Romina is a student in from Maryland who is currently enrolled in our fall Civic Action Gap Semester, an exciting partnership program in collaboration with the Tufts University Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. Romina shares her experiences working with Feeding Texas, learning about voter suppression, and making new friends virtually.
I am working with Feeding Texas (FT), a non profit organization that works with food banks all across the state. In the past year they have been focusing on getting the people from the communities they work with to be more directly engaged in civics. This is where the focus of my volunteership has been; I have spent hours phone banking and texting people (mainly Spanish speakers) to help them register and vote. I was also able to work with people in other similar organizations, and help with nationwide peer to peer texting and poll monitoring on election day. In order to do this I had to do lots of research about voting laws in Texas as well as in the entire country.
As someone who wants to study Political Science when I go to college, this has been a very important learning experience. Speaking with different staff members at FT taught me about what it is like to work directly with legislators, proposing policies, as well as the challenges that arise when trying to get communities more directly involved in these processes.
Most noticeably, this volunteership has opened my eyes not only to extreme voter-suppression present today, but also the lack of good quality education on our role as citizens in our country. However, I am glad I was able to participate in combating this increasingly important issue, and I hope to continue to do so in the future.
After the general election, FT will focus on the upcoming legislative session in Texas. I don’t know the specifics of my new tasks, but I know some will be related to this. I will also likely be helping out with collecting feedback from voters on their experiences.
I am optimistic about the future, mostly because I have learned about and met many people who are fighting everyday to make a change, no matter how difficult.
ON BEING PART OF A VIRTUAL COHORT:
During the first few weeks I think many of us were feeling shy and maybe even a little overwhelmed with all the new information, work, and people presented to us. However after some time I noticed most of us became much more comfortable with the program and with each other. The Llama Lounges especially have become a place for us to have fun and get to know each other more outside of the classroom environment.
Sometimes we have fun little activities planned by one of us, sometimes we play fun online games like Skribbl or Among Us, and other times we just use the time to chat about anything and everything. There have been days where we’ve introduced our pets, shared what it is like to live in our part of the world, worn silly hats, discussed politics and the elections, and even had a long conversation about the multiverse theory and how fun it would be to one day visit Hogwarts. These silly yet fun times we have spent together have made me look forward to seeing my new friends every Monday afternoon.
My tip for anyone who is joining a virtual cohort is to attend these extra spaces like the Llama Lounge and get to know your peers whenever you can. This will then translate into your class hours where everyone will likely feel more confident when speaking up or participating in group discussions.
Having a space where you don’t have to talk about the course content can really help you get comfortable with your new classmates.
Also, [when working entirely online,] it’s very important to figure out what time management techniques work best for you. I would recommend taking the time to set up an online calendar, sort out your emails, and designate a time to complete assignments in order to avoid getting stressed and overwhelmed with the workload.
ON COURSEWORK, GUEST SPEAKERS, AND MENTORS:
The Civic Action Gap Program includes weekly classes with Professor Grace Talusan:
Grace Talusan is a lecturer in the Department of English and in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. She teaches two courses for participants in Tisch College programs: the Tisch Scholars foundation course “Civic Identity, Reflection, and Action,” and the Tufts 1+4 course “Communicating for Change.”
Talusan is an award-winning author who was recently awarded the 2017 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing for Nonfiction for The Body Papers, a memoir that chronicles her life as a Filipina immigrant and survivor of trauma and illness.
In just 9 weeks I have noticed a great improvement in my writing skills, and I’ve learned a lot about the process of reading and analyzing articles, essays, poems and more.
This class has been the most challenging in the program for me but is also one that has helped me learn the most and get an insight into what college classes will be like.
Another important aspect of the CAGS program is its guest speakers. Every week we have a couple of people join our Zoom and present or discuss topics like racial justice, food justice, conservation of the environment, public health, etc. My favorite has been Joey Oteng. He is an excellent presenter who was easily able to keep our attention and make us feel comfortable with sharing our thoughts and experiences. He taught us about racial justice, one of my favorite topics to learn about, and hearing about his experiences as a Black man in America was interesting; it is probably what stuck with me the most about his lecture.
Some of the activities I have enjoyed are the debates that have been organized by the class. Most of the times I have been assigned to argue against the side I would typically have chosen, and it forced me to think and consider other opinions. I also noticed that the last few debates have gone better than usual, probably because more of us feel comfortable participating.
The mentor part of the CAGS program I think is one of the most important ones. I have learned so much from my professional and college mentor.
The people I have been paired with are amazing and the advice I have gotten from them will likely prove to be very helpful later in life.
Thank you so much Romina for sharing about your experience with the Civic Action Gap Semester!