Every semester, one student from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Aidan Sponheim will be HECUA’s student blogger for the Inequality in America program this spring semester. Aidan is a third-year student at the University of Minnesota, majoring in Psychology. In his final post, Aidan reflects on the semester.
HECUA is special. Yes, I realize that it’s easy for me to say this as a freshly graduated Inequality in America student, and it’s obvious for those of you who know anything about HECUA and especially to those who play a part in its existence. It’s easy to celebrate the consortium’s holistic embrace of experiential learning through the integrated, field study/ classroom/internship HECUA approach and to acknowledge the presence of not only a program director but also a community faculty that sheds light on what life is like stuck in poverty. But for me, as I reflect back on my Inequality in America experience, it is the people I met during field seminars this semester that makes HECUA so special to me.
Field seminars in IA took us out of the classroom and into the world. Whether it was an in-class presentation from a visiting community member or a whole day out in the city, the field seminar embraced the notion of praxis; taking theories we learned in the reading seminar and acting on them through field visits and dialogue. Through these experiences, we met very special people who should be recognized for their hard work and continuous resistance against oppression within the country. For me, these individuals fundamentally affected my experience with HECUA and it’s important that I honor them for their doings.
During our Homelessness and Poverty module, we had the opportunity to participate in St. Stephen’s “A Day In the Life” which consisted of a walking tour, led by a person formerly experiencing homelessness, through downtown Minneapolis stopping at various shelters and centers along the route. At these shelters, we met with some incredible people who shared their incredible experiences with homelessness. One of the individuals we met was Patrick. Patrick opened up to our class, sharing his long history with chemical dependency, chronic imprisonment, and an ongoing battle with schizophrenia to illustrate what truly caused him to get stuck in experiencing homelessness. Even though Patrick has gone through incredible hardships in his life, permanently affecting his chances of finding security in his livelihood, he still had clear goals to help others be freed from the stuck position he once was in and to challenge the country’s judicial system that traps those susceptible, like Patrick, in the currents of mass incarceration. Patrick showed had a strong selfless demeanor which taught me that it is those issues you personally resonate the most that you will find most accomplishment in.
As an intern at the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, I often interacted with the fed’s organizing staff, whether if it was surrounding organizing efforts for a labor march or simply entering data in spreadsheets. Among all the organizers at MRLF, Alfreda was the most impactful to me during my time there. I worked closely with her, helping to organize around representation issues in the Osseo school district school board. As a young, immigrant organizer, Alfreda blew me away time and time again through the sheer determination she had for her community’s future (Brooklyn Park) and the firmly established future she has created for herself. She is extremely effective in bringing people together and I am forever grateful to her for taking me under her wing and showing me the ropes to organizing.
During the poverty module, we spent a lot of time with community faculty member Julia, as she guided us through through poverty from the lens of the impoverished (the real deal), and shared personal stories as anecdotes for the issue we were tackling in our reading seminar. One morning, Julia shared her life story and how she has been in and out of poverty all throughout her life. Her friend Marie joined us too. In addition to Julia’s story, Marie shared parts of hers, opening up to the realities she was forced to face as a teenaged mother of two. She was honest with us, remarking on the exponential growth she experienced through her life while reflecting on the way she cares for her children today. We continued our time together that day, participating in a poverty simulation at Urban Immersions. Marie was in my group and we took on the task of budgeting a month’s expenses on little money. Marie guided us and pulled from her own experiences to end with a balanced budget. Throughout the entire day, Marie blew me away with her intelligence and wisdom and exemplified the embodiment of strength and opposition against inequality that persists within the country.
All these people, and many, many more, helped me bridge the gap between textbook and reality and inspire me to embrace, whole-heartedly, the resistance against injustice and inequality within the country. They opened themselves up to the class and used their radical vulnerability as a means to teach us of the oppression they have faced and will continue to face. And it is for this that I think HECUA is so dang special. It provided the means for radical relationships to form and created space to learn from those who are leading the fight against inequality in America.