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Global Development Studies

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Fighting Social Injustice

Paula Cousins ’17 and Anesu Gamanya ’17 led a renovation project funded by the Davis Projects for Peace program that dramatically transformed a small Jamaican primary school 2,000 miles from Grinnell.

 “This experience reinforced why I came to Grinnell — social justice,” Gamanya says. “Growing up in Zimbabwe, I witnessed social injustice everywhere and sometimes experienced it, and I thought I did not have the power to fight it. This project gave me an opportunity to help alleviate the social injustice in another community.”

The third-year economics majors share a strong desire to help others.

When Cousins heard about the dire conditions of the Bottom Halse Hall Basic School in Clarendon, Jamaica, it nagged at her. She wondered how the serious sanitation problems, cracked floors, broken toilets, and cramped classrooms affected the educational experiences of the school’s 60 children who range in ages from 2 to 5.

“I did not think it was a suitable learning environment,” says Cousins, who grew up in the nearby Hayes community. “It was not conducive to learning.”

Other problems dogged the school, which is in an economically disadvantaged area. It had limited storage, outdated technology and equipment, and other issues.

So Cousins and Gamanya, who spent winter break 2014–15 together in Jamaica, developed a proposal to help the school and received a $10,000 award from the Davis Projects for Peace. The program invites undergraduates at American colleges and universities in the Davis United World College Scholars Program to develop grass-roots projects students implement during the summer.

Cousins’ parents and others in the small community rallied around the summer renovation plans.

“I don’t think you can quantify how much it helped the children to have a better learning environment,” says Cousins, who also has a concentration in global development studies.

Children in a classroom at Bottom Halse Hall Basic School in Clarendon, JamaicaRenovating a school is hard work, the duo found. The crews—some paid workers, others volunteers—worked on weekends and after school. Despite some minor building setbacks, they saw the 10-week project through, installing new  

  • floors
  • a water tank
  • toilets
  • community resource room with computers and the Internet
  • shelves and desks
  • a sick bay
  • blackboards

 “The floors were really impressive,” Cousins says. “I’m really, really, proud. I’ve very grateful to the people in the community.”

The project earned praise from school employees and the community. Cousins says the renovation work could eventually make the school eligible for government aid.

She hopes more Grinnell students apply for the Davis program and really think about how their projects could benefit others.

“Find a project you’re invested in,” Cousins says. “Try to do something that will affect the most people in the most meaningful way.”

Working on the project changed Gamanya.

"I also learned that not only can I learn to identify social injustice, I can find ways to address it,” she says.

 

Paula Cousins ’17 is from Hayes, Clarendon, Jamaica. She is an economics major, with a concentration in global development studies. Anesu Gamanya ’17 is from Harare, Zimbabwe. She is an economics major.



 

Adhikaar Means Rights

In 2005, Luna Ranjit ’00 co-founded Adhikaar, a non-profit organization dedicated to human rights and social justice issues faced by more than 40,000 Nepali immigrants in New York City. She knew the depth and range of needs of the Nepali people long before the devastating April earthquake shook her home country. 

As executive director of Adhikaar, which is Nepali for rights, Ranjit says, “We plan as much as we can, but as a convenient walk-in community center, we deal with different issues every day. We work on workers’ rights, access to healthcare, immigration rights, fair pay, and citizenship.”

Helping Nepalis after the earthquake

The earthquake in Nepal brought a flood of requests from immigrants trying to get in touch with their families, which the agency helped to facilitate. “The walk-in traffic has increased significantly. We provided a space where people could talk and feel supported,” Ranjit says.

The traffic also increased because of Adhikaar’s quick action to gain temporary protected status for Nepalis who were trying to immigrate, so they could use available services to also assist family members still in their native land.

During this hectic period, Ranjit worked closely with state legislators, New York Gov. Cuomo’s office, and with the state’s Congressional leadership to secure the temporary status. “Building relationships over the past 10 years came in handy. Adhikaar was one of the leading organizations in this tough battle,” Ranjit says.

“We are so happy that officials came together to make it happen so quickly. It’s been an insane few months but with very positive outcomes and major victories.”

Social justice is life’s work

During the last 10 years, Ranjit has seen the needs grow among Nepali immigrants, from individuals to multigenerational families. Many of them are now U.S. citizens.

“The field of social justice is definitely my life’s work, whether it’s at Adhikaar or other causes.”

Ranjit earned a master’s degree in public administration from Princeton after graduating from Grinnell with an economics major and global development studies concentration. Prior to founding Adhikaar, she worked with Asian and South Asian communities in Washington, D.C. 

Alma mater at Adhikaar

“Grinnell has played an important role in Adhikaar,” Ranjit says, recalling that a $500 check from Professor Mark Montgomery in 2005 “meant that we could stop talking about creating an organization and actually doing it.

“I had a ‘backpack office’ until I received that check. Then I received the check which meant we could rent space and be more visible. 

“Other members of the Grinnell faculty have also continued to support us over the years. There has always been a standing offer to help in any way.

“We’ve had Grinnell interns and volunteers, hosted students on break tours, and had a Grinnell grad on staff,” Ranjit recalls. “Grinnell’s preparation in writing has also been invaluable in my responsibilities for grantswriting.”

Causes with Effect

In a recent list of most liberal college campuses, Grinnell came in fourth, reflecting its long-standing, politically liberal reputation. Yet over time, both conservative and non-partisan, cause-related groups have also made their voices heard.

Rosenfield Professor of Political Science H. Wayne Moyer, Jr., who has observed Grinnell campus politics for more than 40 years, says that while “there’s a liberal tinge to most of the student organizations, the liberalism is not focused on politics but on causes. The central theme is helping people.”

Yes, There Are Conservatives

“Young Republicans have been active at times,” Moyer observes, “as have the Campus Democrats. We have conservative students but they tend to be moderate to liberal Republicans who identify less with the national Republican party than they might have 40 years ago.”

2014 graduate Sam Mulopulos is among those self-described conservatives who thrived on campus. “When I first came to Grinnell, I fell in love with the place and its people. In fact, because of my contrarian learning style, Grinnell probably made me more conservative or at least led me to more fully develop my conservative ideology.

“People often joke that the only people in the closet at Grinnell are the Republicans,” Mulopulos says. He started a chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) in fall 2013. “I believe a group like YAL has a tremendous role in promoting political diversity and social justice. The goal was to provide a forum for conservative students to ‘come out’ and cogently speak about their beliefs in limited government, individual liberty, and free markets.”

Don’t See What You Like? Start Your Own

A new club — the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network — like YAL, a chapter of a national organization, was co-founded in 2014–15 by Isaac Andino ’17 and Jenny Chi ’17. “Roosevelt is committed to progressive change, especially focusing on the local level since we feel that is where students can have the most direct change,” Andino explains.

“We are currently focusing our efforts on sustainability via socially responsible investing, investigating the college's endowment holdings in fossil fuel and defense companies and ways to possibly reduce our exposure/support to them,” Andino says. “We founded this organization because we felt it was a good fit with the values of Grinnell and was broad enough that it could be directed at any number of pressing issues. Other organizations on campus focus on one specific issue, while Roosevelt could be used as a general umbrella to address issues in the future.”

RISE Grinnell, led by Jacob Metz-Lerman ’17, also addresses progressive issues. “The goal of RISE Grinnell is to organize and participate in activism across a broad spectrum of progressive issues,” Metz-Lerman says. “Although we shy away from the term social justice, that is exactly what we stand for — issues that threaten justice, peace, love, and equality.”

A Focus on Issues

For those interested in targeting more specific issues, the Grinnell in Latin America Solidarity Society (GLASS) organization may have appeal.

For Jason Camey ’16, the focus on Latin American issues through GLASS came after a trip to Guatemala, through a co-curricular grant, where he and other Grinnell students witnessed “how U.S. foreign policy affected people in the country.

“The goal we established for the GLASS was to start talking about issues and getting people connected with partner organizations in Latin America,” Camey says.

“Grinnell is a community filled with amazingly brilliant students who aren't just citizens of the U.S. but of the world, and I think more and more students are realizing worldwide issues are something we also have to look at. Many of my peers are unaware of how our foreign policy affects people directly. I think if more people knew then they'd raise questions, they'd think a little more critically, they'd approach foreign policy with more caution, pointing out how these policies affect people.”

From broad to specific, local to international, progressive to conservative, there is always room for more campus political organizations, asserts Mulopulos. “What a boring place the world would be if we all agreed on every issue all the time? Where is the intellectual challenge in that? The ultimate goal as humans is to make the world a better, safer, healthier, and more prosperous place for everyone.”

Isaac Andino ’17, a political science major, is from Miami Springs, Fla. Jenny Chi ’17 is majoring in political science and economics and is from West Hills, Calif. Jacob Metz-Lerman ’17, a political science major, is from Roslindale, Mass. Jason Camey ’16 is majoring in Spanish and political science.

China’s Second Continent

Howard French, associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, will lecture on the topic of his new book China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa.

The free public lecture is at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101.

French has a distinguished career in journalism. After working as a French-English translator and English teacher at the University of Ivory Coast, French was a freelance reporter for the Washington Post. He was hired by The New York Times in 1986, and served as bureau chief for various regions overseas.

A noted writer on global affairs, French has received two Overseas Press Club Awards. In addition, the Guardian named China’s Second Continent one of the best books of 2014.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. The Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot on the east side of the building. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations.

The Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations and Human Rights, global development studies, environmental studies, and African and Caribbean Students Union are sponsoring the event.