How can institutions bring about sustainable social change that authentically includes diverse voices? During the Collaboratory Symposium roundtable, “Architecture of Full Participation: Leading Self, Leading Others, Leading Change” participants discussed the meaning of inclusivity.
Susan Sturm teaches at Columbia Law School and is the founding director at its Center for Institutional and Social Change. She posed the following question: “How do we create full participation in a larger context?” Looking to mass incarceration as an example, Sturm explained the idea of justice with dignity, and building capacity for those within the movement to advocate for themselves and tell their own stories.
Alejo Rodriguez is Alumni Coordinator and mentor at the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College. Rodriguez is also a founding teaching-artist member of Tribeca Film Institute’s Community Screening Series for incarcerated men. Having spent 32 years in prison, he shared the nuances that deepen the levels of incarceration.
“I am coming from the perspective of honoring my humanity and seeing the humanity of others,” he said. “Lawyers ask, how can I better help people of color and meet them where they are? You have to ask yourself, how would you want to be defended?
If you want to represent someone, you have to have the empathy to learn who they really are.”
Rodriquez and Sturm shared strategies from their work to engage empathy-driven policies, using narrative as a primary driver. They emphasized educational opportunities for disenfranchised communities, engagement in politics beyond voter registration, development strategies for ongoing conversations, and community initiatives that focus on local politics.
“We need stories combined with expertise,” Sturm said. “This means equipping every player in the movement with the capacity to think on policy. Full participation all the way down.”
Shahrzad Sajadi, Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Massachusetts Boston School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, raised questions around narrative storytelling and how to honor stories with mutual vulnerability, citing the fact that 75% of women in jails are living with mental health issues.
She asked the table “Is there any effort to engage prisons and jails?” The table discussed leadership programs for the formerly incarcerated and the transformation of higher education to be more empathetic, specifically legal education around re-entry and institutional change.
Peter Englot, Senior Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs and Chief of Staff at Rutgers University, brought the conversation back to political parties and bipartisanship, asking these groups to think about “what happens when you truly have informed voters,” and how to change strategy for more thoughtful policy and lasting impact.
When Sturm reported back the roundtable discussion to the larger Symposium group, a crowd member raised both her hands and snapped in the distance.
Strum stated in her conclusion, “Narrative is at the center; narratives of those directly affected, told in first-person, in ways that are in deep collaboration with those in position in power. We have to amplify the impact of what is actually being led by the communities affected.”
This article was written by Alexa Mauzy-Lewis. Alexa is a graduate student at the New School for Social Research studying Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism. She writes and edits for Research Matters and Revival Magazine, and works for the Schools of Public Engagement.