This group had to organize and agitate to even secure an organizing/advocacy project in the first place! After a couple of options fell through, they were frustrated and a little panicked. They had to turn to their practicum agency, the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, and work internally to shape a project that would work for this class. That, in itself, was a valuable learning experience for them and reinforced my belief that a semester is really a short time in which to have students select and complete this type of project. I wish that there was a way to lay some of the groundwork in advance, but this spring course is an elective, and so there’s not a natural transition point from the fall.
April (Rand) and Kavya (Velagapudi) ended up with a project that combined community planning and organizing and will require some advocacy to implement. The project, inspired, in a way, by a couple of disasters that befell different parts of Kansas, was a disaster response plan for sexual assault and domestic violence agencies. It was an interesting process of problem identification, really, because it turned into one of those issues that very few people ever think about but that, when you start to consider it, becomes very apparently problematic. April and Kavya are extraordinarily conscientious and dedicated students, and they poured a ton of effort into this project in a short period of time. Much of it was more community planning than organizing focused–figuring out what existed in terms of resources for this type of plan (almost nothing), researching the status quo for disaster response in Kansas, and writing a guidebook of sorts for member programs of KCSDV to develop their own response and preparation plans. They included an incredible level of detail in the manual–contact information for relevant actors, checklists, things to consider. They have a good perspective as direct practitioners who now have a more birds-eye view, and I think that that influenced the development of the final product to be something that meets the needs of the providers.
In her reflection, April discussed her disappointment that the very short timeline prevented them from being able to involve survivors in the development of the plan. They have included guidance in the manual about how participating programs can ensure that survivors have a voice in developing disaster contingency plans that help them to feel safe, no matter what, but they did not have a chance to have these conversations themselves. For similar reasons related to time constraints, the students were able to identify but not work closely themselves with the institutions responsible for responding to disasters at the state and local levels. This organizing, obviously, would have been a valuable part of the overall experience.
I have reflected on this project quite a bit, but I’m not really sure that there’s anything else I would do differently as the instructor. The demise of their first two projects was completely out of their (and my) control, and they rallied as best as they could under the circumstances. It did reinforce the importance of some back-up plans, and probably a contract or something that they could share with the potential host may have identified the problems more quickly (in one case), but this project was also a demonstration of one of the truths of organizing: sometimes you just have to work with what you have. The fact that they were able to come up with a product that provides the infrastructure for an agency and community-level response to an under-recognized but very real social problem in a matter of weeks is fairly remarkable, and they learned a lot about themselves and their resilience, at least, if not as much about hands-on organizing as they (and I) would have liked.