Melissa Coffman Research 2: Dancing with the Littles

Through community engagement, I have not only gained a better understanding of what it means to be little, but of what it means to play a role in a little person’s life. Children are a huge part of this world we live in and they are often times overlooked. I chose to engage in the community by looking them in the eye and letting them know that I believe in who they are and what they are capable of. Through my work with Bigs in Schools at UMW and my work as a dance teacher, I have explored mentorship at it’s finest and sometimes it’s hardest yet it is what I look forward to most during the week.

Research 2

Dominique Lopez-Piper Research Paper #2: Building Brains for Community Gains

Dominique Lopez-Piper

Dr. Martin

Building Brains for Community Gains

When you think about who holds power in society, you probably do not envision sweet little hyper kids from low-income families, but rather CEOS at huge corporations and popular political figures. That said, through my community engagement project, I worked with Brain Builders—a subdivision of Stafford Junction—in an effort to change these perceptions and redistribute power and resources to low-income kids by providing reading time, homework help, and a patient helping set of hands and ears. Stafford Junction is a faith-based non-profit organization that was formed in response to an assessment completed by the Stafford County Sheriff’s Department in a high-crime neighborhood in Stafford County. The report included several challenges such as poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, unsupervised children—which is especially relevant to Brain Builders—and high rates of non-English speaking Hispanic and refugee families. As a result, Stafford Junction was formed to improve the lives of low-income youth and families through programs like Brain Builders that were focused on education, nutrition, and healthy living.

To start off, Brain Builders is a school-year long program that seeks to foster intellectual achievement and help kids develop tools for success in their educational careers and lives. The program reaches 6 schools in the area, from kindergarten to 12th grade; it just recently expanded to include Old Forge High School. There are currently about 115 volunteers of all ages, but there is a great need for even more help. It is my hope that after reading this paper and listening to my presentation, several of my peers will be compelled to volunteer their time to helping this immensely worthy cause.

As far as the community I targeted, worked with 20 kindergarteners and first graders at Falmouth Elementary School, which is about a 12-minute drive from our campus. A typical day began with the volunteers arriving about 10 minutes before schedule to set up snacks and look through books to find some at the appropriate reading level for our kids. Then, the students arrived at 4 p.m. and we got them signed in and distributed snacks. After about 10 minutes, they would clean up and we would transition into homework and reading time; for kids who wanted alternative things to do, we had math and crossword puzzle worksheets. Depending on the day, the weather, and the general behavior of the group, they often got some time to go outside for a little while as well. Lastly, a few minutes before 5 p.m., we would get them lined up and ready to be picked up or walked over to the bus.

Now that I have given you an idea of this community and the program I worked with, I will address the power structure and flow of people and organizations within it that allow it to operate smoothly. At the top, with the most power, is Carrie Evans, the Stafford Junction Executive Director; she runs all of Stafford Junctions’ programs and makes sure each of the respective leaders within them are on task and making the right kinds of progress. Next, Brain Builders Program Manager Tegan Aguiñaga—who was especially kind and flexible in getting me started volunteering—falls right below her, with the authority to direct Brain Builders, check in on a regular basis, and manage the day leaders, who are next on the list. Michelle Vasquez and Lester Gabriel were the day leaders for Tuesdays and Thursdays, respectively. They gave the volunteers instructions each day and made sure we were spending time with the kids effectively. Since a consistent meal was a key factor in keeping the kids interested in the program, the local charities and churches that donated that food also wielded significant power. Finally, the volunteers are right above the students, as we worked together to develop critical thinking and reading skills to help them succeed, and they determined how the day turned out with their levels of attention and focus.

Since I have just described the dynamics of the power scheme, I will now explain some of the key issues of power within the greater community that create the need for this program. The kids we worked with lack certain resources that allow their more affluent peers to thrive, such as having the luxury of a stay-at-home parent to teach them to read and spend time developing their homework skills; kids on the other end of the socio-economic spectrum tend to spend much more time alone, as their parents often work long hours or multiple jobs to make ends meet.  As a result, their peers who come from more wealthy families end up with an unfair advantage for success in grade school, but also in the future when applying to college and for jobs. On top of that, upon realizing that their classmates understand things more quickly or do better on tests and assignments, their sense of self-worth and self-confidence diminishes, which was unfortunately very evident in the group I worked with; several students were embarrassed to admit that they “could not read” or felt that they were “stupid.” While this language gave me a heavy heart, I was grateful to be there to discourage these thoughts and reassure them that they were all intelligent and all capable of doing anything they worked to accomplish.

After realizing the need for drastic, meaningful change, the goal of my project was to enhance their reading and homework skills and help improve their sense of self in order to redistribute power in the long term. First and foremost, I went into each session with my mom’s philosophy about how to help kids prosper and grow: always treat them as equals, so that they feel the respect and ability to rise to the challenge and achieve more than they ever would have imagined otherwise. I also shared my knowledge base of hints and tips for pronouncing words and using context clues while reading and helpful tricks for doing math problems and other activities. In that way, I was able to give back from my position of resources in the academic world and transfer that power to these kids. Additionally, presenting and writing about this project and sharing it with our class will hopefully compel more students to work with Brain Builders to help meet their need and reach even more young people.

As far as the role of Brain Builders in affecting our broader community, it works to resolve inequality on a small-scale, but one that impacts future generations worldwide: the children that we are helping to develop these skill sets will be the future major power-holders of our society. Furthermore, this program bridges the gap between the generations in that several older people volunteer their time after retirement and are able to reach out to the younger populations. Both generations end up impacting each other in ways they may never have expected. All in all, the most meaningful takeaway for me with Brain Builders and Stafford Junction was their mission to “connect lives, build relationships, and foster understanding across socio-economic lines.” I sincerely hope I was able to contribute to this profound goal by helping the children realize just how important and capable of success each one of them is through the development of their critical thinking, reading, and deductive skills. Potential power lies in all corners of the world, we just have to seek out ways to distribute it evenly and make sure it ends up in the hands of people with the greater good in mind.

Power Structure of Expansion/Relocation of Teams in the NFL

Abstract: This paper will look at NFL expansion and will look at in depth roles of owners, players, and the community. This paper will outline the power structure of the NFL, especially in regards to relocation of teams and expansion of the league. There are some proposals on the floor and we will dive into both the pros and cons of these proposals.

research 3

Petrina Thomas, Research #2, SOCG 371M

In 2012, the Commonwealth of Virginia moved its Department of Aging into the Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS) making it Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).  In 2014, the Agency on Community Living (ACL), the federal overseeing and funding agency, was created and encompasses a wide range of previously separate disability agencies and aging.  The first research project focused on the federal agency, ACL, and its distribution of power via its funding opportunities (or what we call grants).  Owing to work experience, I was able to understand what these federal funding opportunities (grants) look like at the local and state levels.  The first research project looked at the division of funding opportunities with regards to access to funds between disability and aging groups.  Of the 24 funding opportunities, 22 are accessible to the aging population, 12 can be accessed by people with disabilities who are not over 60 years of age and two are disability specific.  This distribution of funds makes some sense with the growing aging population but does not take into account that existing disability agencies who have access to half of the funds (or less) are also serving the same growing aging population with half of the funds because they were not created as a designated “aging” agency and provide services to individuals in the community based on need rather than label or age.  This local and state competition for funding is the basis for the second research paper where the first gave an introduction to how power can be handed out in the form of funds from a federal agency (ACL).

Please see Research Paper at following link:



Community Engagement

Something that I have been doing for my community this year is engaging with the fossil fuel divestment campaign on our campus. We are one of almost 300 campaigns around the nation all working towards a similar goal. Divestment in itself is a very simple act: take investments out of the fossil fuel industry. This can be done on any level, whether it be personal investments, city investments, a church’s investments, or even a country (Norway in recent news). The idea of divestment is essentially a devolution of power. It seeks to fix the current status, which is structured in a way that corporations control our universities (in this case fossil fuel corporations) through their economic power. Divestment campaigns work to shift that power from the hands of the fossil fuel industry and into the hands of the hands of students. There are several methods and way which we use to achieve that goal.

One major function of DivestUMW is to do direct actions, which is using alternative methods outside of the established channels. In our campaign, we have reached many blocks when trying to achieve our goal, so we need to use other methods. Direct action can be used in many different ways, but it tends to be something of a very visual display, or something that disrupts the ordinary routine in order to  Our university’s governance structure and process is one that tends to be hidden from the immediate eye of the public. By highlighting certain aspects of the process with action, the public will be more likely to be in tune with the process.

But these actions by themselves are not enough. Doing an action in the middle of the day will only catch at most 40 to 50 people on its own. The action does not matter unless it hits media. This can either be on social media or traditional media, or a variation. Our campaign has found it necessary to use social media to get our messages at times when traditional media is unresponsive. Local traditional media sources have tendencies to shy away from administrative decisions and social justice issues here on campus for the sake of being more digestible, so they usually only cover us when we do something big and they would risk losing their reputation if they ignore it.

There are benefits to cons to both. With social media you have more control over the messaging and can have a narrative that directly serves your purpose. With traditional media, you lose some control over the narrative and but gain more legitimacy in the public eye.

Actions and media work together to draw attention to a target: that is a decision maker or a decision making body that is either an obstacle for our campaign or can give us what we want. For us last year, a serious block was the Rector of the board, Rector Cuellar. Cuellar continuously tried to reject our voice and presence at the meetings, whether it was direct or through more passive means by neglecting to address us despite wide shown support. This target changes depending on different stages of the campaign. With all of these combined methods, the campaign hopes to bring power into the hands of students and open up channels for more causes to go through, some being debt free education, private prison divestment, and better sexual assault policy.

Reaction Paper 3: Newspaper Editorial

The riots at Missouri University over the past few weeks have divided many individuals as to whether the students, or the university were at fault. These issues began to acquire national attention when the football team began to boycott football games, backing a member who was on a hunger strike bringing attention to the racial issues African Americans faced when attending the university – problems the president refused to address. These two issues don’t mark the beginning of the situation, however. Instead, it arguably can be traced back to issues that began with the new university president coming into power.

As a former IT professional and a software executive, Tim Wolfe faced criticism from faculty due to his lack in experience of universities. (1) He acquired the position in 2012, and since then has made some policy blunders such as cutting healthcare for graduate and adjunct professors and temporarily terminating the university’s Univ. of Mo Press. After abstaining from addressing two situations of obvious racism within the university – when a feces swastika painted on a bathroom wall and when the Missouri Student Association president was called the “N-word” multiple times on campus (2) – Wolfe resigned under criticism from both students and faculty at the university, as well as lawmakers.

This relates to the course in many ways – specifically through systematic power. Many students at the University of Missouri expressed disapproval with public issues and how they were handled. Protests, hunger strikes, letters and obvious disapproval of the leadership did not bring any change, however. Instead, it was the boycott by the football team. The team pledged to not participate in any games until there was recognition and change brought about by the president and chancellor of the university, showing support for a student who went on a hunger strike. This quickly gathered a large following national media attention, as well as action from the university.

The fact that none of the prior expressions of contempt from students created a solid reaction from the university president, but the boycott from the football team quickly did, is a form of power within the university. The fact that the university officials only listened to students’ issues when a certain group of students was unhappy with the outcomes of situations is a sign that there is an unfair and unequal power within the university. This shows that unless you are somewhat of a celebrity – for example, a sports team member, you do not and will not have a say in the change that can occur within a college campus.

From governors to boards to presidents to deans, there are concrete and obvious signs of power. Certain individuals can and often will be favored over one another regardless of a greater amount of experience that the ignored may have. For this system to flood into student dynamics and mean that regardless of knowledge on issues, if you are on a sports team, you have more power than ‘the others’ is a serious issue within the distribution of power.

“What Happened at the University of Missouri? – Slate.” 2015. 30 Nov. 2015 <>

“Racial climate at MU: A timeline of incidents this fall | Higher …” 2015. 29 Nov. 2015 <>

“Should It Really Take a Football Team to Force Change on …” 2015. 1 Dec. 2015 <>

“Race Wasn’t the Only Issue at University of Missouri – WSJ.” 2015. 30 Nov. 2015 <>

Documentaries about Cities/Power

Hey guys, I found this list of great documentaries on cities.  Several of them are based on the cities and topics we have discussed in class; two are about post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and several about fair housing and homelessness.  I checked through the list and found that all of the documentaries are available on youtube for free except for four (“The Garden,” “Trouble the Water,” “My Winnipeg,” and “Radiant City”), but “Trouble the Water” is offered for free on  I hope you guys find these interesting and maybe even find some to be useful for your final research projects or watch them after finals to reflect on our class.  🙂  The link is above!


Dining Services Survey

Hey friends!

I’ve been circulating this survey to gather student opinions/responses/ideas about dining services this semester for my second research project. Don’t know why I haven’t posted it here yet, but if you want your opinions to potentially be heard by dining services I would love to include your responses before I send them to the dining services staff!

Peep the survey here: dining services survey.



Reaction 3, Sequoi Phipps, Section 2

Reaction 3, Sequoi Phipps, Section 2

A brief examination of recent events in the United States will reveal that some of the most talked about events involve policing, riots, and systematic racism. There is a long list of the names of citizens killed by police officers, and in many of these cases, the events that followed these deaths included rioting, policing, curfews, destruction of property, and filtered media coverage. As an example, let’s take a look at Baltimore; what happened, what were the reactions to policing, what has happened since the riots, and how do “we” react now? (We – in this short reflection, “we” are students, scholars, citizens, humans. But remember that though I am attempting to speak generally, you will ultimately be reading the view of a student who thinks that this is how “we” should react to this problem in comparison with the ways in which the public and the media are reacting.)  

In two sentences, here is a brief overview of what happened in Baltimore. On April 19, 2015, Freddie Gray died after suffering injuries while in police custody. At the news of his death, the city of Baltimore experienced riots that were met by police officers, the National Guard and a declared state of emergency. There has been discussion since these events about the ways in which all members of the city reacted. In these next few paragraphs I am going to talk about what happened after.

Police brutality in Ferguson or Baltimore or Oakland represents the failure to bring real economic reforms that might have a chance of ameliorating the suffering of the poor and unemployed” (Palermo). During the riots, mirroring the events of any other recent riot in the United States, there was aggression displayed towards to police. The trigger of the riots stemmed from an instance of police brutality, during the riots there was visible animosity against the police, and ideas of who the police were and how they used their power were impacted after the riots (both on a local level in Baltimore and on a national level).

Another ripple of riots like the one in Baltimore is how the community and economy are impacted. Often, the cost of damages is immense, local shop owners often suffer the blow after their stores are vandalized and looted, the stigma surrounding a city can quickly alter how often visitors come to the city, and the dynamic of neighborhoods and housing can also be impacted. Nathan Connolly suggests that events like the Baltimore riots could bring up other important questions about jobs and unemployment. But in so many cases after events like this one, tax payers money is going to increased policing and more resources are being dumped into ways to make law enforcement and politicians look like they are making an effort to be better (Gwen Ifill, PBS). But what if the question was not only “how do we make law enforcement better” but how we begin to approach the real issue of systematic racism? Law enforcement’s relationship with minorities is absolutely a part of that, but so is job inequality, housing segregation, and the ongoing stigma attached to territory and “who belongs where” in the eyes of law enforcement.

My question, though, is what is being done as a result of these riots across the United States? Often, it appears that all of these outcomes – tension between law enforcement and minorities, economic changes, skewed media coverage, and nation-wide debates – result in band aids and cough drops rather than real treatments. In Las Vegas, bias training classes were being taught to law enforcement in order to educate and condition law enforcement officers to make critical decisions based upon the situation rather than making judgements based upon the person they are encountering (This American Life). Are bias training classes bad? Absolutely not. The inherent intention behind these courses is to educate and prepare in ways that best serves a community. But we can reference again to Palermo, “The simple fact is that millions of Americans are living under a distorted form of laissez faire capitalism that will continue to breed civil unrest.” That is the wound that needs to be addressed.  The ripples that can happen after a riot can spur on good change, yes good, if the right questions are being asked and the actual wounds are being healed.

This American Life


Ifill, PBS