Student view:

Courtney Woods: Joining the conversation

Jan. 14, 2015

Courtney Woods is a senior majoring in interdisciplinary social studies with a political science cognate and concentration in community governance and advocacy, in addition to a minor in philosophy and law. Woods is a student activist who aspires to be a community organizer, public servant and political representative.

Project 60/50 represents an institutional commitment to a year filled with open dialogue related to civil and human rights in honor of the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As a student volunteer in Project 60/50, I have witnessed how the initiative has directly impacted the Spartan and greater Lansing communities. Project 60/50 events provide safe spaces for inclusive conversations about various social justice causes. Anyone can attend the events or submit a proposal for support of their own event, whether that event is an academic conference, speaker series, community forum, poetry showcase or comedy show. Project 60/50 represents endless possibilities for creative minds and passionate hearts.

Staff members in the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives have facilitated Project 60/50 in a manner that demonstrates their commitment to improving community relations and engaging students. Since Martin Luther King Jr. Day of 2014, I have grown and developed professionally, culturally and academically through my civic engagement in Project 60/50.

In January 2014, I orated about economic inequality and mass incarceration in the United States as the Student Keynote Speaker at the MLK Student Leadership Conference before MSU students and high school students from Flint, Detroit and Lansing, and other Michigan schools. During that conference, I also facilitated a workshop about the Black Panther Party with MSU professor Pero Dagbovie, who referred to me a few days later as a student leader in his own keynote speech at the MLK Commemorative Community Dinner.

In February 2014, I served as a student facilitator at a school-to-prison pipeline community forum at MacDonald Middle School in East Lansing. That same month, I volunteered at the Farm Bill signing reception when MSU hosted President Barack Obama.

In April 2014, I organized “Gun Awareness Week,” as the president and co-founder of GENESIS Student Organization. In honor of that week, Project 60/50 supported GENESIS by promoting the following events, “Fighting for Peace: March In Honor of Families Affected by Gun Violence,” and “Grief and Loss Informational Workshop,” an event facilitated in collaboration with the MSU Counseling Center.

Throughout the year, I have served as a teaching assistant with TRIO Student Support Services in the Office of Supportive Services and contributed in coordinating and facilitating summer bridge programs for veteran students, students with disabilities and low-income, first-generation college students like me.

In the summer of 2014, incoming first year MSU students participating in TRIO Excel Residential Bridge Program engaged in a Project 60/50 Fruitvale Station movie screening and discussion hosted by Venice Smith, multicultural development coordinator for the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives.

TRIO SSS students also participated in two cultural enrichment and leadership development workshop sessions with Ignacio Andrade, community outreach and student liaison for the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. In August of 2014, students participating in an early move in program, called the TRIO Early Start Program, participated in a Project 60/50 civic engagement workshop with Andrade and Elijah Tyra, Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives student staff member.

During the summer, I also assisted Jamillah Gross-Caldwell, TRIO SSS coordinator, in writing a Creating Inclusive Excellence Grant proposal called “Pathways to Passports,” which was approved in the amount of $10,000 and will offset the expenses of MSU study abroad application and acceptance fees for students served by TRIO Student Support Services.

In the fall of 2014, I participated in the MSU Washington, D.C. Study Away Field Experience Program, and secured a legislative internship with the office of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (a Spartan alumna). Even though I was living in Washington, D.C., I recognized that my peers in the MSU community continued to organize and advocate for the same social justice causes that I was researching and reporting on in my internship.

Project 60/50 represents the persistent struggle for social justice. My experience has taught me that it doesn’t matter whether these conversations occur on Capitol Hill, at a university or institution or in our local communities, but only that the dialogue is inclusive and induces critical thinking.

We are still living the injustices of our forefathers, and only diligence and solidarity will help us to overcome the perpetuations of systematic violence. As Kevin Sydnor, assistant director of the Office of Supportive Services, always says, the experiment in democracy is the extent to which there is an open conversation.

Project 60/50 represents the open conversation possessing the transfer of different ideas and diverse perspectives, and it is only when we appreciate this inclusivity that we can accomplish common goals and create a society in which all people can strive to achieve their dreams.