Northern Arizona University Students Create American Commonwealth Partnership Organizing Team

By Sierra Jones, Student, Northern Arizona University

Northern Arizona University has been a highly active participant in restoring the democratic mission of higher education. Currently, there are eight Action Research Teams (ARTs) made up of undergraduate and graduate students as well as professors and community facilitators that have formed around specific issues in the community (such as weatherization, immigration, water conservation, education reform, local food systems, etc.). As we continue to evaluate our work, we often identify the need for expansion and recruitment. Although the groups are large and successful to begin with, our vision is much broader. Each student is increasingly passionate about the public work they are involved in and the immense transformations they have undergone, so we have decided to generate undergraduate house meetings to brainstorm how we can allow others to become engaged.

We have created weekly meetings that take place on Mondays under the American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP) Student Organizing branch that consists of undergraduate students who are interested in sharing their democratic vision with other individuals, schools and institutions. Our overall goal is to deeply embed community organizing and public work in all school settings with students of all ages. We plan to reach this goal by first broadening our support structure through recruiting more students. Three of us are giving presentations to all incoming freshman students during their orientation to NAU. We feel that moving forward the best way to establish this democratic university is to make our work more visible and encourage other students to join our leadership teams.

Student Highlight by Madison Ledgerwood, Northern Arizona University

I was not raised being told to recycle. I grew up in a conservative town where my actions and values did not seem to coincide and so it’s no surprise that I came to college a confused individual. I did not know who I was, what I believed, or what I should major in. Like most freshman, I knew I was meant to do something I just had no idea what that really meant. A few days before classes started, I joined a freshman seminar called “Democracy Social Justice and The Environment” taught by Rom Coles because the title sounded interesting. I never knew this class and the team I was part of would shape my entire experience at NAU and completely transform my life. This same year, I also became involved with the Weatherization and Community Building Action Team (WACBAT), a student-led group that focuses on community engagement to bring about culture change, policy change, and community building around saving energy, money, and jump-starting a greener economy based on local renewable energy.

My mind raced as people talked and my mouth wouldn’t stop moving as we had discussions. Topics about people, the earth and political action became so real to me. The class and group were helping me make the connection between ethics, culture, community, the earth, politics and action. I was finally able to put my passion for people, equality and justice into words. And I began to understand things I never had before. Looking back I am at a loss for words at how truly wonderful, overwhelmingly, inconceivably, phenomenal being involved with WACABT has been for me. Being able to go from feeling powerless and uninspired, to being a leader with a voice and the ability to make change has transformed my character.

WACBAT has improved my confidence to speak publicly and to meet with powerful individuals. It has also shown me what works and what does not work when trying to engage and motivate others. WACBAT is not only a support system that pushes me to strive forward it allows me to have hands on experience organizing, motivating, planning and problem solving. More importantly, WACBAT has helped me discover my passions allowing me to pursue what I loved.

Click here for more stories about the work of the Student Organizing Group.

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