March 26, 2014

Converge for Change

by Becca Wolinsky

On March 14-16, a committee of fifteen Brown students organized the first Converge for Change conference for students wishing to engage critically with issues of social justice. Here Becca Wolinsky '14, one of the lead organizers, reflects on the event's beginnings and future.

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At Brown, issues of social justice are often made separate from issues of identity and oppression. The goal of Converge for Change was to create a space in which students could learn skills, share resources, and build connections. We hoped that participants would get to know students around them, meet Providence community members, and engage in meaningful dialogue.

When we decided in October that we were going to make this conference happen, we immediately started fundraising, mobilizing, organizing programming, and connecting with folks in the Providence and Brown community. For this year, due to time constraints, we intentionally tailored the workshops to Brown students. We recognize that the perspectives of community members outside of this campus are non-negotiable, and we included their perspectives as facilitators, speakers, panelists, and guests at the community dinner. If this conference happens again, we hope that the planning process and the conference itself is more inclusive of students from other schools as well as Providence community members.

The weekend consisted of workshops with facilitators from the Providence and Boston community as well as Brown, and focused on these themes: reflexivity, tools, tensions, and alternative models.  Some workshops included “Life After Getting Called Out: True Allyship After Mishaps,” facilitated by Shane Lloyd and Maura Pavalow, Third World Center  (TWC) graduate student interns; “Encountering Privilege on and Off the Hill,” facilitated by Brown students in Social Classmates; “Dismantling the Ivory Tower: Humanizing Research,” facilitated by Nicole Ouimette and Naiomi Robles from Massachusetts; “Indigeneity in Activism” facilitated by Keil Oberlander and Elizabeth Rule, a junior and American Studies PhD student at Brown; and many more.

During the conference, we had the opportunity to hear from a keynote speaker, Shannah Kurland, former director of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), a Providence community-based organization, as well as from a panel comprised of Providence community members and Brown affiliates, discussing Brown’s complicated relationship with Providence.

For me, the most important part of this weekend was the community dinner. About fifty community members from greater Providence and New York participated in a community dinner with conference participants. Community members represented various Providence community-based organizations, such as English for Action (EFA), Olneyville Neighborhood Association (ONA), DARE, Providence Youth Student Movement (PRYSM) and more.  Additionally, individual members of the Providence community participated, including folks from the Providence refugee community.

This weekend reaffirmed the idea that to me, the most effective way to organize is through relationship building, through recognizing our own identities while also realizing our universal humanity and hope for justice, no matter where we come from. We hope that this conference continues annually and that it serves to increase dialogue that translates into action.

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