The latest installment of the Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD) luncheon series was held last Friday, Oct. 4. The event, titled “Field Organizing in the Greek Community,” was led by Matt Leibowitz ’14, a former intern at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and was attended by members of the campus’ Greek community.
SALD Intern and organizer of the event Jordan Gaynes ’14 explained Leibowitz’s qualification for leading the event.
“Matt is a friend and brother of mine (in AEPi),” Gaynes wrote in an email to The Argus. “I asked him, knowing a bit about his summer internship at the ACLU. I thought he’d be a good speaker and would have some interesting stuff to talk about.”
SALD hosts a leadership luncheon series every two weeks. According to its website, the program is intended to help students develop as leaders both at the University and in global communities.
“The purpose of SALD’s Leadership Development Program is to empower Wesleyan students to increase their impact, not only as leaders but ultimately, as citizens of the world,” the website reads. “By offering unique opportunities for leadership education, we strive to foster personal and group development while also enabling students to share this knowledge with their peers.”
To start off Friday’s luncheon, Leibowitz tackled the idea of utilizing both political field organizing and community organizing to bring Greek life on campus into a more positive light.
“This seems to be where advocacy applies,” Leibowitz said. “When you are trying to achieve a certain goal, it is important to use both of these [approaches]. You need a good group of people who are involved and interested in the issues, who really want to be there, and will work hard to achieve what they need to. You also need to gather a large [number] of people and need a politically minded goal.”
Leibowitz concentrated primarily on the need to incorporate social justice into Greek life. He mentioned that Greek life can both benefit and benefit from social justice action.
“Greek life can be a great way to bring about social justice changes in the sense that it is an organization that is ready to organize together for a certain issue and work for an issue,” Leibowitz said. “Greek organizations are capable of making this change because they have shown their ability to organize, and now it is about putting that organization toward the social justice world.”
Gaynes noted that Greek life often provokes mixed responses from the community.He took the opportunity to organize this event to show the positive potential of Greek life.
“Hopefully Matt’s message was received not only by Greeks but by those affiliated with any organization,” Gaynes wrote.
Gaynes and Leibowitz both pointed out that having committed group members can further any cause.
“Whether a student group is itself dedicated to enacting change, or a student leader wishes to see change in his or her community, the message is that people, with structure, an identity, and common interest, can act to promote serious change internally or externally,” Gaynes wrote. “This takes dedication [and] a leap of faith, and it’s not often easy, which is the reality of the situation.”
As the luncheon drew to a close, Leibowitz asked the attendees a question: what is the difference between social justice and philanthropy?
“Of course, Greek organizations help raise money, but it is not about these specific causes but instead about general community improvement,” Leibowitz said. “Greek organizations should be role models for social justice. They are intended to provide a community for future leaders and help people be ready to lead others. Why not make this a part of leadership and social justice? Why not require pledges and members to go to events where they learn how to better the community? These are organizations that should make sure that they are opening and inviting to the community.”
SALD Assistant Director Gretchen Streiff noted that members of these organizations are not always on the same page. Change, she stated, begins with an individual group or organization, which will hopefully lead to larger changes in the community.
“Being a leader is not just about being a leader within your organization; it is about being a leader in your group and being able to say that we do not have the right information about who is going on to be those leaders in this society,” Streiff said. “So we have to get that information, ask the right questions, and challenge the status quo. You have to be brave enough sometimes to stick your neck out and ask how to change things.”
Students who attended the event were pleased with the topics discussed and ideas offered.
“Greek life can definitely be a force for positive social change,” said Jared Fineberg ’17. “This is especially true at a school like Wesleyan, where members are already engaged in social justice initiatives around campus.”
Gaynes hopes that those in attendance were inspired by this speech and, as a result, that there will be cultural change.
“Being a leader doesn’t mean being popular,” Gaynes wrote. “It means doing the right thing for the right reason, and any community, Greek or otherwise, is a powerful tool of action.”