This week marks the last week of my undergraduate career at Colorado State University. While exciting, this also means that it is time to wrap up the projects that I have been working on through the CLC. Since my last update in February, I have made considerable progress toward completing my evaluation of the SpeakOut interns and facilitators. I have some preliminary findings ready as of now, but I hope to continue to expand the project over the summer.
Because of time constraints (both my own and from my fellow SpeakOut facilitators), I have only had the chance to interview two interns thus far. However, I have used six interviews of past interns to supplement and guide my analysis. I also was able to find a theoretical framework to structure the project, which has helped give me a sense of direction.
This framework is called Ally Identity Development Theory and was published by Keith Edwards in the NASPA Journal (2006). The theory was developed based on a need to explain how sustainable, reliable social justice allies are developed on college campuses. Edwards explains allies as members of an agent identity who work to use their privilege to further the privilege of individuals of marginalized and oppressed groups. He outlines three categories of allies: aspiring allies for self-interest, aspiring allies for altruism, and allies for social justice. Those in the first two categories are typically motivated by personal experiences or guilt and tend to position themselves above the group they are trying to “help.” Allies for social justice, on the other hand, see oppression for anyone as harmful to everyone and endeavor to work alongside oppressed people to abolish systems of oppression.
Given much of the theoretical orientation of the CLC, this theory seems to work well to assess how effective the internship program is at educating students through service-learning and creating sustainable allies for incarcerated individuals. I found through analyzing the interviews that the internship program had a profound impact on the ally development of many of those involved, many of whom had never given serious thought to issues of incarceration before. Each of the interns were making sense of the experiential lessons learned through SpeakOut in their own way, but they all seemed to be oriented toward becoming an ally for the incarcerated population.
Some other interesting themes that emerged were the views of the power of writing of the facilitators. The word “therapeutic” came up a lot when discussing writing, and writing was viewed as a form of mental freedom for individuals who were physically confined. Some facilitators also spoke of using writing therapeutically themselves to deal with witnessing difficult and potentially traumatic disclosures of writers. Additionally, writing was used by the facilitators as a way to connect to the writers in their groups. Feedback was used only to encourage writing, never to stifle creativity.
To continue this project, I plan to look at the blogs of current and previous SpeakOut facilitators as these are often used as a way to process the service-learning curriculum of the internship program. I also plan to examine the SpeakOut volunteer facilitator handbook, since this is an artifact that helps to establish the tone of the program and provides some background information to volunteers who are just getting involved. Finally, I will also be talking with more facilitators about their experiences. It is always a joy to hear about the ways that SpeakOut has influenced others, and I look forward to continuing these conversations!