Students discover what motivates and drives them.
United 4 Social Change is a nonprofit that develops effective civic leaders who write persuasively, speak passionately, and actively participate in the creation and dissemination of ideas.
The need for civic leaders (members of society who have the awareness, desire, and capacity to drive social change) is becoming apparent all over the world. People are either unable to see social ills, don’t appreciate the need for change, or don’t have the tools and skills to spur change.
This is why our work at U4SC has become ever crucial in making sure that everyone, and not just political and economic leaders, are participating in civic leadership.
We do this through a three-pronged approach that corresponds to the three levels of problems outlined above. We enlight them about social issues, ignite the fire within them to care about social problems, and unite them to act towards social change.
Social Change: Defined
United 4 Social Change aims to ensure that everyone is equipped with the right resources to actively participate in this never-ending quest for bettering human society. Thus, at U4SC, the social change we strive for is better democratic societies. We believe that in order for all other social change to be just, fair, and equitable, change must happen through robust democratic norms. We thus focus on changing societies so that all members are civic leaders: people who have the knowledge, care, and ability to further whatever social change they and their fellow civic leaders find compelling.
2. We ignite them to take their understanding and knowledge and find out what they themselves care most about changing. Why is this issue important to them? Why is this issue important in their local community? Why do they care, and why should others care?
3. We unite them to act towards whatever form of social change they have chosen to pursue. What can they do? How can they encourage others to take those actions together? What programs/organizations are working to combat this issue?
Civic Leader: Defined
Recognition of Equality
Sense of Justice
Flexibility: Our course policies and schedules are made with the understanding that students have extended lives outside of the program. If flexibility on our part is likely to improve students’ ability to engage with the program, we allow students to request modifications and accommodations. We also craft our programs to ensure our content is available in various formats (live and in-person, asynchronous and synchronous) and offers flexible options for students to engage with our materials.
Personal Engagement: We try to draw upon students’ lived experiences by encouraging them to relate content to their own lives. Our courses ask students to apply learned skills to social issues that matter to them. Participants in our programs are always asked to bring their own experiences and opinions to class meetings and assignments and we encourage students to see each other as valuable sources of knowledge.
Self-Care: We encourage students to be aware of their limits and take care of their mental well-being. We know that being a student is difficult and that students may have challenges that come up during their involvement in our programs. Their first priority should be to take care of themselves. When speaking with students, we make sure to show interest in their lives, so they know that they can talk to us if things are difficult.
Safe Space: We strive to ensure that everyone feels free to take care of themselves and take control of their own learning process. Our discussions are always open to all ideas and arguments as long as they convey respect for fellow classroom members. We encourage students to think about their own roles in the learning process of others by having discussions on good classroom communication and dynamics, and by incentivizing collaborative learning rather than showmanship. Our programs expose students to a number of difficult topics and we encourage the use of trigger or content warnings, allowing students to take control of their own well-being.
Fostering Intellectual Growth
Intellectual Journeys:We design our programs to encourage students to appreciate the process of learning as much as, if not more, than the final destination. In our programs that involve live instruction, we vary the types of instruction and never lecture extensively without stopping for discussion and interaction. We are responsive to student needs in the moment and adjust over the course of the program. We strive for a representation of the material that adapts to how the students best understand it rather than a preconceived notion of what the right structure is.
Neutrality and Dissent: We believe that disagreements and differences should not preclude respectful interactions. We encourage participants to raise objections, question the reasoning, or express discomfort with the material. Often, the topics we cover are highly personal in nature and students have strong inclinations about them. We encourage them to engage with those inclinations, either learning how to better defend them or revising them. While it is impossible for us to remain neutral on our own takeaways from the course material, we strive to hold neutrality towards what ideas and beliefs students themselves find to be of utmost importance.
Skills: We operate under the assumption that specific content is much less important for long-term intellectual growth than developing the requisite skills to engage with broader issues. While we hope that our participants walk away with some new knowledge and understanding of the topics covered, we are much more concerned with making sure they develop skills that they can use in the future to continue to engage with similar ideas. Our programs reflect this goal, by asking students to exercise and apply critical thinking, argumentative writing, and persuasive speaking skills. Other program activities ask students to role-play as key decision-makers and industry leaders to practice communication, negotiation, and leadership skills. We also focus on building students’ ability to civically engage by providing training in various skills necessary for this work from direct instruction on non-profit careers to improving students’ ability to participate in public discourse on important issues.
Ownership: We want students to take ownership of their learning and thus encourage them to communicate their needs and concerns to us as they arise. We view our pedagogical practices as being in constant revision and adaptation. To this end, we encourage feedback from program participants and those who use our content and continuously update our materials, courses, and processes. We provide various opportunities for all major stakeholders (students, parents, and teachers) to give us feedback on our work through surveys, conversations, and exit tickets. We also purposefully work with students and teachers by inviting them to serve on advisory councils to influence the directions our programs take.