Tonight I indulged in free Indian food and great conversation about connections at an event cleverly named “Break Out of the Bubble” and put on by St. Olaf’s Center for Experiential Learning. Developed with the hope that informing students about civic engagement opportunities and world issues would lead to active building of community and spark inspiration, this event was effective in its simplicity.
After we had gorged ourselves on delicious Naan bread and spicy chicken, we separated into 8 different interest groups: Poverty, Public Health, Leadership and Advocacy, Local Food Issues, Environment, Human Rights, LGBT issues, and Education. In each of these circles groups of 10 or so participants discussed how they had been involved with the topic on campus, and brainstormed ways to spread word about the cause to the student body–exploring the ways to get involved and the necessity of effective advertising when it comes to a time impoverished student body of multi-taskers. In the hour and a half session, I traveled to the education and human rights groups, and joined everyone else for a summary of all group discussions at the end. Listening to the ideas of each group, I was struck by how important the tool of recognizing the “blindingly obvious” is when it comes to making progress in such daunting world dialogues. Almost all groups discussed the importance of visibility. Whether this means stringing pants and shirts from clotheslines across the caf, (as we saw last week) having a co-curricular fair mid-year in addition to one in week one, having students sign voluntary pledges to “go trayless” for at least one meal a week, a policy change to protect LGBT rights in the discrimination clause of St. Olaf College, or efforts to educate the student body through sustainable cooking classes or regular documentary showings and discussions, it was clear that in order for change to occur people’s everyday routines needed to be affected. When questions like “What’s going on over there?” begin to be asked, it is likely that investigation will occur. We are curious beings, and it is incredibly useful to use this fact to our advantage when it comes to activism and changing the system.
It’s amazing what can happen when you get 50 people into an auditorium and let them learn from each other. If we take the time to listen and write with red markers on oversized sheets of paper, we can get somewhere in a short period of time. However, this brainstorming, though inspiring and hopeful, is only the beginning. As is true with all of our brilliant ideas in campus ecology, we need to be conscience of the habit to spew wonderful solutions and then dismiss them as too lofty or too hard. Too often our ideas remain ideas. We need to break that trend. For now, cash incentives and prizes fuel the minds and motivation of our innovators. What if we all worked hard to make our ideals realities because we merely believed in them? I think this is true for some, but for the overwhelming majority ideas are not valuable without some promise of compensation. I’m not quite sure how to change this, considering our society is a capitalist one, but I do hope that someday in the future, on this Hill that we have self-proclaimed to be a bubble, we will beat the odds and make some of the ideas shared tonight come true–without cash prizes or the promise of a padded resumé.