University News

Social justice finds a new home in Diman

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2012


This fall, the Social Action Program House opened in Diman House with 45 members. The new program house, which was approved by the Office of Residential Life last semester after a vacancy left by the Interfaith House, aims to promote social justice.  

The purpose in creating the house was to bring together a group of people who have a “common language” in looking to do social justice work, said Ben Chesler ’15, who led the effort to create the house last semester. The house received 55 applicants last semester, but 10 dropped out due to other commitments and housing plans, so the house was able to accept everyone who applied, Chesler said. ResLife took longer than usual to approve plans for the house in the spring, which delayed recruitment, The Herald reported last semester.

Students living in the house hail from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests, though most have participated in community service. 

“We have people with different skill areas, so we can really make stuff happen,” Chesler said.

Many of the house members participated in the University Community Academic Advising Program – a pre-orientation program designed to introduce first-year students to service in Providence, said Elena Suglia ’15, a member of the house who did not participate in UCAAP.  

“Even though a lot of people know each other through UCAAP, they are all making a point to get know other people,” Suglia said.

The house is still in the developmental stages in terms of determining leadership and a vision.  

“We’re still trying to figure out all the nuts and bolts,” said Meiling Jabbaar ’15, also a member. The members have discussed what leadership the house should have and what the positions would entail, she said.  

The students have also discussed developing goals and crafting a mission statement, which is pending further deliberation.  

“The energy is really great, but we don’t have anything tangible yet,” Chesler said.  

The students have many ideas regarding what initiatives the house should undertake, Suglia said. 

“First, we’re trying to help each other with our own projects,” she said. “It’s easier to start with (existing projects), and it’s a way to get to know each other.” 

Many of the students living in the house are already involved in community service work through the Swearer Center for Public Service.

Students also plan to use the house to encourage collaboration on campus, said Thomas Yim ’15, a member of the house.

 “We hope it will become a hub on campus for others as well,” Yim said.

The house may host informational dinners as a way to engage the larger student body. Though members are still figuring out the details, the students spoke about hosting dinners “where leaders in Providence related to social action can talk about their projects and how students can get involved,” Jabbaar said.

“I am excited to see how our ideas for the house will grow,” Jabbaar added.

These dinners could provide an opportunity to collaborate with the Swearer Center, she said. 

The new program house is “fantastic” and “a great potential partner,” said Roger Nozaki MAT’89, director of the Swearer Center and associate dean of the College for community and global engagement.

The amount of collaboration with the Swearer Center is up to the students, he said. 

“We have offered our support for their endeavors. We can provide them with connections in the community and advise them in the kinds of conversations to have in the house,” Nozaki said.

But the Swearer Center recognizes the house as a separate entity from its own projects. 

“We believe in student leadership,” said Alan Flam, director of advising and community collaborations at the Swearer Center. “We understand all program houses need to be driven by students, and we absolutely respect this.” 

For some students, living in Social Action Program House is a way to further their community involvement. 

“I’ve always been interested in social justice,” Jabbaar said. “Community service has always been part of my life and living in a place where others care about many issues can be very eye-opening.” 

For others, the house provides a new opportunity they said was missing from their college experiences. “I did a lot of community service in high school and felt a little out of it last year. This is a way for me to get back into it and living in close quarters is a really great platform,” Suglia said.

 “The house has lots of potential,” Flam said. “It will continue to keep Brown as a campus where commitment to working to change the world is part of the ethos.”

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