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Bringing it all together

By Catherine Monson '12
May 11, 2011

Members of the ASCN Honor House have worked to better promote the many existing social change efforts on campus.

Three years ago, Rebecca Carlson '11 attended the annual Transforming Privilege Retreat at St. Olaf and, seeking ways to improve social activism efforts among students, asked herself, "What's missing on campus?"

Now Carlson, along with a dedicated coalition of St. Olaf student activists and volunteers, has the answer to that question.

The Activism for Social Change Network (ASCN) came into existence when Carlson and other student leaders saw the need for an umbrella organization that promotes ties between the many existing social change efforts at St. Olaf, such as Amnesty International, the Environmental Coalition, the Volunteer Network, Oles for Global Health, and various other groups. The ASCN has now gained a foothold on campus after exploring different ways to be most effective.

"It's always evolving," says Carlson, who is one of nine members belonging to the ASCN Honor House on campus. "Our main goal is to increase the efficiency of and collaboration between activist groups on campus and act as a support group for them as well."

The ASCN has recently stepped up its effort to help leaders from all service-oriented or activist organizations advertise their events together. ASCN members developed a master calendar of social change projects to display in Buntrock Commons in order to make events more visible to students. They are also in charge of bringing workshops to campus that are geared toward helping students run their organizations more effectively and work more closely with the Northfield community. Last year the ASCN was responsible for hosting a workshop led by the nonprofit organization Real Food Challenge. Most recently, the ASCN collaborated with Carleton College and Northfield's Haiti Justice Alliance to hold "Haiti Week."

The organization grew partially out of a leadership effort by Elizabeth Wanous '11. Through the Global Health Governance Summit she attended in 2010, Wanous learned important ways to focus the efforts of interconnected human rights organizations and helped spearhead the efforts of the ASCN.

"As I negotiated with representatives having divergent goals, I was impressed with how essential respect and communication are to effective collaboration," Wanous explains. The keys to providing support among organizations, she learned, include "listening to my colleagues, valuing everyone's input even when I couldn't support their initiative, and seeking common interests." 

Although two members of the group will graduate in May, the ASCN plans to continue the initiative started by Carlson. One of their main projects will be collaborating with the Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) to plan the annual Transforming Privilege Retreat — the program that got it all started.

Julia Coffin '12 is among the returning students next year. "It's been one of the highlights of my college experience," she says of the ASCN. "St. Olaf students have this incredible energy and drive to affect social change on campus, but much of that passion is lost in the day-to-day reality of being students," she says. "What I am most excited for is helping students start those important conversations and realize they do have the time and capacity to affect change, as there is an incredible support network of students, faculty, and community members passionate about the same cause and ready to help."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or