Oct. 24, 2008
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
Slippery Rock University students plan cardboard village
as part of new campuswide social initiative
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. �- Slippery Rock University students will convert the Bailey Library quad into a cardboard village and spend the night in their "houses" to raise awareness of homelessness. The Nov. 19-20 event corresponds with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and the launch of "SRU: Part of the Solution," a major new initiative that puts the spotlight on a social cause of the month.
"What we want to do is start moving our students, faculty and staff toward more action on issues of social injustice," said SRU's Alice Kaiser-Drobney, assistant professor of social work and the initiative coordinator.
Coordinated by SRU's Institute for Community, Service-Learning and Non-Profit Leadership, the initiative will focus on various social justice issues throughout the academic year, including homelessness through Nov. 22, followed by inequity, health care and the environment.
The institute will coordinate five elements for each issue to raise awareness and move the SRU community toward action. They include the campuswide distribution of an electronic newsletter to help students and the community understand the severity of the issue and contact information for organizations that can help; a "Flicks for a Cause" movie and follow-up discussion that focuses on the issue; a series of issue-related service projects; a large-scale campus event; and an issue specific teach-in giving people the opportunity to learn more from faculty who study the issue.
Students will make a statement that advocates for the homeless when they occupy the cardboard village. Like those who are homeless, students will have to obtain their own cardboard and construct a 10-by-10 foot dwelling that will shelter two to four people. Each participating group will be required to collect hats, gloves, scarves and socks and food for distribution to homeless adults and rural homeless children.
"We want the SRU community to recognize the need to be involved," Kaiser-Drobney said. "It's not good enough to say, 'Oh that's too bad.' Get off your duffs and do something about it. Our students are going to become problem-solvers for very big, real-world issues in their professional lives. These activities equip them with the tools and confidence to address the social issues that will face them."
Students are already signing up for the cardboard village event.
"A lot of students on campus have not experienced homelessness in any other way but to ignore a person who is sitting on the street pan handling," said Jessica Fox, a communication major from Pittsburgh who will participate in the outdoor event. I don't think college students really understand the seriousness of the situation until it is - bam - right in their face. The cardboard village in the quad will be a way to make homelessness real. If we aren't going to take a stand against the problems that await us in the real world then who is? If we aren't going to care about our own country then why should we expect anyone else to?"
Students will build the cardboard houses Nov. 18-19 and inhabit them from 2 p.m. Nov. 19 through 2 p.m. Nov. 20. A rally to reflect on the experience will be at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 20 in the quad for reflection. An open forum reflection for village occupants will follow.
"Students will build the cardboard village out of respect so that everyone on campus sees it," Kaiser-Drobney said. "We want to bring the issue of homelessness to our campus. It's hard to deny it if it's right in the middle of campus."
The goal is to see at least 50 cardboard houses constructed, she said.
The outdoor event will be coupled with a service project such as a day of work, including a day of work with a city-rescue mission and a weekend helping Pittsburgh homeless. The "Flicks for a Cause" component of the program will feature the movie "Pursuit of Happyness" staring Will Smith. The movie focuses on a father and son becoming homeless after the father loses his job.
Kaisey-Drobney emphasized the impact one person can have by citing SRU's annual Empty Bowls fund-raising dinner. Proceeds from Empty Bowls is donated to local food programs, including Butler County home delivered meals for senior citizens.
"Looking at food prices, looking at people who are losing their jobs, it's easy to think that the issue of hunger is too huge and that one person can't do anything about it," she said. "The thousands of people who bought Empty Bowls tickets over the past 13 years have eliminated the waiting list for senior citizen Meals and Wheels in Butler County so that no senior in this county has to be hungry."
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.