Striving for Social Change

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In need of completing a senior workshop
before graduation in May, I was drawn to a
class titled Action Research Seminar (FAA
391), taught by Abbilyn Harmon. The
fact that the course title contained both
action and research left me very intrigued
and prompted me to look further into
what this class entailed. I was curious to see how the class
would incorporate these two elements. The goal of the class
was stated to be educating students on the notion of social
change, more specifically, why social change is needed and
different methods of implementing social change. In an
effort to tie these broader concepts to a more local and identifiable
issue, our class focused on the problem of homelessness
within the Urbana-Champaign area.
So what exactly is social change and how can one go
about creating social change? Over the span of the course,
our class conjured up multiple responses to these questions
in connection with the issue of homelessness in Urbana-
Champaign. We felt that social change consisted of actions
taken by individuals in an effort to combat the status quo of
a social issue. Our class also explored a variety of methods
through which any individual could partake in social
change. These strategies, among others, included participatory
action research, direct action organizing, independent
media publications, and artwork aimed specifically at promoting
the awareness of societal injustices.
Nearing the end of the course now, we have been given
an opportunity to utilize the knowledge gained and implement
our own form of social change through a community
project of our choice. The scope of my project is quite
basic but is geared at providing the homeless population
with a resource that can be utilized indefinitely. My community
project consists of compiling a list of locations,
both public and private, that may be utilized by anyone
seeking immediate shelter. This will include places like
hospital waiting rooms and train stations. My goal is to
include locations that are less known about among the
homeless population in Urbana-Champaign. I plan on
compiling this information in the form of a brochure with
a series of maps designating where these different emergency
shelter areas are located, so that anyone experiencing
homelessness can reference them. Within this pamphlet
I also hope to include different tactics/strategies that
are useful when seeking refuge in such locations, pertaining
more specifically to the public locales. To include as
many locations as possible on the map, I will be working
in conjunction with those most affected, including individuals
at homeless shelters such as the Times Center and
residents of Safe Haven.
The overarching goal of my project simple, is that I want
to provide something to the homeless population that can
be effectively utilized. Every time someone looks at the
brochure and finds somewhere to go where they will be
safe from freezing or scorching weather conditions, I know
that I have helped in some way. I feel that using my technical
skills to formulate a resource guide is the best manner
in which I can help to create social change. In the future, I
hope to implement greater changes through urban and spatial
design to help prevent social inequalities.
A great majority of students in Champaign-Urbana tend
to stereotype homeless individuals with those they seen on
Green Street. However, the pan handlers that they associate
with the homeless issue are only a mere fraction of the
entire population and are certainly not a clear depiction of
the entire community. My hopes are that more students are
made aware of classes such as this one and are given an
opportunity create a form of social change of their own.

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