a field trip to the youth leadership group Gardening the Community, and a panel presentation of former UWW students, Shamus Sullivan and Jesse Aquino, both of whom are now working in fields related to social justice.
UWW faculty member Jacqueline Castledine pointed to a trip to the site of Gardening the Community (GTC) in the Mason Square section of Springfield as a highlight of the weekend, observing that UWW students' "passion for social justice and sustainablity issues continue to inspire her own activism." Vanessa Lynch from Black Lives Matter (413), a local chapter of the national Black Lives Matter movement, presented the theory, purpose, and goals of Black Lives Matter, and co-founders of The Vanguards gave inspiring talks about their work, as one student commented “to shift gang or ‘tribe’ culture in Springfield back to its more altruistic roots rather than trying to get rid of gangs or keep people out of them.” The Vanguards promote peace between tribes (the preferred name for “gangs”), spiritual transformation and healing of individuals, and ways that “tribe” members can make positive contributions to their communities.
“The weekend residency was a powerful, challenging and moving experience. It allowed us to have difficult conversations in the best possible way,” commented UWW faculty member, Karen Stevens. UWW student, Mindy Torres-Toledo summarized her experience with the following statement: “This weekend has helped me open my eyes and has given me motivation to find out more about not only my own history, but the history of others. It has also taught me to pay attention to what is going on in the world. I want to read and learn all I can so that in turn I can teach and educate my children. . . . . This class started off for me as a way to add a college credit and it ended up being a valuable life lesson.”
UWW students received one credit for preparing for, attending and participating in the weekend which was organized by UWW faculty members Jacqueline Castledine, Mitch Boucher, and Karen Stevens, as well as the UWW Student Services Coordinator, Jill Dubnansky. The team plans to offer the event again in the summer or fall of 2016. “This weekend experience gives our mostly online students a chance to meet face-to-face and to explore the significance of social justice for their areas of concentration which are often in fields such as health, education, business, and human services,” remarked UWW faculty member Mitch Boucher. “I loved
meeting my residence mates. What a wonderful and diverse group and so much heartfelt perspectives shared,” remarked UWW student, Cynthia Beaton.