Salem State has been named one of 40 institutions to receive funding to bridge divides on campuses and in communities from Campus Compact, a Boston-based nonprofit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education. Salem State is the only institution in Massachusetts to receive this grant.
The grant is a collaboration between Salem State’s Writing Center and the Center for Civic Engagement and will be used to cultivate brave/r spaces in the Writing Center through student engagement. This project will be a student driven, peer-to-peer-based project.
"The need for this kind of project on our campus is so crucial given the national and local climate. The value of training our tutors to engage in conversations about difference, privilege, and writing is a necessary step toward reaching our goal of becoming an increasingly inclusive brave/r space on campus,” said Rebecca Hallman Martini, PhD, assistant professor of English and Writing Center coordinator.
“I am thrilled that the writing center will be hosting and facilitating small groups of student writers as they compose messages to speak out at a community-wide, public event near the end of next semester,” she added.
The project has three major components: (1) A training program for SSU peer tutors that will guide tutors to cultivate WC spaces consisting of safe exchanges of ideas across all types of differences – racial, identity-based, and ideological. (2) Year-long writing groups for students, facilitated by peer tutors who have received extensive training in writing centers and inclusivity. Topics will address the challenging and divisive political climate. (3) Workshops for local high school students, facilitated by SSU peer tutors, to help rising college students write through some of their fears about our current political and social realities.
“With the tension-filled national and international climate, students are using writing as an outlet to express their views as well as work through the pressures they are experiencing,” said Cynthia Lynch, director of the Center for Civic Engagement. “With the additional training, our tutors will be able to open lines of communication into the written world, which is often overlooked but has a large, important student reach.”
The Fund for Positive Engagement describes itself as “a direct response by Campus Compact to the divisive and destructive climate in the United States that took shape during the 2016 campaign and has continued in its aftermath.” The purpose of the fund is to catalyze experiments in bridging divisions among people and groups in communities across the country.
“We wanted to create an incentive for colleges and universities to come up with creative responses to the challenges they are seeing,” said Andrew Seligsohn, president of Campus Compact. “We have been hearing from our member colleges and universities that students and community members cannot hold conversations with people with differing political views. Many community members see universities as completely separate universes with different values. We invited our members to propose steps to break through those divides, and we are excited by the proposals that came back.”
The selection process was highly competitive as Campus Compact received nearly 300 submissions from institutions across the country. Two thirds of the reviewers were students in Campus Compact’s Newman Civic Fellows program. Proposals were judged based on the strength of the idea, its practicality, and the degree to which it will be possible to measure success, among other criteria.