Director of Student Activities and Campus Engagement Tara Centeno and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Autumn Harrell recently sent a somewhat mysterious, but promising, email to the students list promoting a program they wish to launch at the start of mod two. The program, Agents of Change, is an hour-per-month commitment that promises to help those passionate about social justice and fashioning change build a toolkit to achieve their goals–a toolkit that importantly integrates diversity, social justice and leadership.
The one-of-a-kind program was handcrafted by both Centeno and Harrell, but greatly influenced by similar programs at colleges across the country. Specifically, they looked at programs involving leadership, social justice and diversity at New College’s aspiring institutions, like U.C. Berkeley.
“It was late spring when we first started talking about it and when we realized that we both wanted to do similar things,” Harrell said. “We recognized we were both doing this separately and decided to make a concerted effort to look into programs and what this could look like.”
Over the summer, while students were home on break, Harrell and Centeno were huddled over a small circular desk in Harrell’s office, flipping and scrolling through pages of notes, research and examples of comparable initiatives. Through many conversations and shared google documents, Agents of Change was brought to fruition.
“This came out of random conversations Autumn and I had over the summer about different articles we were reading, looking at our positions at other schools, reflecting on some of the conferences we’ve been to and looking at other campuses,” Centeno said. “There are these institutions that do academically similar to us, whose students rally around similar causes and engage in similar ways and are very issue driven and justice driven. And we recognized that our students here are so committed to that and so excited about that. So we wanted to really support them in that more.”
Centeno and Harrell purposefully constructed the program to be a fit for anyone, regardless of participants’ leadership capacities, social justice experience and even learning style. In each 60-minute session, students can expect a mini-lecture, discussions, a group activity and time for reflection. Centeno and Harrell hope that these short but impactful meetings will help students become well-rounded leaders who are malleable to different circumstances and confident in working with others.
“People who participate will surely come out of this experience with gained knowledge and tools that they can implement and employ to achieve whatever their personal goals might be,” Centeno said. “Even if their goals are just to communicate better, we’re going to talk about how to be a strong communicator across different styles–so making sure that, one, you are able to listen and truly hear people, and two, be able to deliver a message that is not just for auditory learners, or just for visual learners.”
The program may appear to focus on helping an individual become a better leader or helping an individual foster improved communication prowess, but really it is meant to help students work and engage with others in productive, vulnerable and sensitive ways.
“During planning we talked about having a component on leadership, specifically what you might think of as traditional leadership topics of ethics and communication, paired with diversity and social justice components,” Harrell said. “So when Tara was talking about communicating differently, I thought of different cultures. So in that session, we will talk about both. Are you communicating in a way that as many people as possible in the room can receive it and understand your message?”
Although it is only in the beginning stages, Agents of Change already has a long future ahead. Centeno and Harrell hope to eventually turn it into a multi-year completion-based program if students show interest. Those who aspire to build upon their foundation developed from participation in the first year of the program may continue to do so in a program with different projects, purposes and perspectives.
At the time of publication, 15 individuals from a diverse range of years and areas of concentration have expressed interest in the program. If students are passionate about social justice, or simply keen on developing any personal goal, and wish to join the first charter class of New College Student Agents of Change, they should contact Tara Centeno and Autumn Harrell.