Finding the Center 2011 closed with an Action-Planning Session by Dr. Debbie Storrs (University of Idaho Professor of Sociology and the Associate Dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences) and Dr. Traci Craig (University of Idaho Associate Professor of Psychology and Communication Studies). Dr. Storrs and Dr. Craig explained the notion of the local superhero—a member of the community who takes selfless action within his or her personal spheres of influence to challenge inequality or incivility. Conference participants were asked to identify their own potential spheres of influence and to commit to a local superhero action they could complete in the coming weeks and months. Participants described their plan in a written Action Commitment, which they turned in at the end of the day. We’re proud that seventy-four percent of our attendees made these Commitments. We plan to feature the progress of at least one of these superhero actions in each issue of this newsletter.
University of Idaho senior Tewsdey Erickson made an Action Commitment to work at the Non-Traditional Student Clothing, Toy, and Book Exchange, which was sponsored by the UI Women’s Center at the Family Housing Community Center on Saturday, April 23rd, 2011. Erickson has worked for the Women’s Center for two years as a workstudy student. She wanted to use her Action Commitment to help her co-worker Natona Davi, the Americorps program assistant for the Women’s Center who coordinated the drive. Tewsdey also wanted an opportunity to help a segment of the student population with which she doesn’t usually work.
Non-traditional students at the University of Idaho include parents, married couples, veterans, caregivers to elderly parents, undergraduates over the age of 24, and students who took a break between high school and university education. The university estimates that 20 to 30 percent of undergraduates qualify as non-traditional students. The Clothing, Toy, and Book Exchange collected donations from the community and made them available for free to non-traditional students.
Erickson worked with Davi to collect and organize the donations the day before the exchange, to assist non-traditional students the day of the exchange, and to manage other volunteers. Erickson noted she was overwhelmed by the quantity of donations, and that she took great pleasure in informing visitors that everything was free of charge. Many of the visitors were students with young children. Children were able to play with the toy donations while their parents perused the clothing and books.
Donations were so plentiful that, despite great attendance by the non-traditional students, two SUVs full of leftovers were driven to the Salvation Army at the end of the day. Erickson and Davi agreed that the Exchange should be a weekend-long event if it is held next year. That way even more students can take advantage of the free clothes, books, and toys.
In a written testimonial Erickson explains how topics offered at Finding the Center influenced her perception of the Clothing, Toy, and Book Exchange: “Work[ing] with non-traditional students is important and sometimes undervalued. Assisting with this clothing exchange helped ease some of the economic stress put on student-parents trying to enrich their lives and better their futures for themselves and their families. I strongly believe that helping people further their lives is what ultimately changes the world [and] undeniably helps human rights. Not only am I somewhat of a ‘change agent’ for having participated in this project, I very well may have facilitated the process of becoming a ‘change agent’ for a non-traditional student at the University of Idaho…I also found myself remembering the community organizing that we learned about in our session with Kitara McClure—[the] clothing/toy/book exchange is a great example of community organizing. It was fantastic to see ideas from the conference come to life in front of my eyes.”
Tewsdey Erickson just finished her undergraduate degree in sociology at the University of Idaho, Moscow. She earned credit toward her degree by participating in Finding the Center through a workshop offered by the UI Department of Sociology’s Certificate in Diversity & Stratification.