This semester, I taught a graduate course on Mutual Aid, Solidarity, and Activism. We focused on theory (with a lot of emphasis on disability justice and transformative justice) and students opted to form and run a mutual aid collective. Here's what happened:

6:57 PM ยท Apr 29, 2021

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1. At the start of the semester, students unanimously chose for their final assignment to be forming a mutual aid collective (instead of just writing a paper and leading discussions) and to receive a collective grade at the end of the semester.
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2. The mutual aid collective had to include: 1. peer-to-peer mutual aid structures, 2. a solidarity campaign with the Nashville Mutual Aid Collective, 3. A wiki-style study of mutual aid in a social movement, 4. Rotating facilitation teams, 5. Analysis of how it went.
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3. Rotating facilitation teams included facilitators, note-takers, stack-takers, folks who did design and tech help. They prepared materials and led a portion of class every week based on a syllabus I prepared.
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4. Earlier in the semester, when asked to identify needs and create infrastructures to meet them, it was really hard. People didn't feel like they knew each other. They offered things but no one took them up on it. They started to regret their assignment choices.
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5. Students were much more confident with reading theory and case studies than creating their own structures. Later, they attributed this to the structures of individualistic education and how they shaped their habits around work.
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6. We had several amazing guest speakers who talked about disability justice and transformative justice. When they visited, it was easier for students to interact with their ideas theoretically than practically. But they came back to them later in practical contexts.
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7. At the middle of the semester, I began to remind students of the projects required from them as a collective. No one had stepped in as a domineering leader. A few folks (younger, BIPOC, women) were doing a lot of work for the collective but it was not reciprocated.
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8. Then, a turning point! Students organized pods to help them complete their assignments. They communicated directly with each other about their needs around shared labor. They took to heart our lessons about conflict as a generative force and used it to generate infrastructures
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9. Soon, they found their pods helping them build relationships to support the solidarity campaign with our local mutual aid collective, for whom they are developing educational materials. They drew on their facilitation experience and lesson plans as resources.
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10. Students established a relationship with the local mutual aid collective, listening to what the collective wanted in terms of education and other materials and co-designing them. They attended meetings and established consistency.
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11. In the final analyses of how things went today, I heard a lot about how the structures of academia constrain or disincentivize this type of learning. It was hard to build relationships, maintain them, and work toward solidarity in 14 weeks. Some felt like they had failed.
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12. I actually thought the students were so successful! They did all of this in 14 weeks. They learned how to communicate their needs and come up with better structures. They met all of my pedagogical objectives:
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13. a. Exposing and working with taken-for-granted infrastructures to explore new modes of care and aid in academic settings, b. Fostering horizontal leadership, c. Training in collaboration and communication, d. Collaborative strategies for burnout.
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14. This experiential approach to learning drew a lot on principles of disorientation pedagogy, which I learned about in various ways from feminists, psychoanalysts, critical designers, and "flipped classroom" folks.
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15. Making slight changes to the infrastructure of traditional classroom learning laid bare the structures of power and responsibility that typically operate. Then, students were able to analyze these structures through theories of mutual aid, care, and social movements.
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16. We did not realize until the final analyses that throughout the semester, what happened in the collective mirrored what was coming up in our readings. Supportive infrastructures and relationships actually allowed this analysis to become clear.
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17. What was most surprising to me as someone who has been doing mutual aid in both individual and organizational settings for a long time is that this process unfolded like clockwork. I was not surprised by any of it, but really enjoyed engaging in the process with the students.
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18. I should probably also add: this class still had (at its core) requirements related to writing, research, discussion, etc. What made it feel different, according to the students, was that we made legible the relevance of care to producing knowledge. And actually practiced it.
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19. The syllabus included @miamingus @deanspade @thellpsx @HilMalatino @miabirdsong @sociallifeofdna @murphyatglad, Combahee River Collective, Jane McAlevey @adriennemaree @prisonculture; Contra* podcast "Solidarity Chat" episodes; and visits from @autistichoya and @CorbettOToole
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