Faculty prepare next generation of social changemakers
October 03, 2011
Tod Sloan knows that being an agent of social change is complicated. Issues such as cross-sector collaboration, conflict resolution, and burnout can make the work exhausting and unsustainable.
However, Sloan, professor of counseling psychology, believes that training and dialogue can help activists and advocates be more effective in their work. An experienced advocate whose devotion to social justice infuses his work in and out of the classroom, Sloan maintains that working for change can actually prevent the issues that drive individuals into counseling.
This fall, Sloan and Bruce Podobnik, associate professor of sociology/anthropology, have organized a series of workshops for members of the Lewis & Clark community who want to be more effective community leaders and advocates. The program, “Will Work for Change: an Activism and Leadership Training Forum,” aims to offer a wide variety of experiences and skills that students, faculty, and staff can put into practice as they work within the larger community.
In the responses below, Sloan discusses how the series reflects the Lewis & Clark commitment to working on behalf of positive social change.
How do you think the theme of working for social change reflects the ethos of the Lewis & Clark community?
A central part of the mission of Lewis & Clark is to foster the development of civic leadership. Some of that can happen through professional roles, but much of it happens through various forms of citizenship that go beyond voting and contributing money to causes. For example, it can mean showing up at a meeting full of volunteers who happen to be interested in an issue or cause and trying to be effective in complicated group processes.
In the Graduate School, where I teach, it is clear that a majority of the students have strong interest in working for social justice beyond the confines of the professional roles for which they are preparing. And many say that they chose Lewis & Clark because they know we are committed to fostering reflection and action in connection with social change.
How does this series transcend party lines to offer useful information and resources regardless of a person’s politics?
The skills offered in the workshops are relevant to any group that is trying to come to agreement about how to make a desired change, get the work done, keep people motivated, and ensure that people enjoy the process. These workshops emphasize wide participation in decision making, authentic communication, inclusivity, and personal self-care to avoid burnout and causing problems for others.
We intentionally did not feature any particular issues or causes in the workshops, although obviously all of the presenters have their particular interests; they are focusing on conveying skills and experience relevant to working on a wide range of issues.
What drew you to specialize in this area within the field of counseling psychology?
Working for social change is a way of preventing a lot of the problems that counselors and psychologists end up addressing at the individual level. If we can reduce poverty, war, environmental destruction, racism, sexism, and so forth, collective well-being will be enhanced. Our professional codes of ethics in psychology and counseling actually call us to work for social betterment as well as for individual health.
I also think counselors and psychologists often have skills and training (such as listening, mediation, conflict resolution) that are very relevant to helping groups work more effectively, and I am eager to engage them in the support of the important social movements of our times.
How does the forum relate to your ongoing work in support of activists and advocates in the Portland community?
Over the past few years, in my own participation in community groups working on sustainability and social justice issues in Portland, I have been struck by the difficulty of maintaining momentum after initial meetings and building convergence between different groups working in the same sector. Some of the workshops we invited bear directly on these two issues.
Sloan teaches seminars on life span development, the social context of counseling, dialogue practices, social theory, community consultation, and critical psychology. He coordinates Project Dialogue, part of the Graduate School’s Center for Community Engagement. His current scholarship involves developing systems to support activists and change agents in grassroots ecological and social justice organizations.