Campus activists start anti-violence workshop tour

by Heather Szilagyi | 1/7/14 9:30pm

A series of anti-violence workshops on college campuses, led by Lea Roth ’13 and Nastassja Schmiedt, a former member of the Class of 2015, will address student activism and systems of oppression.

The pair co-founded Time to Spring Up, an organization dedicated to empowering people to end campus violence, last year. Roth and Schmiedt offer a variety of workshops that address the intersectional nature of campus violence.

Spring Up hosted its first workshop at the University of Michigan in early December.

Roth and Schmiedt said they work to educate their audience on how violence intersects with other systems of oppression like racism and homophobia. They aim to provide a structure for collective action between groups with overlapping concerns.

“When people have no framework to discuss identity, it either becomes completely overlooked, or it becomes controversial and almost always leads to conflict due to actual or perceived lack of respect and understanding,” Schmiedt said.

As members of Real Talk Dartmouth who served as complainants in a federal Clery Act complaint to the Department of Education, the two are no strangers to student activism.

Roth and Schmiedt withdrew from classes last spring after Real Talk protests that brought national media attention and caused the College to cancel classes for a day of discussion.

Spring Up’s workshops generally feature a lecture component and a group analysis of a comic that depicts characters misunderstanding each other’s backgrounds.

The comic, developed by Roth and Schmiedt, provides detailed descriptions of a variety of different avatars based on campus violence statistics. The characters interact in a discussion about campus violence and workshop participants, armed with statistics and a common language, analyze why the interactions went the way they did and discuss steps for moving forward.

Roth said that to sustain their income and supplement their activism, the pair, who are both “active bow tie consumers,” decided to start a small business, too. They sell handmade ties to fund their travel, which is also supported by donations and booking fees.

Schmiedt said she and Roth were exposed to the difficulty of collective action during their time at Dartmouth, which she says lacks a strong activist culture.

Reese Kelly, an LGBTQ advisor in the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, said it is particularly difficult for college students to form a sustained activist movement when there is student turnover on campus.

Ramiro Alvarez Cabriales, a University of Michigan senior and student activist who helped organize Spring Up’s workshop on the campus, said 30 leaders of campus “liberation organizations” attended the event. Though many participants had never met before, the workshop spurred an ongoing conversation, he said.

He said that Roth and Schmiedt, former members of Real Talk Dartmouth, focused on the reasons why the group “imploded” as a way of understanding intergroup issues.

“It was beautifully transparent, which is why I think it was so well taken by the group,” he said. “They weren’t there to brag.”

Real Talk Dartmouth’s story exemplifies the collective action problem, women and gender studies lecturer Giavanna Munafo said. After rallying around a few particular causes, maintaining the movement proved difficult as groups with different priorities struggled to make their issues heard, she said.

Roth said she and Schmiedt decided to host customized workshops with intersectional groups of students instead of solely presenting their story.

“Although these problems are national in scope, the ways in which they are addressed are on local campuses,” she said.

The first leg of the Spring Up tour mainly consisted of meeting with students and booking future workshops, and Spring Up is tentatively scheduled to present at Yale University, Brown University, the University of Connecticut, Swarthmore College and other Northeast schools, Schmiedt said. They are currently booking events in North Carolina, Texas, the Southwest and California.

Roth and Schmiedt will also present at the IvyQ conference at Princeton University in February and the Creating Change conference in Houston at the end of the month. The pair does not have any workshops or events currently planned at the College.

While Roth plans to return to campus this spring to complete her final three credits required for graduation, Schmiedt is in the process of transferring to another institution to finish her undergraduate education.

Munafo said the College has changed as a result of Real Talk’s activism, expanding its resources and training to tackle the issue of sexual violence. It does not, however, provide an equal level of information for students who experience other forms of violence, she said.

While Spring Up is still a young organization, Roth and Schmeidt plan to expand its reach, potentially by developing their comic into an educational tool or online resource that would not require an in-person workshop.