Winthrop introduces new cultural event series to promote civic engagement

Die-ins, protests and commonly avoided conversations brought a new wave of events to Winthrop University’s campus. The Leadership and Social Change series is a six-part series of events  in which faculty will speak to students about topics ranging from police relations, to civil rights movements and even how art and journalism have communicated social issues and changes.

The series will feature three events a semester, all Tuesdays during common time, and will wrap up in April with a keynote speaker- Cynthia Enloe, research professor in the Department of International Development, Community, and the Environment at Clark University in Massachusetts.

Jennifer Disney, chair of the political science department and director of the women and gender studies program, is the organizer of this series. 

“The series was actually inspired by student change agents here on campus. Last year, there were several student actions including a die-in in the Digiorgio Campus Center, an occupation of Tillman Hall and several campus conversations that took place after that, dealing with everything from police shootings to the naming of buildings on campus. It was out of the student actions that several campus conversations were created by faculty trying to create a safe space for students, faculty and staff to talk together about these issues. During one of those discussions, I made the comment to students to remember that several of us as faculty are experts of these fields. Then in January, President Mahony invited me into his office and he said he had an idea. His idea came from attending these campus conversations and he said that it was the comment I had made that gave him the idea to design a series of events that really builds on Winthrop’s faculty expertise and Winthrop University’s strategic initiatives on civic engagement and diversity among others and use this as a platform to really help build a national model on how do we help instruct and inform our students in the processes of leadership and social change,” Disney said.

President Mahony’s strategic plan, that he outlined in his State of the University address in October 2016, includes promoting diversity, and creating a culture of philanthropy at Winthrop, among other initiatives that the president thinks will increase the value of this institution.

When Mahony approached Disney about his idea, Disney said that she “was just excited to make the vision come alive.”

The events are going to tie in past movements as well as current events, as a way to help students learn ways in which they can create their own social movements.

“We definitely want to build upon movements that have happened in our past that we can learn from, issues and movements that are relevant today, and future organizing. We want our students to learn that a commitment to leadership and social change is a lifetime commitment. We want to teach our students to be civically aware, civically engaged to what is happening in their political and civic worlds and to know how and where they can get involved,” Disney said.

“ I think of it as a series of workshops building on faculty expertise and building on the student body that we have that has demonstrated an interest in a commitment to observing the challenges in our world and trying to think critically and creatively on how to address those challenges,” she continued.

Disney said she hopes that this series will be successful enough to become an annual event and serve as a national model.

“I hope that this will not just be a moment in time that it will be continuing conversations that we have already started and maybe it will be a jumping point into future conversations. Maybe we can have an annual series like this,” Disney said.

The main purpose of this series, she claims, is to make the world a better place.

“It helps us think about how we can be leaders and social change agents and try to leave the world better than the way we found it.”

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