Two weekends ago, I was able to attend an amazing and unique multi-day event that sought to have an open discourse and debate about various issues of social justice at University of Redlands. The event in question was University of Redlands’ Campus Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) third annual SPARC Summit. Students Participating and Advancing Revolutionary Change (SPARC) is a diverse event that seeks not only to create and facilitate discussions, but to bring back identifiable change to campus. The group of primarily Farimont first year students traveled to Wrightwood, some 40 miles away from campus to stay at Camp Wrightwood, a Camp and Retreat Ministry of the United Methodist Church, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. Associate Dean for CDI, Leela MadhavaRau, described the primary goal of SPARC as “A way to develop allyship.”
“I hope that [SPARC] allows people to understand more deeply the work that we do. I hope that it allows people to see the intersectionality of topics [at SPARC],” MadhavaRau said. “I think that there are topics which people are interested in, but are not able to have discourse with. There is also the practical side of bringing projects back to campus.”
For some participants, it was their first time attending the retreat but many had attended in years past. Demeturie Gogue, the First Generation Student Programs Coordinator at CDI, attended the SPARC summit for the first time and shared, “I was surprised. I didn’t know what to expect; I wanted to watch before I lead. How are you supposed to lead if you’ve never been in these types of situations?”
Students are drawn to SPARC for a variety of reasons, usually to gain understanding for communities.
“When we brought it up at the staff meeting it sounded like a very interesting time, and I am just really excited to understand different people’s perspectives on hot topics,” said Taylor Baines, CDI intern.
The entirety of SPARC’s discussions were inclusive and involved, oftentimes with every single attendee contributing multiple times per conversation. Discussions ranged from the difference between activism and activist work, how to protest effectively, how different privileges affect different people, the importance of universal design, the difference between appropriation and appreciation, and, finally, to a discussion about how safe and brave spaces should be handled in a university setting.
There were several activities that took place over the course of SPARC. This included a variety show in which students sang, read poems and performed dramatic readings and spoken word pieces, all by the light of a campfire and with the smell of roasting s’mores in the air. There was also a silent activity that sought to highlight the different types and degrees of privilege –or lack thereof– that each attendee possessed.
The SPARC itinerary featured a presentation titled F*** the stereotype by Sadie Red Wing, the Native American Student Programs Coordinator at CDI. She described her life as a Lakota woman born on a Native Reservation that will be obtaining a masters degree in graphic design. Red Wing described her early life as “tough.” She went on to say “My household wasn’t the greatest because my parents had their differences. We moved around a lot.” Red Wing continued, “Once my mom started school at the University of South Dakota, we were able to be settled in a town long enough to make a home. In 2001, we moved to Des Moines, Iowa where I ended up being the only Native American at Waukee High School. That was super uncomfortable.”
Red Wing explained blood quantum laws and how they have affected her. “The blood quantum laws vary depending on tribe. It is a government tactic to breed out the Native American blood of individuals. The most effect it has on me is that it creates pressure to keep that blood fraction up for my linage sake.” She delineated, “I’m limited to Lakota or Dakota males to start a family with if I want my children to be the same tribe as me. To me, that’s only a fraction on paper. I see people are the culture they are raised in—doesn’t matter the fraction of blood.”
SPARC attendees split off into groups to create practical projects back at the university based off of what had been discussed over the three days. There was talk of creating a workshop series in order to continue the discussions from SPARC focusing on several interactive, learning discussions about effective communication, privilege, microaggressions, and the difference between equity and equality. Some projects included: a push for more gender neutral bathrooms, more food options in the commons, a remodeling of the Armacost Library, an outreach program for undocumented migrants, and a program called Voices of Redlands that will seek to allow people from both the University of Redlands and the wider Redlands community an avenue to share their unique stories. After two and a half days of intense discussion and preparation, participants left SPARC ready to take on the world around them.
photos contributed by Heather Hammen