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Strike a Match! Stockton University’s Activist in Residence Program

541b3aae11419.imageErin O’Hanlon, Program Assistant, & Rona Whitehead,

Activist in Residence, – Stockton University/ Office of Service-Learning

Matches by themselves are mere sticks of wood dipped in chemicals.  But struck against any rough surface — metal, the bottom of a shoe, or even a striker pad — the friction creates a force of energy that can light the world.

So too is a program at Stockton University gaining interest and traction.  In 2013, the American Democracy Project at Stockton, called on campus The Political Engagement Project, supported the institution to create an Activist in Residence Program.  Modelled after Activist in Residence Programs often found at social justice centers and women, gender and sexuality programs, the term-limited position at Stockton is the first in the nation facilitated through an ADP program.

In Fall 2013, Erin O’Hanlon arrived on the Stockton campus and became the first Activist in Residence (AIR). Erin worked in the community-based local rape crisis center for 16 years, and had established relationships at Stockton.  While there, she focused on raising the activism of students interested in gender equity.

Among her many accomplishments she managed to activate students to develop a Women’s Center, as demonstrated in this video produced by a service-learning section of Perspectives on Women with Stockton faculty Emily Van Duyne. The story of how this came about is an interesting one.

Stockton wasn’t the last of the state colleges and universities to still not have a resource center focused on women, gender and sexuality issues, but they certainly weren’t in the forefront of a movement that had started in the 1970’s.  Motivated for the university to organize these services on campus, faculty member and past-PEP co-chair Kristin Jacobson created a petition for members of the community to ask the institution to fund a center.  Activist students on campus took up the challenge, several of which were in Van Duyne’s class that semester.  The rest, as they say, was history.

In Fall 2014 the AIR position continued with Rona Whitehead. She had the daunting task of following in O’Hanlon’s footsteps.  Whitehead worked for nearly two decades in youth development programs with a national nonprofit youth organization. She kept the match flaring by organizing a mini-grant program where students and student groups were able to apply for funds to create sustainable projects that made a difference in the community.

This turned out to be wildly successful, with students working in teams and organizations to establish programs on and off campus.  One of the  projects was developed by The Neuroscience Club on campus, focusing on brain safety and prevention of traumatic brain injuries.  Their event, Save Your Brain, was attended by over 200 students.  Their funds were used to purchase helmets, long boards and a bike  that were offered as door prizes at the event. View an overview of the event here.

This fall the Office of Service Learning will continue to strike that match to carry on the momentum of the past two years with the AIR program.  Whitehead is back on campus for Fall 2015, and this semester is focused exclusively on American Democracy Project activities.  Continuing the legacy of Stockton’s unique brand of service-learning, Whitehead is focusing on civic related initiatives in the community with the assistance of an AIR team of students who work in the Office of Service-Learning. The initiatives will follow the passion of the AIR team and include food issues, mentoring and activism with high school students, engaging with children in Atlantic City, and coordinating a mini grant program for Service-Learning courses.

Director of The Office of Service-Learning, Daniel Fidalgo Tomé, recently said, “This program has ensured that our community partners have a place at the table.”

For more information, take a look at The Stockton University Office of Service-Learning website.  Interested in having an Activist in Residence at your college or university?  Here’s a link to a free Activist in Residence Toolkit to get you started.

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