“Holding it open”: A collaborative process for long-term work

Students from Fortune and WHEELS talk about the beginnings of the process – and how what we made came from the questions we asked together : What do we want? How can we have our voices heard? How can we share our stories with friends and family?

This is the moment when we began to talk about what it is exactly that we wanted out of this project. Students had shared their stories so now was the time to make use of our knowledge of each other’s stories and navigate across them to make the thing we want real. Even though we all came from different backgrounds, the concept of “community” was always a unifying part of our journey through this project. Community was kept constant from start to finish and played a big role in our thoughts and decisions at each stage. Together we were able to express many ideas, one bouncing off another with the idea that we want to have this inclusive community. Parsons students had also created tools that enable everyone to feel free to express their thoughts, ideas and creativity. The openness of the brainstorming sessions and discussions had given fruitful ideas that everyone was able to discuss and reflect together. We went over different concepts and expressed the what, why, who and how that essentially enabled us to hone our final concept.

Intan Hannah Abdul Halim, New School student

Not knowing where the Ship’s First Shape project would end up necessitated new ways to think about moving forward. We used the idea of needing to be “comfortable feeling uncomfortable”, a concept contributed to the collective by WHEELS folks in our first big group meeting, to help us “hold things open” so that collaboration and community building could be emergent experiences, and our idea of what we were creating could emerge through on-going reflection. This became our de facto design process.

In our first semester, we met at each site to build knowledge about each other’s’ learning communities. Our first collective goal was to build capacity for our emergent work. New School / Parsons students focused on designing facilitation exercises, while students at WHEELS created connections within their school and with Fortune students, and Fortune students incorporated the project into a weekly internship program.

In our next semester, through designed experiences, open conversations, and shared activities, we figured out what people valued and which needs students wanted to meet. For example, Parsons students made a “4Ws” storytelling activity, asking students to share ideas about WHO the service should include, WHAT it might be, WHERE it could happen, and WHY it mattered. This exercise aimed to make overlaps visible across WHEELS and Fortune students’ concerns regarding student community-building, access to resources, experiences of racism, and discrimination against people caught in the system. Working through shared concerns together, the groups determined a compelling service design. At the end of year one we decided to make two cafes with a shared mission to create community-building spaces, meet real needs for snacks, and show others what students can build together. Simultaneously, the cafes were stand-ins embodying community values and emergent needs.

Shana Agid & Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, New School teachers

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