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Visiting Social Activist Program
The 2013-14 Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist:
Diana Copeland, Co-Director of East Michigan Environmental Action Council
In the fall of 2013, Diana Copeland developed an eco-feminist curriculum for youth that addresses urban environmental issues. A key part of the curriculum is "Detroit Women Speak: A Community Film on Race, Environmental Justice, Leadership and Gender in Detroit." As Co-Director of East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC), Copeland is familiar with providing environmental justice leadership and civic engagement training to residents of Southeast Michigan. Since 2007, EMEAC has worked with U-M and the Detroit Public Schools to run the Greener Schools program. This interdisciplinary arts and environmental education program engages high school students in redesigning their schoolyards and elements inside the buildings. By improving the school environment, students gain a sense of ownership and worth.
Copeland’s new curricula builds on this model by including filmed interviews of Detroit women and teens, reflecting on how place has shaped their view of self and why having a strong sense of womanliness is important. EMEAC has trained three young women who will take the new curriculum to the schools. Each woman will be organizing a community group that they will facilitate throughout 2014.
"Detroit Women Speak" is a 60-minute look at how Detroit -- and the women who call it home -- have changed over time. The film explores and challenges issues of gender, environmentalism, feminism, place, race and what it means to be a leader. We meet fifteen women, ranging in age from 7 to 70, who all grew up in and currently live, work and play in the city of Detroit. The women discuss how their time growing up in Detroit affected the way they view themselves in the world and their trials and triumphs in leadership.
The women come from all over the city and identify with a variety of natural, built and toxic environments within the city, as well as a variety of cultural and racial backgrounds that are reflective of the Detroit demographic landscape. They are mothers, friends, professionals, daughters, granddaughters, artists, teachers, scholars, mentors, mentees and all lovers and defenders of the place they call home.
Two women interviewed in the film -- Halima Cassel and Siwatu Salama-Ra -- joined Diana Copeland for the film's Ann Arbor premier and a panel discussion. (Salama-Ra provided support to Copeland's creation of the Guide.) Roughly 100 students, faculty, staff and community members attended the event, which was hosted by the U-M School of Natural Resources & the Environment. In addition to CEW and SNRE, other event co-sponsors were the School of Literature Science & the Art's departments of Afroamerican & African Studies and Women's Studies, the schools of Education and Social Work, and the Ginsberg Center for Community Service Learning.
Download a copy of the Detroit Women Speak Curriculum Guide
Each year, the Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist (VSA) Program brings to CEW a social justice activist whose work affects women and recognizes gender equity issues. The primary goal of the program is to build the capacity and effectiveness of social activists. This is accomplished by giving the VSA time, space and support to work on a project that would not be possible under the activist’s usual working circumstances.
A four-week stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan, gives the selected activist time for reflection, research, planning and writing related to her area of activism. A stipend, housing and travel expenses are paid by the program. Each VSA is required to create a product that will advance the future work of the VSA and potentially benefit other activists. This product may be a report, plan of action, communication strategy, training tool or other item relevant to the activist’s work.
Connections between Visiting Social Activists and people in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids have a positive and synergistic effect on all. Community members as well as U-M students, faculty and staff are able to learn from and be inspired by activists who are working to improve women’s lives. Interactions between VSAs and U-M faculty nurture a “scholar-activist” mindset that can improve the quality of work done in academia as well as social justice organizations.
The VSA program is made possible through a generous gift from UM alumna Twink Frey and her husband James McKay. Learn more about the process for nominating or applying to become a Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist.