Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Kresge Common Ground Center

One of the amazing living labs at UC Santa Cruz is the Kresge Common Ground Center! Jeannie Santos, the #MyLastTrash campaign intern for the Zero Waste Team, interviewed David Shaw, a continuing lecturer at Kresge College Common Ground Center, and Program Coordinator at PICA, and asked him about the multiple things that make Kresge college a living lab.

Santos: "So what makes Kresge a living lab?"

Shaw: "Kresge college, for the last five years at least, has been placing the social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability at the heart of the identity of Kresge college. Former provost Juan Poblete and I, along with Christine King and others really made that a goal, to put sustainability right at the heart of what Kresge college is all about. And the ways that we envisioned doing that was through the creation of Common Ground Center as an umbrella that can create a narrative and an organizing framework for the current initiatives that we had going but also new initiatives.

So, since the mid-70's we've had the Kresge Food Co-op. A natural foods co-op owned and operated by students, allowing people to buy food in bulk at a discount and to choose natural, healthy, organic foods. It's the only foods co-op in the county of Santa Cruz. So that's pretty big. And then also, starting around 1975 we have the Kresge garden which started, which to this day is one of the larger student-run gardens on campus. And another really key thing about both of those projects is the cooperative. They are organized at least in name as collaborative efforts where there is student empowerment and student decision making.

Now each co-op operates a little differently. And like, the music co-op, I'm not sure about the details about how it operates but it may or may not be consensus decision making with total egalitarian horizontal power structure. I actually can't comment on if it does or if it doesn't, it might just be more of like a rental space. And the photo co-op too, I'm not at all sure about how they operate.  But, the attempt and the pursuit of collaborative decision making and collaborative ownership is a dynamic of a living lab, of the social part of sustainability. Obviously in the case of the food co-op there is a very economic side to that as well, where they are running a small business, learning skills of social entrepreneurship and enterprise, accounting, filing taxes, things like that - very important skills to learn.

Another way that Kresge is a living, learning lab is the Kresge Eco-Village, our themed residence hall around sustainability created three years ago. It's a place where anywhere from thirty to sixty students depending on what year it is, live and work with Common Ground Center, the Kresge garden co-op, natural foods co-op, the World Cafe, other initiatives at Kresge. So it's kind of like the freshman experience to Kresge college as a model of sustainable living at UCSC. It's sort of nested, UCSC, Kresge college, Common Ground Center."

Santos: "There's a lot of opportunities in Kresge to get involved."

Shaw: "Tons, and I didn't even name them all."

Santos: "How do students get involved? Is it pretty easy?"

Shaw: "Well, it is and it isn't. Getting involved really requires being active and getting involved. I've noticed over the years that we from these organizations, common ground, the garden co-op, the natural foods co-op, the World Cafe, even other things that I'm not as involved in like the programs and activities office or the provost office will offer stuff - 'Come by! Free food! Awesome speaker!' But people have to meet us half-way. You have to come and get out of the dorm, actually come. So some ways that we actually get people involved is the resource fair, the OPERS fall festival at the beginning of the year, we have a speaker series where we host a number of speakers every quarter for free, sometimes with food. Often at a time that is based around the students' schedule. It's students that are planning these events. Which brings me to the next thought, which is we have six paid student staff positions. Kaylen being one of them, Sarah and Kaley at PICA being two other student staff. So we've got six student staff through Common Ground Center that get paid 10-15$ an hour, six hours a week to do the activities of Common Ground. This is the office, so to speak, so you know, to keep the office going, to keep the lights on. And, you know, plan events and host events, and find out what are the topics that people want to have conversations about.

[Shaw then pointed at a poster behind me, that had a big tree on it, depicting the intergenerational collaboration of the Common Ground Center.] 

Really, I'd say this picture here, which I have a digital copy of if you ever need it, really articulates a core principle of Common Ground which is we are an intergenerational collaboration. There is a lot of faculty and staff driven centers. There's a lot of student driven clubs, and there are spaces where there is a strong intention for the students, and basically the 'youngers' and the 'olders' to leverage and synergize our unique resources for it's common goals. So you know, I might be able to pick up a phone and get something done really quickly. Let's say someone's like, 'I want to host a talk about aquaponics.' And I'm like, 'Oh my god, I know one of the aquaponics gurus and I just call him up and get through to this guy who is really hard to access.' But then once he's booked no one's going to come unless the students socialize it and spread the word and say, 'Come one, come all, it's going to be great. I'm putting on this event, come support me.' That's just a very small example. But a really common one, older adults tend to have established networks, maybe access to budgets and resources and things like that, but also can get stuck in our ways and in our mindsets, and 'youngers' tend to have some fresh thinking. They don't care if it's taboo, they're just going to say it anyways. And connections, new forms of connections, I'm not just talking about digital stuff. I think that's pasee
 and overplayed, you know. It's kind of an oppressive thing that olders say to youngers, 'You're on your phone all the time.' Like, so are you!"

Santos: "Could you explain the dynamics of the food co-op, like how it works?"

Shaw: "So the food co-op has core members and working members, I think you should ask them honestly to explain it, it has changed since I was a core member thirteen years ago. But basically, Kresge college leases that space to a non-profit called the Kresge Community Natural Foods Cooperative. They lease it for a dollar a year, and that allows the students to have cheap rent and not necessarily need pay the employees, or not make that much money on the food. So they buy food at whole sale and then sell it at retail. So if they were to want to, and if they were to have a successful business they would be making an income so they could then pay employees or donate to different causes and what not. But I think maybe that's not their goal. I think it's more of a club, like a social thing, like a business, social change thing."

Santos: "So it's more of a community."

Shaw: "Yeah, I think so. That's my own read and take on it. I wish it was more outward focused and a little bit more connected with the campus food systems, you know the food security work that we're doing around looking at students in need and what not. But I will say that that food co-op experience is a great place for people to learn and to feel a sense of community. It's kind of a 'learn from your mistakes' sort of a place, and figure it out as we go, which I don't think is the best model for student groups, because people are paying a lot of money to be here. And there are some best practices for showing people how to make things work. Sometimes students are able to transmit that to the next students before they graduate, but sometimes they don't. And when that cycle gets broken it takes a long time to get that back. So I see people at the food co-op and many, many other student clubs who don't have advisers where some memory gets lost, some process gets lost and someone comes back in and they're like, 'Oh my god, there's no process someone created.' We spent all this time creating something that's beautiful and works, but that used to exist pretty much in the same form or maybe different, but it just got forgotten. And when a new person comes in, they might not even refer to the process that person created. So how do student groups solve this issue of summer? Where you need to sort of have the club fall, winter, spring, bridge the gap into the next year, across graduation, across summer break. That's a key challenge."

Santos: "Yeah that's hard for any organization."

Shaw: "It is, it is. I will say that there are a couple things I've found really really help, one of which is intergenerational collaboration and having staff really working closely. In a reciprocal co-mentoring relationship with the students. It's not the staff and faculty teaching the students and the students learning and then doing the work,  it's really about, okay, here's this collective goal that we have, how are we going to make this happen together? What accountabilities can we have to one another? I think that the Sustainability Office does a really good job at this too."

Santos: "Is there anything else about Kresge that you'd like to talk about?"

Shaw: "Last thing I'll say is the World Cafe is an initiative here that started eight years ago. We have the longest ongoing World Cafe program in the world. There are classes that are offered in it as well as a weekly potluck, which is both a potluck of ideas and a potluck of food. And it's a place for students to get together and have conversations that matter. So again students are defining what matters to them and saying let's gather and talk. And sustainability and activism are the two biggest topics that students want to talk about.

Students have been very integral to social movements in the last sixty years. Students have been, and youth and general, have been really critical to the Women's Movement, the American Indian Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Environmental Movement, the Consciousness and New Age Spirituality Movement, the Psychedelic Movement - really critical to all of those. If you think about it, everything in our world is created twice. It's first created through conversation and then it's created in reality. It's always created - you can even say three times - you can say it's created as a thought in one person's mind or in the new sphere, in the collective consciousness, but then through conversation. I have an idea, it's a great idea, I think, I share it with you, you say, 'Oh it's a great idea, we gotta tweak that one thing to make it really better!' And I'm like, 'Oh my god, thank you! Perfect! Let's go!' And then we go enlist other people. Everything in our world has been created through conversation. If that wasn't true, we would be like fish swimming in water, but we are swimming in conversation but we don't even see it. Therefore, if conversation is how we created everything, what might you do to have more powerful conversations in your life? What are the critical conversations that you want to have in your life right now? Not this big, long term thing but right now. So those are the things that people connect with and then we build community around the conversations that matter and I hear students every time, every quarter, 'I'm learning more in this World Cafe than I am in my classes and this is why I came to college. You're a chemistry major, you're a philosophy major, you're an artist, and here's this place where we can connect on a level playing field and share and synergize the unique resources that we each have based on our unique disciplines, and I don't want to leave but I gotta go write this paper.' And I'm like, 'Oh wait but you're learning more here than you are elsewhere, but you're leaving to go do this work that should be where your learning is happening but what you're saying is actually stifling. Okay, interesting, we can work on this.'

I think there's some magic to the World Cafe. And in the frame of sustainability, it's a really critical social skill. Whether you're in engineering, or in arts and activism, or in energy, or in agriculture, there's going to be conversations, you're going to have to collaborate with people. And the world is changing so fast that educating students about yesterday will not help them for today and even educating students about how to act today is not as helpful as learning how to think and how to problem solve and how to be nimble and agile. So tools for collaboration are really critical like that. So I'd say that another thing about Kresge's Common Ground Center, is that we are trying to develop strong leadership skills so that people will be successful in creating the world that they want after they graduate, furthermore after they graduate, they still want to be involved. So that's the intergenerational piece, they're not just kicked out. We want them to stay involved."

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