Hope-In-Action aims to unite FSU campus

[Erin Fitzmaurice]

Born out of the results of the divisive 2016 election, the Hope-In-Action project serves to unite FSU through campus empowerment and unity, said Chon’tel Washington, director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE).

During the CIE-sponsored Hope-In-Action launch event Monday, Nov. 28 in the Forum, Washington worked with students and faculty on a number of post-election based discussions to determine future events and initiatives that could become a part of the Hope-In-Action project.

Those in attendance discussed specific ideas, topics and initiatives which were created based on student and faculty comments and suggestions following the rally and Unity Walk, said Washington.   

Some discussions concerned workshops on understanding legal citizenship, sensitivity training and mental health. Others focused on events and initiatives, such as a support group for survivors of sexual assault and a vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.             

Washington defined these ideas as action team topics. Each team had a designated leader – a professor or student who served as the main facilitator of that table’s discussion.

Senior Teofilo Barbalho, a major proponent of the project, said, “A lot of the things that are going to be happening within the next four years are going to impact a lot different aspects of social, educational and everyday life. What we want to plan are upcoming events that target every single one of those aspects. Hopefully, it won’t be just student-led or just faculty-led, but a mix so we can unite everybody on campus.” 

From these discussions, Washington said she hopes to plan more Hope-In-Action events and encourage more open dialogues on campus regarding the community members’ thoughts post-election.

Freshman Matthew Bennet was the team leader for the discussion on conducting political conversations with family members while on break and the planning of the six-month anniversary vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

The vigil will be held on Dec. 12. 

In the group discussion, Bennnet worked with faculty members to plan out the vigil and honoring those who lost their lives during the shooting.

Along with the vigil, one participant suggested placing an assortment of rainbow flags around campus.

Sociology professor Patricia Sánchez-Connally led an action team discussion on planning future workshops led by the civil-rights groups The Muslim Justice League and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Sánchez-Connally said FSU will be participating in a community discussion focused on racial and religious political profiling and surveillance in collaboration with the Muslim Justice League,      

Additionally, she said she wanted to help educate those who are interested in becoming more politically literate.

The American Civil Liberties Union discussion would be a basic workshop detailing the rights FSU students have as citizens, she said.   

She said she also wanted to address the concerns of students and faculty “who are unable to come out of the shadows” when it comes to their legal status in the U.S.

In an interview with The Gatepost, Sánchez-Connallysaid there are large number of undocumented FSU students, some of which have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website, DACA allows undocumented immigrants who came here as children to remain in the United States if they meet certain requirements, such as being an active student.

“They have a Social Security number, they have work permits, but don’t receive financial aid or have a path to legalization,” Sánchez-Connally said. 

She added the election results “hit them hard because they are in school right now and we don’t know what that means for them.”

Freshman Molly Roach said the turnout of students and faculty at the launch gave her hope.

“I think it’s really important that so many students and faculty members were here,” she said. “It really shows what kind of campus we are, and having the event really solidified what we have to do and how we are going to get it done.” 

The Hope-In-Action project was conceptualized out of the Unity Walk and rally, which happened last month, said junior Jackson Stevens, one of the main proponents and organizers of the group.

“There’s a lot of hate in society right now post-election, and having something to unite the campus instead of dividing it is really important, especially in this political climate,” Stevens said. “We want all those students who vocalized some feeling about being unsafe to feel much more comfortable on campus.”

Sean Huddleston, chief officer of diversity, inclusion, community and engagement said Hope-In-Action is an effort in which any student or faculty member can take part.

“Really, Hope-In-Action is an umbrella idea open for anyone who has something that is related to and connected to this idea of unity on our campus. It’s not an administrative initiative at all. It really is something where everybody can own a different part of it, whether it be faculty wanting to do their thing or staff doing something, but absolutely first and foremost [it’s about] students,” he said.

Junior Estefany Gonzalez said she thinks it’s important Hope-In-Action exist because “the feelings and reactions might have faded away since election night. However, the reality and its effects do not fade away.

“We all have the right to feel a part of our community, to voice our fears and opinions as well as innovate and motivate each other,” she said.  “Hope-In-Action did this during the discussion and the rally, and this must continue because many people need to be educated and many people need that support.”

Barbalho said Hope-In-Action events allows students to voice their opinions in a calm and accepting environment and he believes the conversations stemming from those events are “crucially important.” 

He added, “If you were at the [post election] discussion you heard a lot of people crying and who were scared. Me, personally, I spoke there and said I was scared. This whole initiative has given me so much hope. I already feel better about the next four years.”

Washington said Hope-In-Action events can serve as a platform for students to use their “power to find hope through action.”

She added, “Hope-In-Action is more just than just the action teams which were created. They are things that already exist. It’s basically about getting involved and putting yourself into different situations and challenging yourself to learn about something you might not know much about.”

Sánchez-Connally hopes to use Hope-In-Action events to break down misconceptions about minority groups.    

“It’s about making sure we shut down any rhetoric surrounding racism, homophobia and xenophobia,” she said. “We want to make sure that everyone, regardless of whether you’re part of a minority group, is an agent of change.”

In addition to action team based initiatives, the CIE has created a new training series, “Brave Space,” and has starting co-sponsoring Hope-In-Action focused events with other departments on campus.

In Brave Space training sessions, students will learn about and discuss social justice topics, according to an email sent out to students from the Center.

Last Monday, the Center hosted its first session which focused on LGBTQ+ training.    

Last Friday, the CIE held an open panel discussion concerning FSU students, faculty and staff, and their immigrant experiences.

The event was a collaborative effort among the CIE, the sociology department, Brother to Brother and the Arts & Ideas committee.

Featured on the panel was Dr. Joanna Dreby, an associate professor from the University Albany, SUNY with expertise in immigration, family and children, according to the University of Albany, SUNY’s website.          

Sociology professor Lina Rincón, who invited Dreby to campus, said the discussion in the CIE went well, as participants were able to hear “personal stories that touch us all. 

“Of course, this is a very important moment to have this conversation as we are going to have a new president who has announced that he is going to make some important changes in immigration reform and law, she said. “It’s important to have these conversations and understand these experiences, but also take action and support people and our family members.”   

The Hope-In-Action project is beneficial as it works to unite the student body, she said. However, it will be difficult to include all parts of the campus.

She said, “I think the challenge for people like me organizing these, or students organizing these events, is going to be spreading the word to groups who aren’t the usual suspects, so you aren’t preaching to the choir.”