SnAP Challenge review

by Indea Andrew 

This past week I got the incredible opportunity to participate in the snap challenge. This experience was a great chance to reflect on the challenges of food insecurity which I personally have never worried about due to the resources provided to me which made this experience more valuable. Throughout the week, I chose to eat three times a day and I tracked each meal by listing all the ingredients and considering the prices based on my budget limit. Since I live on campus, I have dining hall access which made this challenge more difficult because most foods are already prepared. The food options I chose were either salads, wraps, and fruit which managed to stay in the budget limit. This experience was more difficult than I initially thought, it was a real challenge to pick a low-cost meal and stay fulfilled throughout the day.

This past week opened my eyes to the lack of food security, health risks, supply limitations, and the careful considerations such as transportation costs that food insecure individuals face in their daily lives. I recognized how much I overlooked this situation when I was the one having to worry about how I will afford my next meal, if I would have been able to afford to feed everyone in my family, and finding means of transportation to a grocery store when needed.

The snap challenge also gave me the opportunity to understand the struggles my parents faced while attending college on a low income and being food insecure; I gained a huge appreciation for the privileges provided to me because of the struggles my parents faced to give me an easier college experience. Overall, this challenge was a huge reminder for me to understand my privilege and reevaluate my decisions before throwing away leftovers or buying foods that will probably go to waste. Also, being the voice for others who are unable to spread awareness is a major take away. Many people are unaware of the condition’s food insecurity has on people/families and I hope more people consider participating in this challenge because not only do you understand the struggle but emerge with a huge respect for individuals who manage to provide for an entire family with this budget.  

SNAP Challenge – Before it Begins

By Patty Mathison

The views expressed below are my own and do not represent George Mason University or Social Action and Integrative Learning. 

Why I wanted to host the SNAP Challenge

COVID-19 has had significant impact on all of us and the way we think about our work and interactions with others. This summer, my colleagues and I worked to rethink all of our programs, events and initiatives in terms of what would be possible through COVID. My colleague had shared this idea of social concern months where each month was focused around a different social concern. We had folks in our office sign up for different months and I signed up for November wanting to re-think what may be possible around Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. I had done a SNAP challenge at a previous institution and think it can be very powerful and wanted to think about how to do this in a way that is thoughtful and intentional. 

I dug into this challenge started to do more research and article after article talked about Gwyneth Paltrow’s privileged perspective and attempt to participate in her own SNAP Challenge. I read articles sharing critiques of the challenge for oversimplifying poverty and I questioned whether we should still do this and the ethics of an experience like this. But then I also read stories about Cory Booker responding to criticism and an article that gave suggestions on dos and don’ts that informed our own list. I read myths and misconceptions about SNAP and reasons why many were critical and thought, we can do this. I am determined to find a way to do this that isn’t exploitative but rather highlights some of the challenges, misunderstandings and allows folks to think about how we advocate for legislation, promote understanding and compassion and fight for more people to be eligible for SNAP rather than consistently reducing the benefits. I personally believe that the misconceptions and the lack of awareness of this program is perpetuating consistent cuts and creating significant stigma. My hope is that this challenge can help create a deeper understanding of food insecurity overall. 

I recognize that events like these can often can illustrate privilege and breed misunderstanding more than focusing on the larger issues of food insecurity and hunger in our community. I know that it can oversimplify poverty and the challenges around the SNAP policies rather than addressing the complexity within and I worried about how to do this intentionally. Would I fall into these ignorant pitfalls.

There are so many misconceptions around SNAP and I do believe this can be powerful if folks go into this experience knowing that it is not designed to show you exactly what it is like to be low income in the US. Subsisting on $4 per day is just one aspect of poverty. This challenge has an end date, while SNAP recipients continuously live with the uncertainty of where the next meal is coming from. So, we took a step back and really focused on how best to ensure that this challenge is ethical, thoughtful and purposeful and that folks understand the many challenges inherent within poverty and access to food, transportation, healthy options etc as well as public policy around food insecurity. 

We have done quite a bit of research, consulted with community members and tried to learn as much as we can. You can review our kickoff presentation or read through some of the information we gathered to learn more about food insecurity and the SNAP program in the United States. In addition, at our closing event, we will be focusing on how to take action around food insecurity. Whether it is through advocating for legislation, supporting local food banks or donating to their Amazon wishlist…our hope is that this can be just the beginning of working to make this world more food secure. 

Day 0: Shopping and Preparation 

The challenge begins…This morning I sat in my car and was prepared to go to my typical grocery store, Giant Foods which is closest to my apartment, to prepare for the challenge. I thought, I should try to be more strategic. I remembered there is an ALDI in Fairfax that is close by and may allow my money to stretch a little bit further. ALDI’s mission is that they are a faster, easier and smarter way to save money on high quality groceries. I figured it was worth a shot and off I went.

I forgot my reusable bag

Upon arriving at ALDI, I immediately remembered that they don’t provide free bags and encourage folks to bring their own. I actually really appreciate this policy and wish more places practiced this as it reduces the amount of plastic bags people use. If you forget, you can buy a reusable bag but it encourages folks to bring their own. I am a dual citizen with Switzerland and this is something they do in all of their stores, where it is just the norm. There are places all across the US that practice this but would be great if it were adopted more widely. However, I opened my trunk to realize that I did not bring a reusable bag with me, nor did I have anything I could use.

I then went to get a cart and saw that they ask for a quarter to use the cart. Another idea to reduce people taking their carts but also having folks be more responsible about returning the carts and not just leaving them in the parking lot. But it does mean you have to keep coins on you. I did not have change on me so I had to run back to my car to get a quarter to be able to use a cart. I was off to a rocky start.

One thing that I did notice, is that unlike many of the stores I go to regularly during the pandemic, this ALDI did not have anything in order to sanitize the carts or have any hand sanitizer for folks to use. I watched as people dropped off carts for someone to come in right behind them to use it. The employees in the store were all pretty busy when I went in, (this was a Saturday) and I imagine they may not have a lot of staff to spare in the parking lot. 

Finally, I was ready to start shopping. I walked in and immediately you are placed in the path of Halloween candy for $3.50 for 100 pieces and bakery items as well as other tempting sweets. I admit that I put a few things in my cart and then had to tell myself just to wait. Already in my mind was just getting through the week and maybe next week, I could indulge more. That privilege is the biggest hurdle with this challenge. Acknowledging and admitting how my privilege in having a car, in having many options of places to go get food and living in a high-income area, all contribute to me having a radically different experience this week than the average SNAP user. 

No Hot Meals 

I was thinking about ways that I could stretch my money and have multiple meals with the same items each day. For example- turkey sandwiches every day for lunch with grapes. Chicken and broccoli with the teriyaki sauce I have at home etc. I am not someone who enjoys cooking. I don’t do it very often and when I do, it is something I can throw in the oven or microwave and not have to do a large amount of prep work. So, eating the same thing every day, is not going to be as much of a challenge for me. Not ordering out or going through a drive through will be a different story as it is something I do often. 

One thing I hadn’t realized before starting this challenge is that with SNAP you can’t use it to get anything hot or already prepared such as a rotisserie chicken, or prepared dishes you can get easily at a store like Wegman’s. A rotisserie chicken could allow for several meals throughout a week that you can throw together and not think about. I’m not certain the reason behind not allowing hot or prepared food and wonder why that may be a rule. 

Non-Food Items 
Another rule of SNAP is that it cannot be used for non-food items. I have a dog and she is running low on food. She has enough to last her the rest of the week but her dog food is not fancy and still will cost $20-30 for something that will last about 2-3 weeks, maybe a little bit more. My entire SNAP budget for the week is $29.86. 

Another thing that is on my mind, this week I got my period. TMI? Maybe but frankly…its natural…get over it! Thankfully I already have products to use at home. However, it can easily cost $7 or more to purchase pads or tampons, not including the cost of Tylenol or Advil. Taking a look at these articles was more than a little revealing about the costs someone who experiences a period may endure. 

Here’s How Much A Woman’s Period Will Cost Her Over A Lifetime

How much does a period cost anyway? 

The article Getting your period can be a pain, getting it while homeless is even worse, shares “For this reason, hygiene products like tampons and sanitary napkins are some of the most-requested items at food banks and homeless shelters.” It is a high need for many organizations and not often the first thing people think about donating. The challenge of experiencing homelessness and having to worry about your period sounds really daunting and taking a look through these articles highlights the struggles so many individuals who get their period may face. There are many organizations who are working to find ways to bring free feminine hygiene products to those in need all over the world but it is still very much a challenge for many individuals.

What it’s like to get your period when you’re homeless

I feel this is worth mentioning as we think about the added expenses that I generally incur this time of the month. These are expenses that are needed monthly (for most who get their period) and is not included within what is allowed under the SNAP benefit.  

Final Total 

As I was checking out and reviewing what I had bought, I set aside a special item that I was considering to not be for this week but was a treat for myself. My favorite food in all the world is Raclette. It is a cheese dish from Switzerland that is melted and can be put over potatoes or even meats. Me, I eat the cheese dish on its own, maybe with a few gherkins. It is a smelly cheese, because of course, the stinkier the better. It can be very expensive and is intended for more special occasions. However, this ALDI had a packet with about 10 pieces of raclette cheese for 5.49 and I just had to get it. Yet again, my mind went to, “well maybe this can be for tonight, or for next week after this is over.” My reality that for me, this is temporary. It is something that I can “try” and know that I have security in knowing where my next meal is coming from and that I will be able to afford it. A humbling reality for sure. I could have thought about including this and just reducing the amount that I spend on other items but instead chose to cheat.

We hear comments about people buying expensive things with their SNAP benefits such as lobsters. The reality is, SNAP benefits don’t provide enough to be able to spend on more expensive items regularly.  In order to do this, an individual would likely either need to save up or use money that they have outside of SNAP. My family is really big into celebrating, all things. So, in thinking about birthdays and other celebrations, what it would mean to think about sacrificing to get something a little nicer for those special occasions. Saving up what little amounts we can to have a little treat. To make someone feel special, it would be challenging. 

I spent $22.11 at the store not including my raclette but I know I did not buy nearly enough to get through the week without digging into the food that I already have at home. I should be counting the food that I have at home as part of my budget but also want to keep the additional $7 for later this week. Tomorrow, I start the challenge. We shall see what happens. 

My shopping haul

To learn more about the SNAP Challenge or to participate, please visit

We invite you to take the SNAP Hunger Challenge!

Sign up here to participate

For Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Social Action and Integrative Learning (SAIL) will be hosting the SNAP challenge. From November 15-22, we invite you to participate in the SNAP Hunger Challenge and live on $4.13 a day for seven days. (Note: If you live in a different state, we encourage you to follow the average for your state) $128/month was the average amount individuals in Virginia were receiving from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in 2019, though it varies greatly due to family size, income etc.

To qualify for SNAP, a household generally has to meet two income thresholds: total income and net income (that is, total income minus deductions for things like child support, some medical expenses, and some housing costs). The SNAP formula assumes that households will spend 30 percent of their income on food, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, but for many low-income Americans, 30 percent of income is not enough to eat. 

So when the average person gets a little over $4 a day in benefits, the SNAP formula assumes that person has other money to spend on food. The government doesn’t in fact expect people to live on $4 a day. However, there are challenges inherent within access to food and how we address food insecurity and poverty in the US that this challenge can highlight. We recognize this is a part of a larger and more complex social issue around hunger and poverty and can oversimplify poverty in the US and will work to provide education opportunities and activities that address some of these complexities. Our hope and goal is that this has an impact long past the event to have a better understanding of the power imbalances and inequity related to food insecurity in our community.


The SNAP challenge is an educational campaign where people are encouraged to budget as a person in the US on SNAP for just one week. The SNAP Challenge gives participants a glimpse into some of the struggles faced by millions of low-income Americans who are trying to put food on their tables. The Challenge provides an opportunity for participants to experience how difficult it is for families living on SNAP to simultaneously avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy with limited resources.


Challenge Guidelines

  • Sign up here to take part in this challenge
  • Attend both the Kickoff and Closing events
  • Each person should spend up to $29 for food and beverages during the Challenge week, which is the average benefit for a SNAP recipient in Virginia. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including dining out, must be included in the total spending. 
  • Do some research and learn more about the SNAP program 
  • Visit our Dos and Don’ts of the Challenge for things to consider
  • During the Challenge, only eat food that you purchase for the project. If you eat food that you already have at home or that is given to you by friends, family, or work, account for it in your SNAP budget. 
  • Only buy and eat/drink items that are allowed to be purchased with food stamp benefits
  • Try to include fresh produce and a healthy protein each day.
  • Keep track of receipts on food spending and take notes of your experiences throughout the week.
  • Keep a daily journal of the experience. Did you feel deprived or restricted? Did you eat differently than usual? Were you hungry? How did this impact your daily decisions or experiences?  

What you can purchase with food stamp/SNAP benefits:

  • Produce and canned goods
  • Meat and dairy products
  • Dried goods, beans and rice
  • Breads and cereals
  • Baby food and infant formula
  • Soda, chips and candy
  • Coffee and tea
  • Seeds (whether for eating or planting)

What is not allowed through SNAP:

  • Hot food or any food that you eat in-store
  • Medicine and vitamins
  • Non-edible household items like paper towels, toilet paper and soap
  • Pet food  

The Do’s and Don’ts of the SNAP Challenge

DON’T assume the SNAP Challenge will show you exactly what it’s like to be low income.
Subsisting on $4 per day is just one aspect of poverty. Your fast has an end date, while SNAP recipients continuously live with the uncertainty of where the next meal is coming from. Recognize the privileges that mitigate your discomfort during the SNAP Challenge (employment, transportation, free time, etc.).

DO remember to include advocacy.
Tell your legislators to support SNAP funding. Write letters to the editor and social media posts about the importance of the food safety net. Share links about hunger facts. Educate your social circles about what you have learned. 

DON’T go into the SNAP Challenge expecting to prove food-insecure people wrong. 
They are experts on their own experience. There is nothing the SNAP Challenge will teach you that a hungry person has not already tried to tell the world. You are participating in the SNAP Challenge not to verify their claims, but to walk with them in empathy, if only for a short time. 

DO share your experience.
You may notice things about yourself and the world that you’d taken for granted before. You may confront your own assumptions about hunger and poverty. Pay attention to how hunger affects your emotions and thoughts; imagine living with those effects for months, or years. What changes have you made to your daily schedule? Share these realizations and encourage others to challenge their assumptions, too. 

DON’T treat it like a game or an adventure.
Nobody wins the SNAP Challenge. Making it to the end of the week is not a victory. Treat it as an exercise in compassion. Treat it as a reminder to pay more attention to the struggles of people living in food-insecurity, and advocate for them. Cultivate admiration for their resourcefulness and strength in extraordinary circumstances.

DO your research.
Read articles by people who rely on food banks and SNAP. Understand challenges around access to healthy food, food deserts and the many layers involved in food insecurity. 

DO consider donating the money you saved.
Take all the money you didn’t spend on food during your SNAP Challenge week, and consider donating it

DO continue your advocacy when the SNAP Challenge is over.
When the week is over, you may be able to go back to your regular eating habits, but people all over America must still rely on SNAP. Keep advocating for policies that better serve them. Keep listening to their stories and supporting them. 

Share your experience:

SNAP Challenge participants are encouraged to keep a daily journal and share their experiences—during and after the challenge—with SAIL as well as their friends, family and others. We just ask that you be mindful that your experience is your own. Recognize the privileges that mitigate your discomfort during the SNAP Challenge (employment, transportation, free time, etc.). Subsisting on $4 per day is just one aspect of poverty. Your fast has an end date, while SNAP recipients continuously live with the uncertainty of where the next meal is coming from.

  • Share your experiences through the hashtag #GMUSnapChallenge. Take us through your experience whether through video blogs, written blogs, social media posts etc. Be sure to tag SAIL as well! Take us shopping with you virtually, share your recipes and ideas. Our Instagram handle is @sailatmason
  • Tweet about it. Share your thoughts, photos, links to your blog posts and facts about hunger in Virginia or on the Mason campus. Use our handle, @SAILatMASON for possible re-tweets and continued conversation about the SNAP Challenge.
  • Blog about it. Post your daily journal online or write posts for your own blog. Include photos of your purchased food and meals. We would love to feature you on our SAIL blog! Send us your post at 
  • Use your voice—talk about your experience with others. Did you come away with greater awareness and understanding for the hunger challenges that affect so many in our community?  Have discussions with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. 
  • Take Action. At our closing event we will share ways to take action on hunger locally, globally as well as on campus with several of our community partners as well as student organizations. 

Participants who join us for the kickoff, closing and share a quick reflection whether through a social media post, blog post or video blog will receive a SAIL Swag bag including a reusable tote bag for your next trip to the grocery store! 

Turning the Tide

By Blythe Dellinger

I was a participant of the DC It’s Not Them but Us – Turning the Tide on HIV/AIDS: Washington, DC trip this past Spring Break. The trip was such an enlightening and positive experience, my group and I functioned very well together and were able to communicate and collaborate effectively despite the often heavy subject matter we were taking in. In being a participant in this trip already, I gained valuable experience on how to communicate as part of a team and knowing when to give people space and when to push discussion further. 

I also think what I have learned within my major of Global and Community Health would be useful for this program. I created a lesson plan in my GCH 350 class about modes of transmission for HIV/AIDS and proper condom usage. I have a strong foundation of knowledge related to the principles of harm reduction and the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. This basis of knowledge would allow be to function in the capacity of being a trip leader while furthering my own understanding alongside that of trip participants. I believe a healthy team relationship is rooted in leaders being open to learning alongside others, allowing for growth as a unit which in turn builds trust and vulnerability. 

It was honestly one of the best experiences I have had in college so far. We all still keep in touch using the group chat from our trip. We learned a lot together and bonded through our shared knowledge and passions. We had an interesting Air BnB experience that included a gas leak, power outages, and many more obstacles. We were able to overcome these obstacles and do what we came there to do, listen and learn. I think the most valuable takeaway I had from the trip was that the communities that are most often affected by HIV/AIDS and the stigma that surrounds it more often than not just want to have someone listen to them. With this listening comes the ability to utilize your privilege to make sure their voices are heard.

I was recently hired as a Substance Use Peer Educator (SUPE) for the Student Support and Advocacy Center to start in the Fall. Within this position I will become a certified peer educator through NASPA by training in the beginning of Fall Semester. This position focuses on making Mason a safer and healthier college environment through the principles such as harm reduction and inclusion. I will work on campus wellness programs and education initiatives focused on safer substance use behaviors. 

This position relates heavily to some of those within our community affected by HIV/AIDS. I think furthering my knowledge about harm reduction while also becoming certified to educate on such practices will enhance my qualifications to lead the DC Alternative Break to the best of my ability. I would use this knowledge to answer questions that might come up amongst trip participants and find ways to make the experience the most meaningful and educational it can be. 

A Week of Entanglement!

March 17, 2020

When we are able to connect Camden Struggles with Camden Resurrections, we become aware of our Entanglement with each other. Last week, we, at CfET, were able to create the first of many more to come Weeks of Entanglement by hosting George Mason University students in our Immersion Retreat program. The 8 students, all of whom were brilliant both in their academic achievements and in their ability to be present to new, disturbing, and joyful realities that they encountered every day with us, were unfolded and helped unfold Camden children and community members every day. Here is what they experienced.




On day one, an hour after they arrived, they went to Joe’s Place, a ministry of Sacred Heart Church, that serves meals to the hungry every Saturday evening. They helped prepare and set up tables. They served our neighbors with joy and hospitality, often noticing the reciprocal joy of those who came through the line. They received more than they gave. They then went to The Fireworks Art Center in Camden where we shared pizza and conversation with local artists who believe and practice creating art for connecting us together.

Day two began with Mass at Sacred Heart Church. Now, most of these students weren’t Catholic but they wanted to experience a parish where most of the attendees at Mass are involved in social justice in the community. They wanted to know how to create a community of people who step out of their comfort zone to do the work of making the world more fair and just. Mass was followed by an Eco-Tour of our Camden neighborhood where they were able to see the areas of urban destruction and resurrection. In line with our planning for this retreat, we went back to CfET where they heard from event planners and social justice warriors of iCreate. Sol Chyld, a 20-year old Camden resident and music and poetry artist performed one of her spoken word poems. During this part of the day, we were joined by several students  from Mighty Writers who are participating in a documentary making class at The Nick Virgilio Writers House. One of those students, 14 years old, after some encouragement and support from us all, was able to recite her spoken word about growing up and finding her way through the conflicts she encounters as a dark skinned child. She and Sol Chyld were Incredible! The day ended with a dinner with the Intentional Community where students joined in a conversation about growing up in Camden and the choices we all make.

On Monday, the GMU students worked with Farmer Jon in our CfET gardens. They were able to see the conversion of Camden land into a place where food is grown for this food desert. What must it be like to have no access to fresh fruits and vegetables in your city? GMU was about to find out. When we went to Mighty Writers after the garden work, the GMU students were assigned one on one to middle school students. They helped with homework completion and then worked with the students to create a biography of each of them. The conversations about who we are, where we live, what we enjoy, what we think about our future were inspiring and joyful. The biographies were saved for reading aloud to the group on a future day.

Part of the planning with GMU included two day and two evenings of work with people at Eastern State and Phoenix State Prisons where they were to meet with prisoners, ex-prisoners, and activists who are trying to change the prison system. They were to experience and understand how poverty and lack of resources can impact a child and contribute to criminal behavior that results in incarceration for the same children they worked with today.

On Tuesday, we traveled up the road to Joseph’s House, a homeless shelter and day center. We toured and discussed the reality of homelessness. We met staff and people who were formerly homeless that now work to change the reality of it. We followed this place of struggle with Cathedral Kitchen. There, they toured but more importantly, they learned about Cathedral Kitchen’s culinary arts program that works with people with limited access to jobs like ex-prisoners who are trained and are able to work once again. We served dinner to the hungry at Cathedral Kitchen at the end of our tour. Once again, the struggles and successes of Camden were highlighted and integrated into the experiences of the GMU students.

Wednesday, GMU went to Eastern State Penitentiary. When they came back to Camden, they worked again with middle school Mighty Writers reciting publicly the biographies we had written about each other. We found so many connections and similarities among us all. We all went to the gardens with Farmer Jon to plant peas as a team, celebrating our sameness and our commitment to grow life for Camden and food for all of us. That evening, our CfET staff met with GMU to connect our Five Pillars of CfET with the activities and experiences they had so far. The students helped us integrate their ideas and to plan for the next group.

Thursday. What a week so far!! We traveled to Brigid’s Peace House, just two doors down from CfET, where we learned about Ecological Elegies and wrote our responses to the destruction of Earth, of life, of opportunities we see around us. In the afternoon, the New View Camden director and two artists came to speak about what is happening with this new project that will celebrate Camden by creating art on former dumping sites in the city. Again, we see death and resurrection in the same spaces in our hearts and in our realities. That evening, GMU traveled to Phoenix State Prison for a discussion with prisoners and social justice advocates. They came home moved, stirred to action, and committed.

It’s Friday and after working in the gardens with Farmer Jon and exploring energy sustainability concepts with him, we were back at CfET with two experts in advocacy writing. After researching several areas of concern, we decided on Camden as a food desert and all the students wrote letters to be mailed to officials.  In the evening, they had dinner with the Eastern State program coordinators at CfET and a discussion followed where the struggles and resurrections of the week were highlighted again and our Entanglement in all of them.

Finally Saturday. Clean the house, pack our bags, share in a closing ceremony of words, thoughts, impressions, commitments and a blessing. “You are blessed with olive oil from the tree of life. You are blessed with oil of rosemary for remembrance of all you have seen, and heard, and experienced. You are blessed within the circle of life of which you are a part. You are commissioned to help care for Earth, for all people, here and at home, and to pass your goodness to seven generations.”

Here are some of the things the GMU students said during the final session:

  • In Camden, I learned to expect the unexpected.
  • This experience solidified what I want to do with my life, with my degree, with who I am.
  • I experienced what the text books at school only hint at. You must experience the reality of social injustice in order to own your part in it and become a change agent in it.
  • I used to be quiet about my passions. Now I will be more open about my views, passionate about what I’ve seen and experienced, and will be my own person!
  • This trip was humanizing and I’ve become both a defender and a cheerleader for Camden!
  • I learned if these people that work so hard for justice can do it, so can I!!
  • I learned how systems impact Camden and how systems of justice can change this city and connect communities together.
  • We discovered and were rejoicing on the reality that we are all entangled!

We cannot do any of this without you, our friends and supporters. Thanks for all that your generosity enables us to do.


Cathy Nevins, MSW

Member, Board of Trustees, CFET

Chair, Immersion Experience Committee


Flowers in the River

By Tamara Smiley Hamilton

We place flowers in the river
For the bodies of loved ones
Floated furiously to Uganda
Living and breathing while dying
Wasted lives in the river
Baking in the Rwandan sun
Broken dreams for generations
Blue water now brown
Tinted in cinnamon
Reminding travelers: thousands screamed here
Screeched here begged here died here
In the river now brown with the red clay
Oh baby, don’t you weep
Now covered with flowers
Floating to Uganda

Kigali, Rwanda 1.4.2019


This was written by a participant in the Rwanda Field Studies program focused on Genocide: Healing and Reconciliation with Professor Al Fuertes. Dr Fuertes has been traveling to Rwanda for many years facilitating trauma healing following the genocide of 1994. This field studies experience follows the healing and capacity for forgiveness in the aftermath.

Seeds of Change


By Abraham Kadi

The soft, blanket of winter starts to melt away and feed the surrounding landscape

As animals and critters start to waken from their slumber,

And we, me & you, like a flower we are to sprout after moments of introspection.

After days inside…waiting for our time to blossom.

We are ready and have always been ready

To be that seed, planting our influence our knowledge, and passion for change.

But as a seed, alone, we are nothing…nothing but food for birds.

We can’t grow and become more without help from others.

We need to nourish each other when we are feeling drained.

We need to energize each other when we are lacking motivation

And we need each other to help spread our movements

In hopes that one day our passions will be rooted deeply and connected so that nothing can pull us apart.

(Shared during the Seeds of Change Recognition event held by SAIL)

Lego land

By Bridget Anim

kid you not! There was a person who had no heart or soul

Bitter, heartless, despicable much like a troll

Your money, possessions this person would take and make you lack

Strip all your clothes right off your back

I’m serious, this person had no limits, that I can bet

Anyone come up with a name yet?

It’s cool, let’s see if this definition is revealing

Cause this person is quite cunning and a bit concealing

The state of being inferior in quality or insufficient  in amount

The state of being poor

That’s the topic of interest POVERTY enough has been said.

Ever had that moment, where you have a vision that no one else sees? You just Want to change the world, make it a better place?

Improve it and make it worth the living space?

Especially when this happens in the shower and makes you feel like you’re on a mission

Well, when you step out of the shower, leave behind that vision and sudden empowerment. You left all the knowledge and power in the shower.

Kind of like playing a game of bingo, you get a bingo and don’t shout it out

At the end of the game, you claim to have had a bingo. Who’s not going to look at you without doubt?

They’ll probably be like: you mean to say you had a bingo this whole entire time, sat there and let it remain in your head? Didn’t act upon it, nothing was said.

How can poverty be used to facilitate social change?

And not make a persistent person who’s compassionate about social change look deranged?

person thinking that they’re better than everyone else full of arrogance & pride

Then they act all oblivious, lies! They’re way on the negativity side

Poverty can facilitate social change, by establishing that materialistic objects, will never define you.

Each person is unique, wouldn’t you say so? I think it’s true.

still need to expand upon my answer, hang in there, I’m approaching a finish

Hopefully everything being said sticks with you and doesn’t diminish

Children, don’t see color, aren’t filled with negativity, innocent beings who are  phenomenally pure

The Kingdom of Heaven belong to them, Christ confirmed it, that I am sure

Saw a couple of children playing with legos and these two boys lacked a few legos, they didn’t have enough

Their incomplete lego building looked rough

The other kids didn’t quite notice in the beginning, but realized later on and shared their legos without a fight

It was such a wonderful sight

It wasn’t long until the two boys who lacked legos, build a lovely castle

The other kids quickly noticed the castle and wanted to play with it a bit of a hassle

All is being said is that poverty can facilitate social change if each person willingly

Acts like the other kids with the legos, ignoring financial situations fulfillingly

It only takes one person to stand against maltreatment

Then when forces are joined to produce a solution, there is little lament

Now, what the lego may mean to me may be different to you

But whatever the case may be, it is still a step to making a change too!

CPAC Reflection

By Theo Meale

The Deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post and of my favorite journalists, Ruth Marcus, wrote a column this past Tuesday that has been on my mind over the course of the past three days. As a 59 year old self professed liberal, she briefly described her days as a young reporter who witnessed the events of the Reagan administration and was unhappy with his “undermining of the Civil Rights Division” of the Justice Department. Nonetheless, after visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, she felt what she calls “Reagan nostalgia” after being reminded of how Reagan appointed the first female Supreme Court justice, respected the media, apologized for his misdeeds in the Iran-contra affair, welcomed refugees, and spoke with a “Morning in America” tone. In spite of having an apparently more positive view of Reagan’s policies and presidency than Ruth Marcus, I generally agree with her political views and almost always empathize with her feelings of nostalgia under President Trump.

But as I sat in the front of the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord Resort in Maryland, known as CPAC with a fantastic group of students from the floor, I heard a another thought provoking comment in a speech given by Laura Ingraham, a Fox News Channel contributor and conservative radio host. Ingraham spoke about a long list of complaints that the media made about Reagan that sounded similar to the frequent comments that Trump’s critics make about him; that Trump is “evasive”, and has aides who “frequently contradict each other” and who “shield” him from news conferences. She then talked about how critics of Trump are nostalgic to the days of Reagan, and predicted that in decades ahead, Trump’s critics would be nostalgic to his administration other under Republican presidents, for reasons including Trump inviting Democrats to the White House. Although all other attendees from my LLC agreed with Laura Ingraham, I disagreed with entirely as young people by vast margins dislike Trump intensely, and I believe that for the Republican party to survive they will have to appeal to a younger generation of voters, who will not vote for Trump or anyone with a similar ideology.

After Laura Ingraham spoke, the entire room, including myself, stood up, clapped, and erupted in awe as the 45th President Of The United States walked into the room. Like members of Congress during the State Of The Union, the group of us on the floor would stand up and clap when the president said something we approved of and sit down silently and politely when he said things we disapproved of. While I didn’t find the frequency of any particular group member’s clapping surprising, the frequency with which everyone did clap certainly matched everyone’s idea of each other’s ideology and political views: Trai and David as self-described conservatives and Trump supporters clapped at most of Trump’s statements, Jacob and Andrew as self-described “liberals” seldom clapped, and I as a self described “institutionalist” (which leads to having views all over the political spectrum) clapped occasionally at Trump’s statements about supporting background checks for gun purchases, border security, and newly announced sanctions on North Korea. Having said that, in spite of the points of agreement I had with Trump’s speech, his decision to (truthfully) tell the audience he was going to go off script for “fun” and attack the news media, speak in awkward fragments, boast about the swing states he won in 2016, and read a poem called “The Snake” to compare letting immigrants and refugees into the United States to letting a poisonous snake into a house all reminded me many of the reasons why I have always disliked Trump to begin with.

After walking out of the conference room after Trump’s roughly 75 minute long speech, I chatted with the other LLC members who came to CPAC about the speech. It was agreed unanimously that we had all experienced Trump’s incoherent and aggressive nature to the fullest. Where our views of the speech varied was the extent to which we agreed with its content, which was already reflected in how much we had clapped during the speech. After David asked me if my points of agreement with Trump could change my view of him, I said no and told him why. Regardless of how much I may agree with Trump, and regardless of whether Bob Mueller vindicates him entirely in his alleged crimes, there is no circumstance in which I can overlook Trump’s behavior towards Russia in firing an FBI Director because he didn’t like “this Russia thing” as he described it, rejecting the intelligence community’s report that Russia interfered with our elections, sharing classified information about Israel with the Russians, praising Putin, and refusing to put sanctions on Russia for interfering in our elections.This was of conversation today as Trai and David politely told me that while Russia’s behavior towards the United States is bad, that the United States has also interfered with elections and supported autocracies and even does so to this day. I acknowledge that the United States has interfered with elections in Latin America and the Middle East and even forms alliances with brutal governments in those regions today, but I also would emphasize that the United States, while not perfect, has a much better human rights record than Russia or China, and unlike in developing countries, our people generally do value democracy and accept a “social contract” as Jean Jacques Rousseau put it.


But unlike other instances since November of 2016 when I have gone to political events whose speakers I didn’t agree with, including Trump’s inauguration, I didn’t leave CPAC and Trump’s speech feeling angry at all. Instead, I felt that I learned to better understand the views of 25-35% of the country. Since I have arrived at GMU and taken government and intelligence courses, I have developed an agenda towards working in national security for the good of the United States. While in a polarized country that can has different meanings to different people, for me that keeping America safe means defending all of our people and the values “against all enemies, foreign and domestic” as said in the Oath of Enlistment. That includes my friends and family, city and people who share similar values to me like Ruth Marcus, but also those who have a very different agenda for this country, whether it be on my floor in foreign policy discussions or even the people at CPAC who attack the very institutions that I support and want to be a part of. I have to work to keep all of those people happy and safe too because, as Marco Rubio said in the 2016 campaign, “an American president (or any leader or bureaucrat as I would be) has to love all of the American people. Even the ones that don’t love you back.” That is what I intend to do and going to CPAC has helped me come closer to being the leader who lives by that standard that I want to have for myself in national security.

Wonder Woman for Child Justice


By Mason Service Corps Student

Describe your service site and role?

I should first state that for personal safety reasons, I cannot share my photo.

I chose to do my work with Child Justice, Inc., a non-profit organization. As stated on their Website, they “provide legal services and advocacy for children’s rights.  Child Justice seeks to ensure that courts protect children in cases of abuse and family violence.” Please read about the organization and the amazing work they do at:

I have been personally affected by this issue and have chosen to use my pain as fuel to help others in these circumstances. As such, I have volunteered for Child Justice for a number of years. I serve as a support for abused women and sometimes as just someone safe to talk to. I help mothers navigate behavioral problems that their abused children display and help to find psychological support services. I help meet the needs a woman may have – whether it be organizing a spontaneous move or helping to explain legalese. I court-watch for a variety of cases involving domestic violence, including murder trials, kidnapping trials, and civil cases at the intersection of child abuse, domestic violence, and custody. Court-watching is important for oversight of local courts and for counsel representing the abuser. In addition, I consult on these cases with attorneys representing the abused women and children. I also lobby Congress for H.Con.Res.72. Please look it up and write your representative in Congress to co-sponsor this legislation!

What did you learn from your Mason Service Corps experience that you will apply in the future?

I learned most through my interviews of the attorneys. They gave me good insight to the practice of law in this area. It is an emotionally exhausting job and it takes a very special way of thinking to win these cases. More law schools should have courses that specialize in this area of law.

How did this experience challenge your assumptions and stereotypes?

When an abuser challenges a protective parent in court for custody of the children, they are successful in gaining custody over 70% of the time. This is an overwhelming statistic and it happens in every state in the country – some jurisdictions are worse than others. It is infuriating that when this topic is discussed publically – nobody wants to hear it, believe it, or deal with it. A great current example is Roy Moore. He was a sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama and is a serial pedophile and abuser. When people like him or with his intrinsic bias hear cases involving domestic violence – they are not apt to believe the woman.

The post-Weinstein era has opened the flood gates and more and more businesses – even democrats in both the House and Senate – have started believing women. Women do not make up these allegations, neither do children. It is simply too difficult to do. In fact, statistics show that an abused child lies about being abused less than 1% of the time. I never thought I would see the day that women are believed and it definitely challenged me to start believing in hope a little more. My assumptions are being challenged and I hope they continue to be challenged and hopefully one day – flat out wrong.

Discuss a social problem that you have come in contact with during your service work. What do you think are the root causes of this problem? Explain how your service may or may not contribute to its alleviation

Judges are incredibly critical of women and hold them to a much, much higher standard and openly criticize them in court, calling them hysterical, crazy, and too sensitive to abuse. There are so many root causes of this. The most deeply ingrained is the tendency to disbelieve women, even when there is blatant evidence of abuse when the standard of proof in civil cases is the preponderance of the evidence. Judges are actually taught to discredit women when allegations of domestic violence and child abuse are raised after she leaves her abuser. Learning how to compensate for this in the courtroom will hopefully help to combat the bias.

What are some of the challenges you faced during this experience? What will you take away from your experience with Mason Service Corps

My biggest challenge was learning that abused women can react to a certain set of circumstances in a variety of unexpected ways. Reactions come in different forms and learning to recognize what triggers the client is important. Going through the divorce process with children is enough of a stressor for those who haven’t experienced abuse. For a client that is being abused and is forced to send her children to the man that abuses them is gut wrenching. Watching a woman not knowing if it will be the very last time that she sees her child is gut wrenching. Asking this person to think clearly, put emotions aside, and work on her case can be a near impossible feat. The client is very important and plays a big role during this process. If the client breaks down, so will the case.

I will take away from this course the need for continued and consistent self-reflection. Reminding myself of why I am doing this work will help solidify my commitment to this cause. It is a very exhausting line of work and if I do not take care of myself first, I can’t help others. Learning how to manage emotions is an important skill. Sometimes I envision the scene in Wonder Woman when she is running across the battlefield, dodging the arrows, and pressing on literally in the face of adversity. That scene gets me through days that sometimes feel impossible.


A note from SAIL Director, Patty Mathison: This student is a true hero in every sense of the word. I had the privilege to work with this extraordinary human being this past semester and was blown away by the care, the compassion and most significantly, her ability to overcome adversity and use that “pain as fuel to help others.” I had shared with this student that this does not need to be shared publicly, and she replied that she would love to share this as the more people know about this crisis, the better. I feel honored to have worked with and learned from this Wonder Woman. 

Always Make your Bed…

“How many of you make your bed every day? I make my bed every day. I recently heard Admiral McRaven’s commencement speech for the University of Texas, that shared that you should always make your bed. That way, if you have a bad day you can at least say, I made my bed today. I did something.” Trai G., sophomore Government and International Politics major shared his advice for self-care.

Trai and several other student leaders, took time out of their busy schedules to come and sit on a panel hosted by Noah S, senior here at Mason and the Service Coordinator for the Leadership and Community Engagement Living Learning Community (LLC). With a focus on self-care, challenges and resiliency, balancing expectations from both themselves and others, and discovering their passions. The panel spoke to members of the LLC and shared their wisdom, advice and lessons learned.

It can be challenging to be a student leader, to balance a full schedule, to focus on academics, struggle with finances all while maintaining a healthy social life. These students spoke to these challenges and as they reflect back on their Mason experience, shared their truth and their stories.

Rolando F, senior Global Affairs major shared, “that you always want to say yes. That he and other student leaders feel they need to say yes when they are given opportunities or experiences.” He shared, “At the end of the day, I’m here to get an education, and I’m here for the future. We need to ask ourselves the question of what do we want to accomplish?”

When asked how someone would go about finding their passion, Mandeep K, senior Business major shared that “sometimes you just need to tune out other people’s voices and just listen to yourself.” That there are many folks who will tell you what you should do and what you should care about, but that it is important to figure out what this means for ourselves.

Jocelyn M, junior Criminology major shared that deciding what to get involved in and what is important to you is a process. “It’s a process and this is a time to test the waters.” She went on to share that its important to remember that its also ok to be a potato. That its ok to relax and just detox and take some time for yourself.

In a very honest and thoughtful moment senior Biology major Mario M, shared about overcoming challenges and learning to deal with failure or disappointment. He shared it is important to “fail forward.” To take something from the challenges that we experience and to use it to change things in our futures.

As these students listed off their many accomplishments, programs and passions, it was clear to see their tremendous drive, their depth of compassion and their incredible resiliency. They shared many words of wisdom with such care and thoughtfulness, hoping to encourage others to find their voice and strengths. As the LLC Coordinator, I’ve been able to see these students push themselves and grow with such courage and tenacity. It is such a privilege to see students through their four years and to be able to watch them grow in confidence, to own their leadership skills and to serve as an inspiration for others.

By Patty Mathison


Willowsford Farms with Professor Andrew Wingfield

One thing I really enjoy about my job, is the ability to work with and learn from the incredible colleagues that are a part of the School of Integrative Studies. Our faculty are driven, compassionate, and inspiring advocates for students and the surrounding community.

One such colleague,
Professor Andrew Wingfield is an intelligent and remarkable educator, inspiring young minds through his actions and care. Wingfield is an Associate Professor within the School of Integrative Studies and has played a leading role in integrating sustainability into the George Mason curriculum and creating opportunities for students to use Mason’s campus as a sustainability living laboratory. He was the founding director of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies BA program and founding co-director of the Sustainability Studies Minor. In addition, he integrates community based and experiential learning into many of his classes providing a more in -depth look and experience for his students. 

In a conversation with Professor Wingfield, he once shared that he enjoys incorporating the hands-on experiences and community based learning into his classes as it provides hope and action within courses designed to illustrate the harm and challenges we as human beings have done to our planet. It can be quite challenging work and he inspires and motivates his students to find the promise within the bleakness.

On Monday October 2nd, I had the opportunity to travel with Professor Wingfield’s class to Willowsford Farm and Conservancy in Ashburn VA with his INTS 370: Sustainable Food Systems class. This 6-credit course, examines the evolution of US food systems with particular emphasis on the national capital region. Students place conventional agriculture and food systems in historical context and research alternative systems that emphasize sustainability. Beyond farm to table, this course asks students to contemplate how capitalism, industrialization, and environmental ethics shape our land, culture, and society.

Just one of many field trips these students experience, we were treated to a tour from Mike Snow, Director of Farm Operations at Willowsford Farm and Conservancy. Willowsford Farm manages over 300 acres of agricultural land, growing more than 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers, and raising several breeds of livestock. In addition to farming operations, Willowsford Conservancy oversees land management, wildlife habitat and educational outreach programs. Cultivating the strengths of the land and their neighbors, the farm has been continuing to grow to support and encourage sustainable food and agricultural education and awareness.

On our tour we were treated to some fresh tomatoes and grapes, were able to tour the farm’s operations and we were able to see how integral the farm had become to the community that surrounded them and how much the community had a voice in how the farm is operated.

It was a wonderful experience and a great chance to be outdoors, to see community work in action and to see the excitement and energy of the students in the class. Grateful for the kindness of my colleague to allow me to join and participate in this experience.

By Patty Mathison, SAIL Director

Leadership and Community Engagement LLC Retreat

By Patty Mathison

On the weekend of September 9th, the 42 members of the Leadership and Community Engagement Living Learning Community  trekked out to Camp Horizons in Harrisonburg for their annual retreat. Many thanks to the Living Learning Community Office and GMU Housing and Residence Life for sponsoring our retreat!

Students shopped and cooked their own meals based on what was formerly given for food stamp recipients ($1 for breakfast, $2 for lunch, $3 for dinner per person). We participated in a high ropes course led by the Camp Horizons staff.

We participated in activities such as Archie Bunkers Neighborhood and Common Ground. Our mentors in our Buddy Program were revealed. And we spent quality time together away from the stresses and busy-ness of the campus, getting to know each other and practicing vulnerability. There is something magical that happens when you bring a group out into the woods and this year was no exception. From screaming our lungs out on the ropes course (ok, that was just me) to laughs and chats around the fire roasted s’mores, to birdie on a perch, we shared many laughs, tears and pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone!

It was a fantastic experience and one that I look forward to each year. I am grateful for the kindness, for the incredible energy and for the wisdom each participant brings to this retreat. We have a wonderful group of students this year and I am excited for what is in store.

Color Me Purple

By: Anasia Napper

I started writing this once, but I had too many thoughts and too many words, and I did not want to be up here speaking for too long, so I’m going to tell you what I find funny.

Black women have been victims for centuries.

They have been assaulted, raped, murdered, kidnapped, verbally abused, hated, and mocked by people we now have to call enemies.

Some of these problems aren’t problems exclusive to black women,

but no one seems to wanna talk about issues if they don’t affect them.

I read The Color Purple a year ago, and if you haven’t read it, I’ll give you a little synopsis.

Celie is a 14-year-old girl who writes letter to God about her father who rapes and abuses her, but adores her sis.

Then, she writes about her older husband who does the same shit.

I still haven’t told you what’s funny.

This story took place in the 1920s, and here it is almost 100 years later,

And black girls and women are still going through this.

Did you know more than half of black women have been sexually assaulted?

Did you know that black women make up 8% of the overall population,

but 22% of domestic violence homicides in the nation?

Some people will say that “They can always leave.”

The funny thing is, black women make less money than black men and white men and women, leaving them financially dependent on their abusers.

What’s that saying? Something like “Low-income women can’t be choosers?”

“Femicide” is the killing of females by males solely due to their gender.

Husbands and boyfriends are almost always the offenders.

The funny thing is, 93% of these homicides are intra-racial,

Meaning the killers are black men.

As a girl who loves black men, admitting that black men don’t always love us is painful.

Black men get away with too much because black women have to choose between their racial groups and gender groups.

Most of the time, their racial group is chosen.

And that is devotion.

The funny thing is, I can’t entirely blame black men.

They are also victims of oppression.

What may be important in understanding this

is to understand PTSS

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

Black folks have been a little messed up since they took us from home.

During slavery, Willie Lynch said black men were like wild horses—they had to be broken.

So black men went through a brutal process of emasculation.

Today, some of these black men do things because of this mentality,

But let’s get back to reality,

We gotta figure out what we are going to do now

We gotta figure out when we gone do it and how

We can start by addressing our mental health and well-being.

The funny thing is, the saying about “a strong, black woman” is doing more harm than good

Black women don’t seek counseling, but if we got rid of this saying, maybe they would.

Black men don’t want to go either because they are told to man up.

Then, we act surprised when their emotions build up and they erupt.

Violence against women is an issue, but black women are victims whose stories aren’t even written.

They’re hidden.

If anyone asks what I spoke about today, you don’t have to tell them the first thing I said or even the latter.

Just tell them what needs to be said and proven on the daily, #BlackWomenMatter

Lives cannot be replaced, #blacklivesmatter

By: Tabatha Donley 

         Queering Leadership. The Hero’s Journey: Reigniting a Passion to Serve and Lead. Changing the Conversation on Global Development through Powerful Messaging. With over 90 workshops and panels offered at the annual IMPACT Conference, it was a daily struggle to pick and choose among enticing topics. Most insightful for me was attending the “Forward through Ferguson: A Path Towards Racial Equity” panel, which featured three scholar-activists, two of whom served on the Ferguson Commission.
           Weaving in the history and demographics of St. Louis, the panelists answered poignant questions regarding the aftermath of Michael Brown’s unjust death, examining the value of protests and “calling out.” Through the course of several hours, I was in absolute awe of the sheer intelligence, passion, and dedication these women (yes, they were allwomen) possessed. Chills ran through my body as these fierce women shared their experiences and expressed their opinions, unapologetically.
“Can’t you find another way to protest?”
           The Q&A session revealed how much work is needed in our own social justice spaces. As with anything, good intentions do not necessarily equate to good results; in fact, even the best of intentions can have harmful consequences. A fellow conference participant (white, female) prefaced her question with her disdain for protests that interrupt traffic. She stated that one such protest in her hometown shut down the freeway which resulted in a large inconvenience: her commute to work was severely delayed, therefore she lost money. She pleaded that there must be a better way to protest — one that does not inconvenience others who would otherwise support causes like #blacklivesmatter. She reiterated that she was all for social justice. It was interesting to observe the crowd: some were nodding in agreement with the questioner, while others shook their heads. Panelist Amy Hunter (check out her amazing Ted Talk here) answered with perfection. She acknowledged that certain protests do indeed inconvenience others…yet, she encouraged the student – and the audience in general – to see the big picture: if a traffic blockade is what it takes to save another black child — to prevent another black mother from grieving over her dead child — surely, it is worth the “inconvenience.” Money can be replaced; lives cannot. The whole room fell silent and was taken away by Ms. Hunter’s candor in reminding folks what is really at stake here: human lives. Most commonly, black lives. The questioner was visibly shook, as she received a big reality check assessing her privilege and power.
To call OUT or IN?
           Another highlight was the discussion of calling out. A common practice for social activists, calling out brings public attention to one’s oppressive behavior, and paves the way for increased education and accountability. Yet, as many conference participants expressed, calling out seems ineffective or harsh at times — deterring possible allies from joining the movement. Once again, Ms. Hunter came in clutch: she first reminded folks how imperative calling people out can be: not only is oppressive behavior identified and corrected, communal healing can take place if folks were directly harmed by the oppression. Yet, Ms. Hunter also gave the questioner’s claim some legitimacy, and advocated another approach: “calling in.” She talked about radical love, and how addressing someone’s oppressive behavior more personally and privately can reduce embarrassment – but most importantly, help the individual learn, grow, and be hip to cause.
           Immediately afterwards, a co-panelist stressed that calling out is more effective, and that there is simply not enough energy to call people in all the time. Ultimately, the panelists agreed that both calling out and calling in hold merit, emphasizing that each situation is unique. Energy and compassion cannot be easily renewed – particularly if one experiences frequent micro and macro-aggressions. Marginalized people are not obligated to educate their oppressors; their self-care comes first. As Audre Lorde famously expressed, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”                                                                                                        My time in St. Louis rejuvenated my passion for social justice, reaffirmed the importance of community, and inspired me to continue the good fight. I encourage everyone – especially underclassmen – to partake in IMPACT and stay woke. A million thanks to SAIL for affording this senior with the opportunity to continually learn and grow.


Waking an Active Citizen

By: Mousa Abusaif

I spent a great deal of effort, at some point in time, trying to decide which I preferred watching: the sunrise, or sunset. I was as familiar with both as any young person in the States probably is today: A handful of sunrises to a wealth of sunsets. It takes a specific calling, or some other odd reason, to wake a young adult up, when the air is still chilled and the morning dew settles heavily on sharp and glistening blades of grass. In the event of this weekend past, that drive just happened to manifest in the form of an annual conference: in which the Leadership and Community Engagement LLC, paired with the Social Action and Integrative Learning NCC, has traditionally spearheaded Mason’s presence. Nonetheless, entirely voluntary and with no other incentive but to learn and contribute, we packed a van full of eager students, at the break of dawn I add, for the three plus hour drive to Williamsburg Virginia; and the following is what we discovered.

From across the Commonwealth hundreds of likeminded students forfeited their Saturdays to converge on a venue of education; seeking to alleviate some of that responsibility, and acquire new skill-sets to change their, and the greater world. I believe there has never been a more difficult time than in this modern era, in which we are all endowed with a certain responsibility and capability, to remedy the paradigmatic dilemmas of this great human race. From prison reform, to grassroots funding, to my lecture on the divisiveness and polarization of today’s socio-political spectrum; in these few hours there was an ostentatious deal to be revealed. We imposed our perspectives, principles, and mutual knowledge in interactive forums of learning. But more than that, we grew together: in navigating the hiking trails of that historic town, the halls of those hallowed buildings, the spirits and desires of those advantageous students. From sunrise to sunset we were together, and to expound no further: not having to decide between the two beauties, seems to be the greatest privilege of a day well spent.

2017 IMPACT Conference

By: Sarah Kladler

This year I attended the 2017 National IMPACT Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference centered around social action and service learning, bringing hundreds of motivated social justice warriors under one roof. The Conference lasted four days and consisted of keynote speakers, panels, and workshops led by nonprofit leaders, school administrators, and college students. When we weren’t in group sessions, we had time to explore the St. Louis area. We visited local restaurants and bars, walked past the largest city park in the country, and spent an evening at the City Museum, which believe me, was one of the coolest places I have ever been in my life. The City Museum is a huge indoor/outdoor playground for adults and children alike, with multiple story-long slides and spiral tunnels weaved through the ceiling—the place is a real-life version of Shoots and Ladders meets Chuckie Cheese’s, meets an eccentric sculpture installation. It’s insane!

During the Conference I also had the opportunity to present a workshop to me peers tilted, The Image as Social Commentary: the Power Behind Visual Persuasion. My workshop centered around images and introduced how images, driven by a society devoted to visual stimuli through constant exposure to marketing and the media, have the unique and extraordinary power to persuade and comment on the world around us. Participants learned that the formation of social stereotypes and biases are often formed through images we see in ads and driven by our implicit bias. I also introduced artists, such as Hank Willis Thomas and KC Adams, who use their art as a form of social action. Thomas seeks to inform the public of how we unconsciously absorb social bias through the images we see. KC Adams, on the other hand, works to replace our bias with positive, truthful images. Check out their work here:

I want to thank SAIL for providing me the opportunity to attend this conference. If you are reading this and you haven’t been to a conference, or are looking for other opportunities to expand your knowledge about social justice, come by the SAIL office to learn about upcoming our events and other opportunities!

IMPACT Conference

By: Michael Galfetti
Thanks to SAIL’s generous full-funding, I was able to take my research to Washington University at St. Louis and listen to excellent scholar activists who were “ready to be free”. Throughout the conference, I witnesses the most optimism I have seen on a stage since the election of Donald Trump. The women who sat on the Ferguson panel, and yes, they were all women, had their hands on the long arm of the universe and were bending it towards justice—without holding back. They candidly stated that they were ‘likely to be run over laying down in front of an immigration bus’ but were pleased with the progress in the opening of American consciousness towards the gross inequities our society has (always) perpetuated. All that to say, I enjoyed the Ferguson panel. Those women gave one of the most important lectures of my college career; they were open, loving, hard-working, respectful, freedom fighters. It feels egotistical to comment on my own research in line with theirs so I will start a new paragraph.
My presentation was attended by about 30 people (students and administrators (mainly students)) and we dialogued about the role emotions have to play in replacing truth—focusing around the 2017 election. Together we were able to build a new model for understanding conversations about political truths. There are experiences universal to all people; the example we used was the feeling of being judged. Then there are individual experiences of being judged; this is a subjective and highly personal experience. Lastly, there is the objective, numerical, piece of being judged in society; do the “facts” show that black people are more likely to be arrested for the same crime as white people? (yes) In creating this model together the group was able to see how commentators—the media—are navigating conversations concerning issues of social justice. What arguments are salient in communities? What “truths” are individuals believing and why are they believing it? Are questions open to investigation under this model precisely because it recognizes the use of emotional charged rhetoric that may be relying on a shared history of people. It is a little like the old maxim: if you say anything enough it becomes true. Except it fills in more after the period “if you say anything enough it becomes true because it connects to personal myths and stories that are shared among communities”.
The opportunities of the 2017 IMPACT conference were thought-provoking and professional-advancing. Thank you to the office of Social Action and Integrative Learning for the opportunity and support.

INTS 331- The Nonprofit Sector

By Natalie Park

For my service learning I worked with The Humane Society of Fairfax County. This nonprofit organization works to promote humane education, prevent all forms of cruelty to animals, and assist the community with all matters pertaining to the welfare of animals. One of the main reasons why I chose to work with this organization is because I am an animal lover and I admire what the Humane Society does for animals that need care. I feel that the existence of this organization is important in our community. HSFC takes in and finds homes for unwanted pets that need care. They also have an Anti-Meals Pet Food Pantry program that offers free dog and cat food/supplies to Fairfax County residents in need. HSFC’s Feral Cat Program helps control the numbers of homeless cats through the TrapNeuterRelease project.

aaaaaaaaThe Humane Society works with local schools, communities, and other organizations to provide humane education and promote the welfare of all animals. This is an important aspect of the nonprofit sector because the local community is able to be aware of what is going on around us. Raising awareness is crucial so that we can get the community to be a part of something bigger.

Volunteers have an important role in helping all the animals that are part of the Humane Society’s care. They depend on the volunteers to enhance the lives of cats, dogs, horses, and small mammals that are waiting for their permanent homes. These animals needs daily care and need social interaction, due to the fact that they are confined to their rooms all day until the day of adoption. The volunteers provide support by spending time socializing with the animals that lack care. HSFC has a paper-free tracking program for tracking service hours so that volunteers are able to go in and out freely. HSFC requires volunteers to complete an online application and to attend an hour long information orientation that trains the helpers prior to beginning the service work.

HSFC cannot work for their mission without the help from the community. The donors and volunteers keep the organization going. Humane Society accepts donations from pet care supplies, gifts, and also monetary donations.

My personal experience at HSFC was beyond what I had expected because I personally did not have any experience with nonprofit. Playing with the cats and kittens were the highlight of my day, seeing these animals excited to see me and play with me brightened my day. Each day, I was excited to go back. It made me realize how much love and care they want. I never realized how many animals are in need of a home in Fairfax County. I would definitely recommend for people to adopt seeking for a pet. Working here made me seek other adoption shelters in the area, this experience sparked a new interest in my life.

My name is Natalie Park and I am currently a Senior at George Mason University. I love animals and believe every animal deserves love and care. I really enjoyed working with Humane Society and want to continue doing so following this course.aaaaaa

INTS 331- The Nonprofit Sector

By Aaab.pnglison O’Connell

I was able to use an organization I already had connections with for my volunteering requirement this semester. I was very excited to continue working on a project I really believe in and that has impacted my life in such a positive way. I volunteered with Rural Dog Rescue, a rescue center for dogs from rural areas that are transported to DC to be adopted. Rural Dog’s motto is “Root for the Underdog!”, and they try to live up to it by devoting the majority of their resources to saving dogs who would otherwise be euthanized: black dogs, hounds, pit bulls (or dogs that resemble them), elderly dogs and sick dogs. They select dogs from high-kill shelters in southern states (including Southern Virginia) and bring them to foster homes in DC until they can find suitable adopters. My previous volunteering experience was as a foster. My work this semester was very different: I did all my volunteering virtually, assisting with various social media initiatives.

It was very interesting to compare and contrast Rural Dog with the structures that exist in larger non-profit organizations. Rural Dog is entirely volunteer run and focused on a small-scale mission, so many of the initiatives that larger non-profits deal with did not apply to them. Our class this semester also gave me a lot of insight into why non-profits are started and how we assess their success and merit. I can definitely see ways for Rural Dog to grow and expand, should they choose to, but I am proud of the work they’re doing right now and think it absolutely has a positive output.

One of the best things about my organization is how many ways there are to volunteer. I am disabled and have struggled with my desire to volunteer and contribute versus my ability and energy level. I was very excited to find there were a number of ways I could help that weren’t on a set schedule. I highly recommend virtual volunteering if your organization offers it: you can fit your contributions to your life and still make a difference in how your organization approaches their mission. In my case, I feel my work directly helps the organization stay visible and recruit potential adopters. Fostering was also a really positive experience for me, and I highly recommend it to any animal-lovers who can’t afford to own a pet themselves. The Rescue provides supplies, food and vet care. Your job is to give of your time and energy- no mean feat- and help a vulnerable dog adjust to their new life. Many people balk at the idea of caring for a dog and then giving it up. I definitely did (and my first foster dog was a foster-failure…meaning I kept her). However, I quickly adjusted to the cyclical nature of fostering: the adjustment period of adding a new animal to your home, the bonding that occurs, the grief of letting them go, and the satisfaction of seeing them thrive in their forever-home. The grief happened every time, but each new dog taught me a very important lesson: they were all special and all deserved to be loved and safe. My momentary pain was totally worth it in the scheme of things. Without fosters, the rescue couldn’t do their work, and all of those wonderful lives would be lost. Rural Dog also needs volunteers for weekend adoption events. Those volunteers attend the events and handle the dogs so they can meet prospective adopters. It’s a very important job and key to helping dogs meet the right people for them. Many of their volunteers for this position are from local universities.

If you’re an animal lover, I highly recommend getting involved with this rescue (or one of the many other excellent ones in the NOVA area)! The rescue is entirely volunteer run, so every contribution, from virtual volunteering to dog wrangling, is an essential part of the process to getting these dogs adopted.

Alison O’Connell is a junior at Mason and helicopter dog-parent. She loves baking and pop-culture.

INTS 331-The Nonprofit Sector

By Natalie Wolf

My name is Natalie Wolf and I am a junior here at George Mason University, graduating in May of 2018. I am a Sociology major with a double minor in Nonprofit Studies and Women and Gender Studies. I hope to work with nonprofits in the DC area bettering my community around me with a focus on social justice. In addition I am studying American Sign Language, and hope to continue my love for the language after college.

For my nonprofit sector class, I choose Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) as my service site. I went to the GMU Service Fair on September 9th and meet two wonderful NVFS representatives, who I now work under. NVFS is a private nonprofit organization that has been running since 1924. NVFS works to create sustainable financial and social independence for families and individuals in Northern Virginia. This organization is the perfect service site for Mason students as NVFS programs help a wide variety of needs. Some programs include, Anti-Hunger, Homelessness, Housing, Child Placement, Health and Mental Health Services, Legal Services, Multicultural Center, Early Childhood Services, and even Workforce Development Services. I worked with the development team, specifically with programs that help families in the holiday season.

The first main project I worked on was Operation Turkey, a program that provides Thanksgiving meals to more than 800 families in Prince William County. I am so grateful that NVFS let me take such a large hand in helping with this drive. On my first day I was the person who contacted all Prince William County schools in their participation for food donations, and every week I would follow up on the processaa. I was able to see all of the development team and my own work come together for such a successful event that fed so many families this Thanksgiving. I also worked with our program Empty Bowls, a national event that educates on local hunger and helps those less fortunate. One of the final projects I worked on with NVFS was Gifting for Families which ensures more than 2,100 children in Northern Virginia receive gifts for the holiday season.

I was fortunate to have an internship with a nonprofit this Fall semester that had such large programs to take on. NFVS is a wonderful place to reach out to for a service site as they work so well with your schedule and making sure what you are working on is something that will benefit your future. As an organization that has been running for almost 90 years, it’s an honor to work with such a successful business that has continually helped improve our own community. The service site is perfect for a nonprofit minor, as it connects to the course lessons. As we discussed things such as managing staff, grants, or marketing, I was able to connect it to my own service site. I cannot imagine a better service site that I would work with, NVFS treated me like an employee and taught me wonderful experience.

Flint Hill’s Learning Center


By Lili Jalaie

The service-learning project that I am at is Flint Hill’s Learning center program. This program helps kids with difficulties and disabilities that make them a little slower than a regular student. It’s a program that bring kids that are slower and helps guide them and encourage them to understand that everyone goes there own pace and that it is ok. There purpose is to be a supporting guide to students. Their organization isn’t that big but at Flint Hill it is a key system that they use, and it is very affective.

As a person who went to Flint Hill and was in the learning center program it really affected my life for the better. I am dyslexic and have ADHD and it has always slowed me down and coming to Flint Hill where they specialized in kids like me it helped me become more organized and independent and helped me grow to be the person I am today. Now that I have started working there it helps me understand the other side and how much the Learning Center teachers did for their students. Since I was a kid in the learning center before, I knew how to handle the kids the way I wanted to be treated. What I have learned about myself is that I really do want to help kids and guide them the way my teachers guided me when I was in school. The community I work in is so opening and judgment free and really helps me feel at home and also makes the students feel safe.

What I think I contributed to the community site is that since I was a student there and knew how it felt they would use me to talk to the kids and share my story and be a role model to who the kids would want to be. But I also helped by talking to kids and guiding them the right direction when they seemed to be down or upset because they weren’t as fast at understanding things as their friends. Some values and beliefs that come to mind are the fact that when I went to Flint Hill and was in the learning Center Program I used to hate having to go at first because I didn’t want to look like the slow kid and the one that was behind because I always wanted to be a leader. But once I went a couple more times I realized that it really did help me for the better and it was ok to be slow. But now that I work there I can see the same feelings I had about the process that the kids have. It just takes a little time for the kids to really realize the amazing program that they are in.

In the end the most important lesson that was learned was that it is ok to be a little slower. Everyone goes at there own pace and it shouldn’t discourage you. Working at Flint Hill now I wouldn’t want to change anything about the community. I think that they have a great community already and that it shouldn’t be changed at all. The main problem that the Learning Center is trying to identify is that no kid should feel alone and be discouraged because of something they are born with. They should be encouraged for working even harder to get where they have to be. Flint Hill’s Learning Center is very good at addressing this issue and helping kids with the problem that they have.



By Anthony Applewhite

For my service learning project I am helping to clean up and maintain the grounds and building.  I am also tasked with helping set up for special events and other such jobs.  The organization I am working for is the Vale Church.  Their purpose is to spread the word of god as well as to help those in need.  It is a decently small church with a very tight knit community.  Their history is very old, it is an old piece of land, it is an old building, and the people are all old.  Their mission and goals are to help spread the word of god and to help those in need.


I have learned that when doing manual labor, it is infinitely more pleasurable to talk to someone and just generally converse with friends than it is to do work in silence for hours.  I have learned that even though people care about the community not many can take time out to help clean it up, so that’s left for me.  I have done a ton of clean-up be it taking down tree branches, raking leaves, changing light bulbs, painting, power washing, stain proofing, cleaning, and much more.  I have gone from respecting nature to hating trees.  If I have the choice when I get a place to live there will be no trees near me.  They make WAY too many leaves and other problems to deal with.  I learned two things.  Number one is that even for such a small area of land, it requires copious amounts of maintenance and general upkeep.  The second thing that I learned is to never think you are done.  There is always something else to do or a way you can redo the original task better.  I would love to burn all the trees.  This way I don’t have to do any work to cut them down haul them away and mulch them then spread the mulch, I don’t have to rake the leaves that fall off when cutting it down, I don’t have to plan where to let it fall or to clean up the ground around where it falls including the indents, and most importantly I don’t have to ever rake the leaves again.  If I urn the tree it would look cool, it could toast marshmallows, and it would provide heat in the winter for a couple of hours.  There is not really an identified problem, just general upkeep.  They get volunteers like me to do it.

Britepaths (Formerly Our Daily Bread)


By Lynne Eisenberg

I worked with two organizations during this semester, however I will be focusing on the second one because it was more of a nonprofit focused organization.  The organization was Britepaths in Fairfax, VA.  This organization has been up and running for over 30 years.  On their website they say they have been “a dedicated leader in developing sustainable solutions that stabilize low income working families, build resilience through financial literacy and mentoring, and provide seasonal supports”.  Their main goal is to help families who are struggling to make ends meet and stabilize and guide them toward self-sufficiency.  Their former name used to be Our Daily Bread, but they recently had a name change to indicate that they were not simply a soup kitchen but were there to provide many more resources as well.

During my time at Britepaths, I learned how uninformed I was about things happening even right inside my own neighborhood.  Fairfax is in the top 3 wealthiest counties in the nation, and yet they have tens of thousands of individuals that are homeless and go without proper food and other basic needs.  I’ve learned that there are things that I can do to help, even if it is the littlest things, however nothing will get better if the underlying cause is not addressed.  It is great to continue to provide food for the hungry, but a better goal for the future would be to figure out why these people go hungry and how to have less and less individuals going without these basic needs.  During my time there volunteering, I was able to help with mailing out letters to donors, organize “customer” files to make sure their contact information is correct, help prepare posters and setup of fundraiser, and help sort and organize food in the food pantry.  One thing I think they could have been better at was being organized.  It seemed whenever I went in to help, they were slightly disorganized.  I think this was partly due to the cramped space that their facility is in.  I know the organization is moving addresses in a few months, and hopefully the move will be to bigger space and will allow for more organization and efficiency.

Before I always wondered and even judged those who were homeless or without food, thinking that it was their fault and that they could get themselves out of the situation if they really wanted to.  I now have a much better understanding of how some individuals get into these situations that can sometimes just spiral out of control.  Britepaths is an organization that is there to offer that initial support to those in need, and then to make sure the individual puts forth their own effort to continue their progress.  They are good at not just offering superficial or short term solutions, but looking at underlying problems and helping to make people self-sufficient so that they can continue to make a better life for themselves.

Wright to Read


By Liza Kremer

When I first came across the Wright to Read program located in Alexandria, VA, I was thrilled at the thought of both helping others and working with children. Over the past three times I’ve volunteered, I’ve learned a lot about the program.

Wright to Read is a program aiming to serve students (in 2016, their goal is 100) in Alexandria City Public Schools, grades 1-5, who have tested a minimum of one year below grade level in literacy skills. Many of the students referred to the program are more than a year behind; it’s also found that nearly all qualify for free or reduced lunch; over 50% are English language learners; and 25% receive Special Education services. The vision of Wright to Read, as stated on their website, is “Every child will have the necessary literacy skills to acheive success in school and in life”. However, the director, Luisa Reyes, is aiming to do more than that. She not only wants them to improve their skills; she also wants the students to develop a love literature, as well as form a unique relationship with their chosen tutor. Tutors are chosen carefully and go through a two-month long process that includes orientation, training, and a background check. Then, of course, there is the introduction meeting with the student and their parent(s)/guardian(s) before beginning the actual tutoring. I’ve been in the office during one of the orientation sessions and have learned that Luisa is keen on helping her tutors out whenever they need, whatever it may be, in order to further increase the student’s success. She stresses the importance of building a relationship with the student, as well as a routine. Students meet with their tutor for one hour each week after school at one of the local libraries, and that one hour includes a detailed schedule to be guided by, if not follow. The schedule is also catered to the student’s need; for instance, if a student reads well, but has trouble with comprehension, the tutor is to focus on that, and vice versa.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned so far while volunteering is humility. As much as I would love to be a tutor, the time frame required to become a tutor exceeds the length of this class, not to mention that my current schedule doesn’t allow for the 30-minute drive once a week (plus that’s a bit of a drive to make every week). Therefore, I’ve been helping Luisa out in the office. The first time I volunteered was for a Scavenger Hunt event. My main duties included setting up the food and then standing in the room, letting families know what to do. I was discouraged, in all honesty, about what the next volunteer hours would bring. However, my next session I helped Luisa clean off this massive desk in her office, which she decided would be sold later, and then I proceeded to make copies. My last session, which I found most enjoyable, consisted of me reading several different children’s books and writing comprehension questions to go along with them, for the tutors and their student. That, of course, brought out the inner writer in me, and I found it to be both fun and slightly challenging. All of these tasks did not include me tutoring or involving myself at all with children, which is what I wanted when searching for an organization; however, I have still been a help to Luisa and the program. She’s a very busy woman, as I’ve learned, and seems to dedicate much of her life to helping others. While the service work I’m doing is not my ideal, it sill counts, it still matters, and it’s taught me that I don’t have to do something big to help someone out.

Pop Up Pantry

By Collette Rhoads

I ended up doing a large majority of hours with George Mason University’s Pop-Up Pantry. Pop-Up Pantry is a institution on campus that offers food to students on campus who may otherwise be unable to provide food for themselves. It’s a relatively small institution, but it has a huge heart. Their missions is t mitigate the challenges that face students with food insecurity and hunger at George Mason University. Working with the pantry I have realized that I am very fortunate. So many people are able to have necessities such as food, water, and shelter. Often times I feel that many people overlook the fact that there are some people on college campuses that cannot afford to eat. I learned that my community (primarily the Leadership and Community Engagement LLC) is very aware of hunger and homelessness being a serious issue. I’ve gained a lot of respect for the people around me and their willingness to give up time in their schedules to help those in need. I feel that I contributed a helping hand. The pantry went through a lot of change at the start of the school year and I’d like to think that I helped make a more smooth transition. I truly value people and their well being, helping with the Pop-Up Pantry farther instilled my hope and goal of world peace. I learned that the only way to truly strive to end something as big as world hunger is to do something about it! I did an internship with a company called STOP HUNGER NOW which focuses on ending world hunger. Whether it’s hunger students on a college campus, or hungry children in India, I’m passionate that with the help of human kind our world can achieve something so magnificent.

Leadership through YoungLife

By Andrew Whipple

The mission statement for YoungLife is “Introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.” I have been a part of YoungLife since the winter of 2013, when I was first invited to YoungLife “club” by two of my closest friends. To be honest, the only reason I went to club in the first place was because the football season had just ended so I was at home, bored, and really didn’t want to do homework. As soon as I walked in the door, took off my shoes, and headed down the basement stairs, there was loud music and people who were excited to be there. I had never been involved in an organization like YoungLife, so it was kind of strange to me to be in an environment like that. As the night went on we played games and sang songs. Then the most important part of club came up: the “talk.” The talk is the part of the night where the leader is introduced to the club and starts talking about Jesus. He explains that Jesus’ actions thousands of years ago can still relate to us and impact us in different ways. The first club talk I heard was from a passage in the book of Matthew starting in chapter 14. The story starts off with Jesus going up on a hill after He has finished teaching a large group of His followers. While Jesus had set off for the hill His disciples set sail across the sea. While the disciples are in the middle of the sea, the waves begin to get rough and they begin to get scared. Then, they see what they believe to be a ghost. That “ghost” however, is Jesus walking on the water out to them because they are afraid. Then one of the disciples, Peter, said if it is truly you (Jesus) then tell me to come to you and Jesus says, “Come,” and Peter can walk on water, but he then gets scared once he sees the waves and cries out for help and Jesus is right there to save him. The reason I talk about this passage is because the first time I heard it lead to the first step I made to change my life. Just as Peter had taken a risk by getting out of the boat, I was going to take a risk and see what Christianity and YoungLife was all about regardless of what my friends or family would think of me. YoungLife has greatly impacted my life and that is the reason that I chose it to be the site that I volunteer at. YoungLife has given me many genuinely incredible experiences and I want to help in any way to ensure that someone else is able to experience something incredible just as I did.

As I have transitioned from participant to leader, I am now seeing that not everything about YoungLife is perfect, and neither are the people who lead it. Lately, I have become frustrated with some of my teammates, but with the leadership that I have in YoungLife I am able to go to those who are older and wiser and able to get an opinion on what course of action should be taken. I have learned when and how to take up a leadership role because of circumstances that have arisen with my team. For instance, my team was stagnant and not really progressing in meeting kids, going out and taking action, and stepping up and making decisions. So I have decided to take charge in making decisions, without trying to be overbearing. I try to accomplish tasks in a timely fashion rather than waiting on it and fumbling around ideas and nobody making a solid decision. I feel that I have truly embraced a leadership role with the experience I have gained through volunteering with YoungLife.


My Brew

By Mousa Abusaif

Most people are not aware that the “coffee bean,” is the seed of a flowering plant. Like all plants, it has its own distinct family.

A brew has the potential to be a very interesting treat: full of complexities (some more earthy or fragrant), smooth, and with the capacity to wake its host up. A good brew can be an adventure, a pick-me up, a mystery, a trip from start to finish. It can make you think about the world, and where all its parts derive from; make you glad that you shared it with others, or that you took the time to sip… very… slowly. Sometimes it can burn. Sometimes it can warm you. Other times you can feel it dancing inside you. You may miss it when it’s not to be found. You may depend on it. It may grow stale without you, sitting and waiting to be sipped; and so the exchange is mutual. Liquid peace, played out each step of the way, like a sweet song. The seed matures, the bean is roasted perfectly, but differently every time. That’s okay, because roasting is an art; and each bean is still valuable, and part of its distinct family. Watch the cup as it sits, and you’ll see it sparkle with your reflection.


Here, all students take root in the same ground, and in this hall, this residency, this community — all too share in this distinct family. I’m glad that those around me have been there to pick me up, to warm me, to share in this treat, to take the time, to never cease in surprising me, and to partake in this song as it plays out.

(In the words of Mousa: “It’s a photo of tea (and cantaloupe), but you take what you can get!”)


DC Creative Time Summit 2016

By Sarah Kladler

I attended the first session of the Creative Time Summit in Washington DC. The Summit was a three day gathering of artists, curators, politicians, and social change agents who met to discuss the overlap between art, politics, and social action. A variety of different speakers, of various careers and ethnic backgrounds, performed and presented throughout the conference. These speakers, some local and others from locations across the globe, discussed how social change and art could potentially reshape the political arena.

The first day of the Summit was divided into three sections: Occupy Power, Do It Yourself, and Under Siege. Occupy Power brought to light the impact grassroots social justice movements have on politics. Presenters during this session discussed how they were reexamining current local and global political structures to come up with new alternatives and redistributions of power. The second section began after a lunch break. In Do It Yourself, speakers informed the audience of their own artistic and political practices that “produce their own economic and cultural reality”. The second section led into the third, Under Siege. Under Siege addressed current international social movements that have fought and are continuing to bring to light inequality and systematic violence. In addition to artists and curators, Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement spoke as well.

My favorite speaker during the Summit was Peter Svarzbein. Svarzbein is an artist and City Representative of El Paso, Texas who ran for council after creating the “El Paso Transnational Trolley Project” while he was in graduate school.  As an artist, Svarzbein received a grant to renovate old street cars that used to run across the Mexican border and use them for an inter-city trolley route. However, Syarzbein was unable to convince legislators to allow the street cars to cross the border, so he took matters into his own hands and ran for city council. He is currently working on introducing new legislation to reintroduce the original Juarez-El Paso trolley line. Syarzbein is a perfect example of how artists can transform their role and make a change within their communities.

I enjoyed attending the Summit and learning more about how artists, curators, and politicians are redrawing the lines between art, social justice, and the political sphere.

AB Spring Break: Treasure Beach, Jamaica

By Diana Kimondo

Service trips: Students/teachers serving and reflecting within a community in order to understand the local culture, reduce negative effects of a social issue in order to empower the community to lead their own progress. Often times this is how we explain what service trips are to potentially interested candidates. This is the knowledge I carried with me as I made way to Treasure Beach, Jamaica, for my first service trip. I landed in Montego Bay a few days earlier than required to familiarize myself with the culture. It only made sense I arrive earlier. How can I provide my services to an island I know nothing about? I did not want my service to be “help centered”, I did not want to portray myself as a “savior”. I wanted to appreciate the culture and customs beforehand and spend my energy, time empowering the Islands’ youth.

George Mason’s SAIL department made sure that we as the service participants understood the impact and privilege we held abroad. I learned a lot about the white savior complex, redistribution of power, systematic inequalities, oppression, privilege, and social justice. I hate that these are things we learn about abroad, but I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity.

I learned about the white savior complex growing up in Kenya, and it is no surprise that there were other service groups at the same time who demonstrated this trait to a tee. I remember a group of elderly women who came to school to take pictures with the students and to drop off books and markers. This led to me understanding the meaning of privilege. By understanding privilege, I gained insight to systematic inequalities and the redistribution of power. By the end of the service trip, I was a social justice advocate. I grew a new set of eyes, all of a sudden I could see things that were blind to me back in Northern Virginia. Service trips took on a new purpose for me. I gained a lot more from my experience than I could ever contribute to the society. I gained awareness and I became WOKE.

A Discussion on Social Movements

By Roger Dean

In class, I was put in a fairly uncomfortable position. I feel comfortable in class and I feel fairly comfortable with my floor mates; however, after watching the scene from The Butler with Forest Whitaker, I saw my classmates that were of all different types of racial identities feel uncomfortable which made me feel uncomfortable. The reactions of my classmates seemed to be that or horror and disgust. Most of my white classmates had not seen the movie or the seen or realized how horrifically terrible their race acted towards other races that were deemed inferior. I had already seen it. I was prepared for what I saw. It is just a movie, but the tone of the scene is very emotional. The worst part about the movie is that it was based on real events. The reaction of my classmates were surprising since I know of a lot of Caucasians who distance themselves from the things that happened during the civil rights movement because they, personally, were not there.

That was a moment highlighting the horrors of the Civil Rights movement. We right now are also, currently, involved in another rights battle. The LGBT Movement focuses on getting more rights for those people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, etc. They are fighting for rights that include, but are not limited to, marriage equality and job equality.

I would like to compare the two movements. They have similarities and drastic differences. They both have to work through receiving social rights and well as safety insurance. They have issues that are more political in nature. They have issues that are more personal to each situation as well. They differences are pretty specific, however.

For the Civil Rights Movement, the bias and racism was based on the skin color and the long history of racism and slavery that were once apart of the nation’s history. They felt that the black race was inherently inferior to the white race. Race is an inherent thing that cannot be changed and people were discriminated against disgustingly based on this fact.

For the LGBT Movement, the issue is around is the sexualities associated with the movement are immoral and sinful. The argument against them is very religious based. It is an argument that most people don’t change their mind about it. The belief that they are born the way they are is not yet widely accepted even though there are some forms of scientific proof. They are discriminated against based on people’s beliefs.

In the next 50 years, there will probably be a female president in the near future. I believe Hilary Clinton will win the next election if she runs. I think we will see legalized use of marijuana in many more states. We will see the legalization of same sex marriages in more states as well. Out of these major issues, I would probably walk for the legalization of marijuana because it the reason that a lot of people go to prison with hardened criminals and come out worse than they went in. If we legalize marijuana, we would save many more people in the process. None of these issues are ones that I would die for nor risk everything for. I would for my right to education though. I love learning and my people have endured so much to get me where I am today. I would refuse to not take advantage of this ability and right I have that some people don’t and never will.

I think George Mason University is perfectly fine. It is precisely as it needs to be to foster good discussion. That controversy is necessary at a University to help people grow as intellectuals, students, and people. I enjoy the things I see here at George Mason University. What we get from here is the necessary information to go out into the world and then change the community like Milk mentioned. You take the multiple opinions that were mentioned in the first controversy and you use that to strengthen your argument to help foster change in the world among people who are unaware.


Social Justice Response to “Ghosts of Mississippi”

By Roger Dean (Congratulations Graduate and Future Law School Student!)

In the 1996 American drama film, Ghosts of Mississippi, Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin) struggles trying to revive and finally rightfully prosecute Byron De La Beckwith (James Wood) for the murder of Medgar Evers with the help and support of Evers’ wife, Myrlie Evers (Whoopie Goldberg). As most people know, Medgar Evers was a black civil rights activist in Mississippi who was murdered by an assassin on June 12, 1963.

As a future prosecutor, I appreciated that even in this time it was not above the prosecutors to prosecute a white man charged with killing a white man. The way the justice system was back then and

the way that the world responded to events was very different than now. This is the reason why when Byron De La Beckwith, the suspected murderer, was tried both of his cases ended in hung juries. The film focuses on the process that Bobby took to bring Beckwith to justice. It caused troubles in his life professionally, publicly and privately. It gave his family some issues to deal with even though it was him that was causing all of the issues. It wasn’t actually his fault however. It was because of racism.

The major social issues that surround this film and this real life story are racism, justice and patience. The assassination of Medgar Evers was not only a political thing, but it was also a race thing most of all. Medgar Evers was attempting to integrate the University of Mississippi. There were people who did not agree with integration on secondary educational level. There are people who were genuinely upset with the Brown vs. Board of Education which is the Supreme Court landmark case that stated that segregating schools was unconstitutional. It was about bringing a murderer to justice. In the film, there are moments that take your breath away and make you want to forget that his a real event. This really happened. This atrocious event of racism was an insult to justice everywhere and it couldn’t stand. The patience that is displayed in this movie is awe inspiring. Mrs. Evers waited for a very long time to get justice for her husband. The trail made people wait to see how long it would take to see justice done. It took about 30 years to see justice done finally for the murder of a man who just wanted to change the world one state at a time.

My first initial reaction was to the disclaimer on the film that this is a real story. I knew that Medgar Evers was murdered, but I did not know all of this stuff actually happened to the people involved. I found the initial racism unsettling to me as the viewer. I see a lot of movies, and I know that usually they are just movies and they aren’t real, but with this movie it is very real. I can’t get over some of the really offensive things that were said during the movie. I’m not sure if all things said in the movie were actually said, but I know that people really talked like that in the 1960’s and after. It is one part that disgust me about our nation. This is like no other movie I have ever seen.

DeLaughter was doing his job. He was told to prosecute this case and all of these bad things happened. He was threatened. His family was put in danger. I can personally relate to his character. I will be a prosecutor and it will be an amazing when I finally reach those goals. He was discouraged by people he cared about. People thought he was foolish and crazy, but it paid off. I can’t wait to be a lawyer and send bad people away. It will be my job and I will love every second of it. I doubt however that I will ever get a case like this that was politically motivated, but I will make a difference.

I have seen many movies and I have been surprised before by plot twist points, but I was surprised by some of the language that was used during this film. When Beckwith was stating that he killed a “nigger” and that it should not be a crime. I was so taken aback by that. It was 1960’s and I thought it was a known fact that black people are people and citizens too. It just shocks me that people actually thought like that.

It is the story of Bobby DeLaughter case into stardom. It is the story of, Medgar’s wife, Myrlie Evers. The story that is not told is the story of Medgar Evers nor is the story of Beckwith. Both of those stories are important. People who watch this movie without some prior research on the person and activist of Medgar Evers will not know who he is. The bad part of Beckwith’s story is the only thing that is mentioned in regards to him. Their is a lot character testimony against Beckwith.

I learned what actually happened with the case and murder of Medgar Evers, but not in that order. I learned what other struggles a prosecutor could endure. I also learned that racism was still a prominent thing in the South in the 1990’s. I learned that Alec Baldwin can play another character besides funny.

As a black male, I have always felt this danger that people will try to hurt me or people I care about because of my race. Racism is not gone and it is not going anyway any time soon. I want to be a prosecutor so the death threats are a very real worry of mine, but I hope and pray for the best beause I am going to do it no matter what anyone says.

This film is very realistic because it did happen. Things like this still do happen. Trayvon Martin was murdered and his death turned into a political thing. The case was about if he was killed because of the color of his skin. Clearly being black is dangerous. Apparently being male is upsetting. Also, if you are young, you are suspicious. It is crazy to think about. People are still racist, but it is now not as obvious as it was years ago. This happens in our society all the time. “I didn’t mean it like that.” That phrase makes people think it is there fault if they are offended.

Again, racism is not going to go anywhere. Patience is a virtue. Hopefully people continue to have it. Things can change over time. People don’t change, but the situation does. In regards to justice, I am going to do my part by being the prosector for a very nice place. I hope to be successful in that. With racism though, Morgan Freeman said the best way to get rid of racism is to stop talking about it. We could start there. It is a human made thing. God created only one race, the human race. Humans created racism.


9 Month Weather Report

By Zimuzo Okala

Upon coming to Mason the weather was a little groggy. A summer day that was warm but the clouds that still lingered after a harsh rain made the air humid and uncomfortable. I was happy to be at Mason but I was only happy to be at Mason because it was a college and college was very far from my hometown. The next couple of weeks were the same with little bursts of sunshine as I met new people but there was still those pesky few clouds of “transfer to UVA” thoughts that just would not go away. Closer to Halloween the skies began to clear up as I got more involved in campus and in my LLC community, and the bitter cold air of midterms forced me inside to get closer to my community. Near Christmas time it was nice fall air where everything was comfortable. When second semester started the real blizzard hit after “snowpocalypse” with everything I thought I knew about college being tried and tested. I only made it through with the helpful predictions and suggestions from our more experienced LLC members. As the year continued a familiar summer heat set in. The warm air of friendship and family allowed finals to breeze by and settle in to the best summer night, with clear skies and only a touch of humidity. I’m so happy I decided to weather the storm of freshman year on Piedmont 4th and though t was difficult at times every shift in the “weather” has made me the person I am today, and I am proud to say is a completely different person from who I was last year,and for that to Leadership and Community Engagement LLC, I am eternally grateful.

The Halfway Adventure

By Mercy Waithaka

I remember moving in during exam week my first semester. I was extremely nervous because I didn’t know who anyone was or what was going to happen. My thoughts of fitting in or being accepted patrolled in my head knowing that they did not matter but still kind of mattered. I was excited for this new adventure knowing that it called for new experiences with people and so much more. Maybe it will not work out but maybe seeing if it does will be the best adventure ever, this became known to me, as my halfway adventure. The first day, I remember meeting Mario in the elevator, he helped me push the cart out but I didn’t know he lived here. The next person I met was sweet Gary! I remember him running down the hallway and then introducing himself. I was flabbergasted. The way he made me feel welcomed was beyond what I expected. I remember him saying, if you ever need anything, don’t be afraid to knock. That was the point I felt calm. I knew that I would be okay living here and it is not a decision I will regret. This Halfway adventure is still going on. I have met some of the best people that I truly appreciate. According to George, I became a leech that grew on him. This community is a family that I am pleased I can be apart of. I have learned so much this semester not only about myself but those on the LLC. Being surrounded by people who have so much potential and are just so intelligent is the greatest recipe for motivation. Having a mentor like Patty has been a blessing, thank you for making the LLC a safe haven. As I wind up my first year, my halfway adventure is just getting started. I am excited to be back next year again with new people but also the old ones.


We must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong!


By Morgan Kirby

When coming to college, most students have an idea of what they want to pursue, but little do they know that all can change. College is a new ball game. Each base is a milestone in some fashion, such as emotional breakdowns from exams, peer pressure, and you name it… This is the time in your life where you find extensive amounts of freedom, but juxtaposed with the concoction of a word called “adulting”, a verb that encapsulates having to be responsible for yourself in a way you never had to before. You may get a job and find it hard to juggle classes after a long night at work, or you could be drowning in club meetings. Either way, college is creating new scenarios for many of us, and we still cannot handle everything perfectly. With this said, we are trying to figure out our future, a future based on our degree.

I came to George Mason with the plan to get my undergraduate degree in economics and then I wanted to pursue law school. My grand plan was to focus on corporate law and take it day by day until I get there. As of today, I lost this plan. I have always had a connection to the environment. It’s not a surprise to hear fellow dorm members say “Morgan is the tree hugger of the group”. It is almost too funny to hear because everyone knows it’s true. We had just finished up our NCLC 103 class that had focused on environmental sustainability, and it’s like something had just clicked. I want to change my major. After we finished our group projects on sustainability measures, I knew I wanted to narrow in on environmental sustainability as my major. With a little research, I found that George Mason has something for everyone, and GMU’s sustainability efforts are tremendous.

I had a plan, for years I mapped out each step in my life to get to the point of career success, and now I find my plan to be an apparition. There are so many pressures in school that can change your goals. This is not always a negative thing, rather I see it as an eye opening opportunity. To the freshman to find themselves like me, and to those that soon will, it’s okay! You will have an advisor help you each step of the way, you can reach out to community members and talk to them about their plans, but most importantly, you have four years at Mason to figure it out. Four years to be who you want to be and fulfill what you want to do.

Rediscovering my Identity

By: Mitchell Westall

Is it possible for someone to go from being on the fringes of atheism to diving deep into Judaism within a year?

Let me start from the beginning. Towards the end of my senior year of high school I had begun to doubt the existence of a higher power. Normally, people do this when they are going through a tough time or they lose someone very important to them. So, out of anger, they question why G-d would ever take that person from them or put them in a bad situation.

For me, this was not the case. I have always been a person who questioned everything that was put in front of him and religion was no exception. Even though I was Jewish, I made a point to learn about other religions and at the time I had just finished my time learning a lot about Christianity.

As for my identity, I told people I was a non-denominational monotheist, but even that was in question. I still held onto my Jewish cultural identity, but that’s it. I hated organized religion (I still do to an extent).

I never officially declared myself an atheist, but the questions never stopped.

Fast forward to early December of 2016. I was coming towards the end of my first semester of college and it was the first day of Hanukah (the previous evening was the first night). I was walking back from lunch and I noticed a large Menorah behind a table with a man and a woman tending to it. They were handing out free menorahs to Jewish students and they were with the organization Chabad. The man’s name was Mendel and he is the Rabbi here at Mason for the Jewish student organizations. They were handing out free menorahs to students who needed them for Hanukah and so I gladly took one because I was slightly bummed that I could not light candles for the one Jewish holiday I knew how to celebrate.

That night was the second night of Hanukah and so I took my menorah and the candles out to the back of my dorm building to the outdoor stairwell. We could not light anything inside, even for religious purposes.

I lit the candles, said the necessary prayers and I sat outside with the menorah and waited for the candles to burn out. I waited outside in the cold for at least an hour and a half to wait for them to burn out every night for every candle to burn out. I had never done anything that Jewish in my life.

This inspired me to at least claim my Jewish cultural identity, if nothing else. So for Hanukah I asked my mom for a necklace of some sort with a Jewish symbol. There are many different kinds of Jewish symbols that are popular in jewelry, so I told her to surprise me. After all I do appreciate surprises. So, she got me a really nice 14 karat gold Mezuzah. A Mezuzah is a long box containing a scroll with the daily prayer known as the sh’ma hand written in Hebrew.

Since I received it, it has been a part of my outfit on a daily basis. Most people wear necklaces under their shirts, I choose to show it off.

The nighttime thoughts had begun to subside.

Upon returning to Mason next semester, I got a message from a woman who works with Hillel (the other Jewish student organization) named Tal. She is from Israel and she signs people up for birthright trips to Israel. Birthright trips are free trips to Israel that last ten days and are an amazing experience for any young Jewish person.

Unfortunately, I could not go this year but I fully plan on going next summer whether my mother likes it or not.

The night after I met Tal I got a message from a guy by the name of Aaron. He had asked me if I wanted to “hang out with the guys” and play some poker. Who could say no to such an enticing offer? It was a fun night of poker with a group of guys I had never met, but quickly got to know over the course of the next couple of months.

A week or so after the poker night, I accepted my bid to pledge Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish social fraternity.

Through the fraternity and the Jewish student organizations, I have quickly learned what it means to be a Jewish man and brother.

For the first time in my life I have celebrated Shabbat, celebrated Purim (this one quickly became my favorite) and had a Passover Seder.

I never thought I would ever join a fraternity, let alone a Jewish one. I never even thought I would want to be all that Jewish!

It is not uncommon for people to have crazy stories after their first year of college, but this would have been downright unimaginable for me a year ago.

What a ride.


By Alliyah Fabijan

Day by day, we as college students live our lives with an end goal motivating us in one way or another. Here at Mason, there is so much to explore. From clubs to sports, Mason is sure to provide something for you to feel like you can belong to a group with others who share similar interests. However, sometimes you have to stop and think about what you are interested in, and if you are interested enough to pursue it. Here is where you begin to divide and define your passions and interests. You have to allow yourself to juxtapose what you like and love, and contemplate what you want to dedicate your time to.

Passion, to me at least, is a word to define a genuine love for something, that I continue to cherish with due diligence. This definition can sound overwhelming to some, but passion is something that is unique to you. As a freshman, it feels like there is something at Mason to join that falls in line with many of my interests; therefore, I took it upon myself to go to a plethora of club meetings and informational sessions. All of them I found interesting, but I never took the time to continue attending the meetings, nor did I seek a leadership role in the clubs, which is unlike myself. I always found myself wanting to do more on campus, but when I sought help in how I should get involved, I continued to look for things I was interested in, when I should have been looking for what I was passionate about.

From this realization, I found that I needed to define what my passions were and how I can utilize Mason resources to further my passions. To me, community service is a passion that I have, but I realized I could have dedicated more time into feeding this passion, rather than dipping into clubs based on interests and boredom. Now, I find myself more organized and able to pursue my passions this fall at Mason.

Passion is a beautiful thing, and its power is infinite. The reason behind so many successful movements, and people making their dreams come true comes from passion. Dedicate your time wisely, and make the most of what you do. Choose actions carefully, and allow yourself to explore the things you already know you care about. Turn an interest into a passion, and take pride in what you do. Here at Mason, it’s all about being the best you can possibly be.

Going Greek at Mason: The Best Decision I Ever Made

By Alexis Collins

The first few weeks of freshmen year can be summed up in one word: awkward.

I didn’t know anybody, I was living with strangers and I may not be the best at putting myself out there to meet new people. I also never thought in a million years that I would ever even consider going through Panhellenic recruitment. I always thought of sororities, as a thing that only a bunch of Regina Georges were a part of.

I had this misguided perception that sorority girls only know how to party and not have any type of academic standards at all, but that all changed when I was convinced by one person to at least go out to formal recruitment to see what Greek life is really about.

I never would have thought that there could be so much genuine love in one room until I walked into the first day of recruitment, where I would meet the first chapter of the day, Pi Beta Phi. When I thought of sororities I thought of friendships that you pay for; however people cannot fake being genuine. I could see and feel that there was a sisterhood here, and even better, I felt like I was home. Those girls, just though genuine conversation, had already changed my perception on some aspects of what “sorority girls” are.

All of the chapters on campus were lovely, but I did feel a strong connection to Pi Beta Phi. So, I was willing to go to the second day of recruitment. By the end of that day, I realized just how much that Greek life gives back to the community, through fundraisers to book drives to getting pied in the face. And the best part about figuring that out is that I realized that going Greek is not all about partying.

On the third day, I realized just how intelligent and brilliant the people in Greek life are. The Greek community is not filled with a bunch of Karen’s and Gretchen’s.

The women and men in Greek life are the leaders on campus. From being RA’s to being presidents of clubs to being on the Dean’s List, the members of Greek life never cease to impress me.

On Bid Day, I realized that I finally found the family that I have needed on campus and I chose to accept my bid to join a fantastic family: Pi Beta Phi. These women have been nothing but loyal, and I have met some of my greatest friends because of this amazing opportunity to go Greek. If I didn’t go Greek, then I would not be part of the ‘Merica Family of Pi Beta Phi and wouldn’t have an AMAZING Big and Twin that are literally the people that I can go to for anything.

SO in case you are unsure about going Greek or not, I highly recommend it because it is the best thing that has ever happened to me at Mason.

It’s Not about Forcing Happiness, It’s About Not Letting Sadness Win

By Molly Reagan

I never thought that change could have such a big impact on my life. A change that almost everyone goes through, finishing high school and for me, beginning college. Of course I knew it would be difficult, AP classes had prepared me for the large work load, but I never imagined it would be as tough as it is.

When I imagined my first year of college I imagined all the typical things, taking classes that I enjoy, finding my niche and making great new friends, going to awesome parties, and loving every minute of being away from home. Now don’t get me wrong, my freshman year has been great. I did get to experience all those things and more, and the Cornerstones classes/LLC have given me an incredible, unique experience. What I didn’t imagine were things like, avoiding new places for fear of having a panic attack, and then being depressed because I was too afraid to go anywhere. Having mental breakdowns over things ranging from picking a table at Southside to having a paper due, or some days being sore from head to toe from having so many panic attacks. Anxiety tricking me into believing that all my friends hate me, and then being depressed about it even though nothing was even wrong, oversleeping, under-sleeping, extreme procrastination (I didn’t even know these were symptoms of depression until this year), self-harming, and I could go on and on.

I wasn’t aware at home that my mental health was a problem. I didn’t even know what anxiety was or how much it ruled my life. I had great friends, I did well in school, and I was really involved. I was comfortable. Moving to college made me uncomfortable. It turned my whole world upside down. I mean, I knew it would, but I didn’t know it would affect my mental health.

The title that I chose are lyrics from one of my favorite bands, The Wonder Years, and I think it explains my mental illness pretty well. This is something I struggle with every day, and the Cornerstones LLC has given me support in a way I didn’t think was possible before. I have friends that like me even when I’m an anxious, depressed mess, and a fantastic roommate. I learned so much more about myself than I thought was ever possible. I reached out for help for the first time in my whole life (may or may not have been involuntary), and it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Shit, I even went skydiving first semester. I wouldn’t want my freshman year of college any other way, even if I do wish I could wake up without my brain trying to kill me every day.

Boring is the New Black

By Heba Zaidan

The concept alone makes my blood curdle and my heart turn into coal. A 9 to 5 job? My sister?! Last I checked on her she just came back from a 2 month tour of Europe with a few sporadic purple dreads tucked in her hair. Now I hear that she has a job making powerpoints and numbing her brain and complaining about Mr. BossMan. Did she not realize what she was doing? It’s like, dude, she used to spend her days in concerts chasing experiences but now she’s in her humble apartment staring at spreadsheets. I mean, if it happened to her that means suburbification can happen to any one of us if we’re not careful, right? So when I leave this place with a diploma in my right hand and the world in the palm of the other, am I going to become instantly less interesting?

I want to think about this logically so I don’t induce a perpetual state of panic, or trigger early onset midlife crisis. Maybe there’s a whole side of Excel that’s fulfilling and is worthy of being a bar story. Maybe there is something stimulating and completely riveting about working a 9 to 5 corporate job. Or maybe adulthood is sucking it up and realizing having fun and adventure doesn’t always require a 15 hour flight and doing things you’ll regret when you’re 45. Maybe adulthood is being interesting for yourself, and doing the little things to make your life genuine and helping yourself grow. What if growing means you’re more interesting in an introspective manner rather than having your life being a conversation piece? What if adulthood is interesting because it’s geared towards the individual and not towards impressing others?

What if I’m not interesting now? Because I’m living for stories and moments rather than growth. Are random road trips so last season? Oh my god, are conference calls totally chic now? How am I so out of the loop? Oh no! Am I lame?! Is my 9 to 5 sister cooler than me now?! What’s going on here? Is the entire system of dividing people into “fun” and “not fun” arbitrary?! WHAT DOES COSMO HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THIS?!!

Wait…what if being interesting is just being shamelessly yourself? After all, my sister always was a homebody before college. She was always pretty geeky in her own way too, playing with numbers and equations instead of partying with the rest of her peers. I remember even in college, she’d use me as an excuse to not have to go out. So hold on, I think my sister was totally blasé to herself in college. I think music festivals made her yawn, and she was actually dreaming of days of practicality. Oh my god, what if this is her being interesting to herself now?


So when I leave this place with a diploma in my right hand and the world in the palm of the other, am I going to start living as my true authentic self?

Take Risks and Speak your Mind

By Izzy Souza

This year has blessed me with many opportunities. Coming from a small, conservative suburb of Memphis, TN, I have been met with an abundance of new ideas through the amazing people I’ve met, the fascinating classes I’ve taken, and the crazy things I’ve experienced. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned of significance this year, it’s that speaking your mind is of utmost importance.

I want to preface this post by saying that I have most definitely been guilty of bottling away my feelings and thoughts, and it was only very recently that I came to the conclusion that I need to be more forward and open with the people in my life. When I came to George Mason, I was the type of person to wait for others to talk to me first and to always live in fear that others did not like me. I know many struggle with those issues. I was losing friendships, holding myself back, and letting opportunities slip by all because I was too afraid to speak my mind.

But sometime in the past two months I came to the realization that the source of my general sadness was my hesitation to be open with others. I used to fear rejection and confrontation, but now I embrace them. I don’t want potential friendships and opportunities to pass me by all because I am afraid to initiate conversation. Since having my epiphany, I have already made meaningful friendships with several new people, and gotten involved in new hobbies and activities with people I never could have imagined myself to possess the courage to talk to. My advice to anyone reading this post is to quit the fear and the hesitation. You will have so much more satisfaction with your life if you take risks and choose to stop fearing what others might think of you.

Cornerstones LLC

By Gus Thomson

The Cornerstones LLC. Let that sink in. I am not sure why anyone thought putting headstrong people packed into two small floors would end up all liking each other. I do know that liking one another and respecting each other are two very different things. There are people I like on my floor, people I tolerate, and then there are the ones I do not like. Without descended into petty subtweeting, I learned a strong lesson that some people are just shitty and that is the way it is going to be. I try to show respect to people I do not like, even when I have been disrespected myself. Respect is a keystone to community and our community suffered when we didn’t show respect to each other

Whether or not the LLC has anything to do with this is up for debate, but I damn sure know that our LLC leaders Donovan and Patty tried. The LLC gives you much more than you realize and Cornerstones is not a happy Sunday brunch at the country club, it is slightly difficult. If I had not had my friend (shoutout to Meagan) read over my papers I probably would have gotten a significantly lower grade. I met someone who was my first real feminist friend and has educated me on things far more than just ideologies. I also have seen more memes that I ever, ever thought I would in my life. You could do all these things in a regular freshman dorm, or you could not.

Only the LLC gives you the opportunity to get close to your floor mates in a manner that is so much more than just being friends. If one decides to actually give effort to social skills, you get to know the people around you. This may come as a shock to some, but you can also get to know people in the LLC that don’t live on your floor. The LLC is entirely what you make of it, if you want it to suck, then it will f*cking suck. If you want it to be great, then get ready for the freshman year no one else gets.

Living with Type 1 Diabetes

By Noah Shoates

Looking back three years ago, I never would have imagined that I would have to stab myself every day to stay alive. It’s crazy to even think about how deathly afraid of needles I was back then, now I don’t even wince when I have to stab myself. Keep in mind this is also an addition to being allergic to a plethora of things like wheat, fish, nuts & soy; not to mention seasonal allergies as well.

I was diagnosed with diabetes in the summer before my Sophomore year in high school. High school in itself is already a struggle, with the cliques, trying to find yourself, fitting in, etc., so imagine learning that you will have to go to the nurse’s office before and after every lunch to check your blood sugar and take insulin, while also trying to explain to people how type 1 diabetes works and that it’s not just that you can’t eat sugar. Back then, I was beyond uncomfortable with the illness all together so I didn’t like people asking me questions about it and I felt embarrassed when people brought anything up to me about diabetes. I had already felt like a bubble baby because I was unable to eat a lot of food anyways, so the transition into watching what I eat and how frequently I eat wasn’t too tedious, it’s just the notion that every day I would be reminded how different I am from everyone else.

My parents really struggled with it & when I was in the hospital bed being trained on how to take care of my diabetes, my mother was really heartbroken and was constantly crying or on the verge of tears throughout the whole process. She knew I didn’t play with needles and was aware of the slew of other things I had to deal with regarding my allergies and asthma. At that point though I really had to get over my internal fear with my family and “man-up” so that she wouldn’t have to worry about me. Ever since then, I really hate the concept of people feeling bad for me. I’m aware that her heart was in the right place and just concerned for my well-being and I appreciate it. However, there are people who are always say things like, “Wow you have to stab yourself every day? I think I would die” or “You have never had any nuts or seafood? You’re really missing out!” My perspective on all of that balderdash is, had I not been born in this day and age, I would have been dead a long time ago, so I have no reason to be upset or dissatisfied about everything. Transitioning into college is really when I got my act together in handling my diabetes though.

By the time college was coming up, I had been diabetic for two and a half years so I had everything down pat. I want to elaborate and give a general picture of what type 1 diabetics have to do daily. Before anything, type 1 diabetes occurs when either your pancreas never produced any insulin to begin with or only produced a set amount so once you run out, you’re out. In order to correct that, I have to take shots of insulin before every meal and bedtime to make sure that what I eat (primarily carbs) is taken in by my body properly. So you have to check your blood sugar levels (which for a non-diabetic, a normal range is 90-150). As a result of by diabetic, my blood sugar level could be above or below that, which is why we have the insulin shots. Eating carbs increases blood sugar levels, whereas working out and stress can cause blood sugar levels to drop. The bare minimum amount of times I check my blood sugar a day is 5 times, one when I wake up, one before every meal, and one when I go to bed. Then you also have to take an insulin shot before every meal and one before you go to bed. It sounds like it’s a lot of work, but honestly you either do it or you die or get really sick. By the time I had come to George Mason, I was already fully prepared for college & had learned to count carbs very well as well as becoming a lot more informed on the technicalities of diabetes so if anyone asked me any questions about it, whether they were silly ones or serious ones, I had an answer for them.

Now being in my second year of college, my diabetes is honestly fully integrated into my life and it’s not even something I think about twice. I’ve gone on dates and been perfectly comfortable taking my insulin in front of them right there at the table. If you are relevant to people, they will accept you for who you are and nothing less, and if they don’t they really aren’t worth your time anyways. Every summer since I’ve been in college, I go and talk about managing type 1 diabetes on college campuses with incoming college students who also have it! It’s a really good opportunity because I can share my experiences to make sure others avoid the hardships I went through and we can bounce different ideas about how to manage things as well as discuss new technologies and how we like or dislike them.

I’ll end this with something rather cynical, but rather pertinent. A lot of people ask, “Why me?” The question I have learned to ask, is “Why not me?” What is it that makes anyone believe that they are above being diagnosed with something out of the blue, being played by someone you were interested in, having tragedy strike? I don’t say that to be gloomy, just to reiterate that everyone goes through things whether they be good or bad & that you really just have to play with the hand you were dealt instead of complaining about how crappy of a hand it is. My favorite quote from Teen Wolf is “Have you ever heard of regression of the mean? It means nothing can be good forever and nothing can be bad forever?” Yeah, I was diagnosed with diabetes and I will have to live with that the rest of my life, but I have a wonderful support system of friends and family, I am able to attend college debt free, and on top of everything I feel completely comfortable being myself with everyone regardless of what they think of me. Without this happening to me, I never would have had the chance to grow, reach out and connect with all the people that I have thus far.

Life Long Friends…

By George Mikell

My year on the floor of the Leadership LLC has been eventful, entertaining, stressful, and inspiring all in one. I’ve met life-long friends that push me and give me the drive to want more in life. I wouldn’t trade any college for this experience. From the first retreat when everyone heard David snoring like a bear to our end of the year celebration when we nearly risked our lives climbing enormous rocks with fast moving water beneath us. It has been a long ride my first year of college, with many challenges that came with it. Many times I have been tempted to transfer but because of this floor and the community I am a part of it has made me change my mind every time. Compared to regular freshman housing I feel I have been offered many more opportunities to get involved and many more opportunities to meet new friends. Being involved is major key on campus, not just for your social life but in the business world too. The connections you make in college can create or break your career. I was involved heavily in the Pop-up Pantry which gives food back to the food insecure on campus and thanks to the people running it; Gary, Noah, and Caroline, I have found a community service project I am proud to help out with anytime they need an extra hand. Finding something you enjoy doing, along with it benefiting the community really gives you a fuller feeling inside and I’m grateful every day that I decided to stay for another year on the floor.

Leadership and Community Engagement LLC

By Gary Hooker

Being in the leadership LLC has made my freshman year! The floor has a slew of personalities! We have those who are outspoken leaders and we have a quieter leaders, but we are all a puzzle piece that completes the floor. When I first got here, I didn’t know a soul. I came to George Mason all the way from Tennessee. I was nervous I wouldn’t fit in here. But on move in day, a guy from my floor (Mario Martinez) held the door open for me and said, “Hey Gary!” I was confused. I had no idea who he was. I guess he was able to read my face because he then said, “Don’t worry. You don’t know me, but I live on your floor! We’ll talk later!” At that moment, all my worries went away! I was no longer nervous, but I was confident! Mario showed me that it’s that easy to introduce yourself to someone new. All I have to do is say “Hi!”

The leadership LLC inspired me to get involved, to reach for the stars, to make a difference in my life and others around me! I dove head first into the Mason community! I volunteered at Mason’s Pop-Up Pantry, I became a GMU Senator, I became SAIL’s (Social Action Integrative Learning) communication coordinator, and I excelled academically! By the end of my first semester I became the co-director of Pop-Up Pantry, I made a 4.0 G.P.A., I was Dean’s Listed, and received many more awards and honors! And my second semester has the same positive outcome!

I’m so glad I was able to be part of the leadership floor my freshman year! Without a doubt, I can say the floor contributed a lot to my success this year! Next year I’m so excited to return back to the floor as the Resident Advisor! I can’t wait to positively influence the next group of students and add to the floor legacy!

On the Importance of Creation

By Gabriel Saunders

Of the countless things that I have learned throughout my past eight months as a university student I am going to choose one to write about. As I sit on my couch at home watching documentaries on the Viceland channel, the very evening that I moved out of my first college dorm, I think about what is the most important—and interesting—thing that I could talk about. Among all of my areas of growth throughout these first two semesters, I have to say that I have grown as an artist more than anything. Because of this, I need to talk about the need for creation.

What is the function of art in society? Art is a method of communication, communication that is designed to question and make objection to social norms. When we think of social action and making statements we often jump to the image of women and men lining up with their picket signs, or we envision the image of Black Panthers with gun in one hand and a fist in the air, and even the image of those same men and women being arrested and/or beaten by the police. It is not very often that the idea of social action pops up in our minds as a painting or the performance of a play. But the reality is that it is the true function of art to challenge dominant narratives—beyond, of course the pure entertainment value.

Recently we have seen in the news occurrences of artist getting in trouble for the radical and potentially offensive displays. For example, back in April a Tennessee University student was publically criticized for her display of knitted rainbow colored nooses hanging from a tree in display for a class project. She got a lot of criticism from national news sources based on the racist and homophobic connotation that could be seen with this display. It is also possible that this could be seen as a commentary on in the issue of suicide among members of the LGBTQ community. However, according to the artist, she had no ideas of political connotation. Although this artwork was not connected to any political affiliation, it is clear to see the kind of effect that art such as that can have on the media and therefore       our everyday lives.

That is why it is important for all of us to put our creations out into the world. Each and every one of us has a unique opinion and viewpoint on the world that needs to be expressed. Even if it is not necessarily great work, just having it written, or painted, or presented, is important because that is a part of you that has the potential to spark a change in someone.

One of the issues that I struggle with as an artist is actually doing the act of writing or creating because of my self-criticism and nervousness about how well it turns out. Although practice may not make perfect, it absolutely will make it better. Because of my worry, it limits the amount that I create art, and that is something that I am trying to rid myself of.

So, here’s to the painters, the actors, the writers and the tech savvy gentlemen and ladies that put their work out in to the world to fly or to fall. To those that have the courage to depend on their artistry to keep them alive, and those that make art casually and for their very own collections. Here’s to all of you, who will hopefully feel a bit better about their ability to create.

Finding My Purpose

By Caroline Dugas

When I first joined the leadership and community engagement LLC I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I was going to live on a floor with 40 other people and have a class with them once a week. My role in the community began small, I joke about it now, but at first I was known as “the girl who’s never around.” I suppose at first I didn’t understand what being apart of a community like this entailed, and I didn’t take into account what my role was supposed to be. A month or so went on and I began to meet a lot of different people with a lot of very different opinions. I was caught very off guard by the vulnerability in what people were saying and the passion that they had for the social issues that were most important to them. Take it from me if you want to find a place where people are passionate about what they believe in apply here.

Time went on and friendships began to form as a rather large group of us volunteered for the GMU Pop-Up Pantry. This was a place on campus that gave assistance to food insecure students, faculty, and the people in the Fairfax community. It is such a small organization but manages to help people in immense ways. I volunteered here consistently throughout the first semester learning more and more about food and home insecurities in college students. I never would have realized how big of a problem this was until someone had put in directly in front of me. Time went on and I sat in class thinking about how I was surrounded by a classroom full of people who seemed like they knew exactly what they believed in. They all knew what they cared about most, their passions, values, and inspirations were no question. They all just knew. There I was absolutely clueless about what I wanted from the world and what I thought it wanted from me. I felt like I was lost in a sea of social issues and what it was that meant the most to me.

Second semester came and I was given a job as a Co-Director of the Pop-Up Pantry after the previous director had to step down due to graduating. I remember how nervous I was to learn the ropes because this wasn’t a job like any other I have had previously; I had to interact with people who needed my assistance. It’s a very strange feeling that if you don’t show up for work one day, someone might have to go without a meal. There was a certain responsibility about it that made this job that much more important. Throughout the semester I have had a tremendous struggle with finding out who I am and what I’m passionate about. Even though this LLC made me realize how unsure I was about the things I care about most it also showed me exactly what it was I do care about.


My biggest passion in life may not be hunger and homelessness, but this job and the people around me showed me that my biggest passion is helping others. The idea of being the reason that someone’s life is a little bit better means so much to me. The thought of being a part of the difference made in someone’s life is my passion. If there is one thing that I’ve learned from the people in the Leadership and Community Engagement LLC it’s to find what you love and use it to make a difference in this world, If you’re looking for purpose and inspiration from the people around you, then you’ve come to the right place. Every individual in this LLC has his or her own opinions and everyone respects that. You never feel out of place for disagreeing with someone, in some cases you are even encouraged to voice your own opinions. If you’re like me and you seem lost in the world of a college freshmen consider this LLC because without it I’m not sure how long it would’ve taken me to find out who I am.