Women Organizing! Inspiration at Mujeres Unidas y Activas and The Women’s Building

Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith
Master of Arts in
Urban Affairs Candidate (’16)

This past week I had the opportunity to attend one of Mujeres Unidas y Activas’ (MUA) regular meetings at The Women’s Building in the Mission District. Through research that the Urban Affairs graduate team is conducting this semester, I have been able to connect with and observe the important work MUA is spearheading in San Francisco. MUA’s mission statement says: 

Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) is a grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women with a double mission of promoting personal transformation and building community power for social and economic justice. Their work includes creating an environment of understanding and confidentiality, empowering and educating our members to provide mutual support, offering trainings to build economic security and leadership, working in diverse alliances on the local, regional, national, and international levels, and organizing campaigns to win immigrant, workers’ and women’s rights.

The meeting started off with a viewing of a short documentary on the 43 students who have been missing from Iguala, Guerrero in Mexico since September 26th, 2014. While not all of the MUA members are from Mexico, many of the women shared stories from their native countries detailing similar experiences of friends or relatives becoming desaparecidos. The video and the stories shared by the women at the meeting were highly emotional. Many women spoke of family members left behind to an unknown fate, and of fear of police and other authority figures due to violent forms of retribution if they chose to speak out. While I had heard of the missing Mexican students, and have learned about desaparecidos under Peron in Argentina in the 1970s, to hear personal and more recent stories of this type of violence moved me. These women fled their families, their homes and their communities. But let me be clear – these women are not helpless victims. They are empowered by each other, and moved to organize for change.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next half of the meeting filled me with hope. We watched another short news video detailing the execution deaths by militants of 142 students in Nairobi, Kenya just last week. One of MUA’s lead organizers reminded us that we are not alone. It does not matter the differences in details between what happened in Mexico last year and what happened in Kenya last week –militant groups, drug cartels, and governments – they all rule through fear and terror. They attempt to immobilize and weaken those who will not speak out. We are all a part of the same movement, fighting, sometimes inch by inch, for common decency and humanity. The women at MUA do not see themselves simply as Mexican, or Guatamalan, or as immigrants. They are a part of a larger movement of women fighting and organizing. They are empowered by their past experiences and by their networks of support in their new homes. Their work is not limited to their communities in San Francisco, but extends globally.

I was moved by the momentum I felt, and the community I observed at The Women’s Building this past week. The women of MUA come together to offer each other support, and they come together to organize for change locally and globally. This strength, to overcome one’s own struggles and use that knowledge to help others do the same, is truly inspirational. I am looking forward to working with MUA for the next couple of weeks as our research continues, and I hope to stay involved in their efforts beyond this project.

Reflections of a Graduate student

By Jessica Andrepont

As the first year of my journey to earn my Master of Public Affairs (MoPA) from the University of San Francisco (USF) draws to a close, I take this unique opportunity of guest blogging to reflect on this adventure. I picked the MoPA program because I wanted to experience the best educational blending of political and policy theory and the practical application of that theory.

With every class, McCarthy Center sponsored workshop, and career advisory meeting — even from back in orientation — I have felt my decision to pick this program over all others was the right one. Between my professional skills, what I am learning, and the name recognition of the MoPA program and USF, I have been able to:

1- connect with influential community and political stakeholders,
2- secure internships,
3- and pursue enriching personal and professional experiences.

But, a graduate school program isn’t just about technical learning; it is about building relationships and networks that span a lifetime of careers and locales — a network that can help to position you for the next career opportunity. Every member of my cohort (#5), every previous cohort, and every one that comes after us are members of a community dedicated to supporting each other. We are friends. We are colleagues. And, in some cases, we are even coworkers!

Those kinds of reciprocal relationships are supposed to be common across graduate school programs, but oftentimes they don’t happen. You get out of any experience what you put in; and we actively work to achieve that ideal of community building within cohorts. I feel honored to be part of this distinctive program.

Lastly, with the internship season on the horizon, I am reminded of the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good’s mission: “In order to fashion a more humane and just world,…[the Center] educates leaders committed to lives of ethical public service by implementing academically rigorous programs, cultivating authentic community partnerships, and creating transformational experiences.”

That commitment influences every class in the MoPA program. That commitment is alive in every student who will be serving in industry-related workplaces this Summer. That commitment is what incites me to earn my degree and continue to live by this philosophy:

“You must be the change you wish to see in this world.” – Mahatma Ghandi

I have committed my personal and professional life to leading others by those words. The USF MoPA program and the McCarthy Center are already helping me to better live and lead by those words. I’m excited to see what year two brings!

Service-Learning Directors from West Coast Catholic Universities come together for 3rd Annual Examen Gathering

star staff photo

Star Moore
Director of Community-Engaged Learning

On February 8, 2015, I boarded a flight with Associate Dean (soon to be Vice Provost) Shirley McGuire to the Pacific Northwest for a two-day Examen retreat at Seattle University. The Examen group was created as an attempt to strengthen informal but vital relationships between colleagues doing community-engaged work at similar institutions. This was the third annual gathering of service-learning directors from Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara University, Seattle University, St. Mary’s College of California, University of San Diego, and University of San Francisco. The beauty of this gathering lies in its focus on connecting peers from across institutions; integrating a “guest ally” from each institution to learn more about our field, reflecting on common successes and challenges inherent in our work; sharing insights and resources to enhance our practice, and revitalizing our unique commitments to community engagement as a vocation and calling.

This year’s gathering included an opening and closing Examen (a technique of prayerful reflection through which we can discern God’s presence in our lived experiences), a walk through a labyrinth at an historic local church, a “shop talk” on assessment of student learning and community impact, and several shared meals. It was especially wonderful to share the experience with Shirley, who is a dedicated champion of the work of the McCarthy Center and a kindred spirit with regard to our mutual passion for “Assessment.”

I always leave this gathering feeling renewed, inspired, and equipped with a few new resources to integrate into my work. I also leave feeling a deep kinship with the other participants, and often call upon them throughout the year for advice and support. At the end of this particular retreat, each participant was invited to select a clay heart with a word written on it as a reminder of the feelings elicited during our shared experience. I selected the heart with the word “gratitude” to help me evoke this feeling both in times of trial and triumph. I’ve already found myself picking up the heart from the top of my desk and turning it over in my hand several times since our gathering a few weeks ago. It really does seem to have talismanic powers. As I hold the heart, I hold abiding gratitude for all the ways the work of community—engagement fulfills and challenges me.

Examen Retreat Blog Post

Spending a semester studying in D.C.

Caleb Blog Post

Caleb Banks

I am so grateful that I have the privilege and opportunity to live in the United States Capital—Washington D.C. This area is an amazing place to be a 22-year old with energy and big ideas. Despite learning from and immersing myself into the seemingly endless opportunities that are ever present here in DC, my singular source of sanity and happiness stems from the students here at UCDC. I’ve been blessed to meet students from Notre Dame, Michigan University, UCLA, Berkeley, and many more.

The students I’ve met and connected with, as well as the students I work with at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, have provided me with mental stimulation, emotional comfort, an atmosphere of inspiration, and the fun that I would have needed coming here! After a long day at work, or an exhausting day of classes, I can rely on a group of understanding students to lift my spirits, pushing me personally and spiritually. And as a USF student, I can confidently say USF has played a role in my success here. USF has certainly instilled in me an appreciation of diversity where it exists, and particularly here, I’ve appreciated diversity of students’ demographics and perspectives.

Also, I think effectively navigating the new social terrains I’ve been presented with, while practicing openness and humility, have allowed me to feel enriched and fulfilled during my time here in DC. So far, it’s been a month, and I’ll be here for another two months or so. Definitely looking forward to the new opportunities that arise in the near future, and every day that I wake up in this wonderful city. DC is such a face paced city, but it seems that if you keep your eyes open and go at your own pace, you’ll find what you are looking for and find the fulfillment that you want.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In Support of The McCarthy Center’s Service Learning Faculty Seminar


John Stover, Department of Sociology

It was the second week of spring semester, and we were halfway through the day’s session of Sociology Capstone Seminar, the cumulative, upper division research and service-learning (SL) course required of all majors. Silena Layne, Program Director at Up on Top, and Jenna Casey, Volunteer & Development Manager at Mission Graduates, had just described their expectations for the students to generate and complete an original service project. The proverbial sweat formed on the students’ mental brows as they silently considered exactly what they would create. Our Q&A started out tentatively, and you could feel the hesitation as students struggled to articulate their thoughts.

“What are you passionate about? What brings you joy?” Silena interjected into the uncertainty. “Because if you don’t bring your passion to your service project, the kids will see right through you.” Jenna concurred, and students began brainstorming: art, dance, teaching, literacy, writing, intersectional critiques, and more. By the end of class, we had a board filled with project ideas to be explored in the subsequent weeks, and; by the following week, nine students were headed to Up On Top and eight had applied to Mission Graduates.

I start with this quick anecdote because this exchange never would have happened without the McCarthy Center’s Service-Learning Faculty Seminar. I was a grateful participant in the fall 2014 seminar cohort, and I gained an invaluable wealth of knowledge, resources, and connections in support of my service-learning pedagogies. This seminar is, without exaggeration, an intellectual treasure trove of readings, activities, discussions, peer connections, pedagogical tools, and community building.

McCarthy Center staff does an incredible job of guiding faculty in revising existing service- learning courses and developing new ones. In my particular session, USF faculty members from across disciplines and colleges supported one another in the development of our SL courses. The ideas and proposals of my peers were inspiring, and I drew many inter-disciplinary ideas from their creative

The seminar likewise introduced us to community-based organizations. Both Up On Top and Mission Graduates are innovative, local organizations dedicated to the educational advancement of communities of color. Jenna and Silena spoke to our seminar cohort about their service-learning partnership experiences and answered questions about best practices for integrated learning and collaborative relationship building. It was a crucial moment in the development of my Capstone.

I subsequently secured Jenna and Silena as my community partners, focused my capstone upon the intersection of educational attainment and poverty, and created a syllabus integrating seminar resources with my sociological perspective. In doing so, I ultimately created a synergistic, collaborative learning experience effectively linking in-class studies and community-based service. Thus far, the preparation and seminar resources are already manifesting in wonderful ways among my

In short, the McCarthy Center’s Service-Learning Faculty Seminar is an integral, essential resource for USF faculty interested in developing rich, collaborative, and engaging service-learning courses. The seminar is not to be missed, and I am a better sociologist, and professor, for it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ACE Winter Retreat: Digging a little deeper


Alexis Stanley

Last week my fellow ACEs and I had the pleasure of beginning our winter retreat by first stopping by City of Dreams in the Bayview district of San Francisco. This organization’s mission is dedicated to helping youth living in low-income housing build brighter futures through mentorship and youth development. We got to see up close all the hard work and effort the young folks of City of Dreams and local residents have put into establishing a community garden at the Oakdale Community Center. Some of the ACEs and I got our hands a little dirty and assisted with building planter beds, wheel barrowing a hefty load of soil, and watering plants. Although that morning we only got a glimpse of all the great work City of Dreams is doing, it was wonderful to see the magnificent strides this organization is making with their youth mentorship program and engaging local residents in creating their own gardens.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A couple highlights from the retreat include our discussions over the multiple layers of socialization in relation to oppression. Considering the social, political, and economic forces swirling around us that impact our daily lives, it was a particularly poignant segment of the retreat to take some time and dissect some of these complex forces on a personal level. Although we were only scratching the surface with our discussion of the cycle of socialization, examining and reflecting on what roles we have been socialized to play, how we may be affected by oppression in our own lives, and how we may participate in maintaining this cycle was powerful. I currently find myself wedged in a position where I am made aware of different pervasive social issues that call for serious attention and action, but sometimes not knowing where to begin. I found it rewarding to discuss as a group what social change is and the many different forms it can take, whether that is on a large or small scale, but ultimately interrupting forms of oppression.

Another great takeaway from the retreat was being equipped with concrete methods to affirm and challenge the service-learners we will be working with in discussion-based reflections. A part of the ACE role is facilitating reflections with students in service-learning course so they connect their experiences to larger social issues. On day two, a segment of retreat was spent collectively honing in on key facilitation skills and tips through a group role-play exercise that turned out to be actually very helpful. Not only were these tips conducive to the ACE role for the new semester where we will lead reflections, but also very applicable life skills for dealing with colorful personalities and opinions. All in all, being surrounded by compassionate and motivated peers who all share a drive for engaging in ethical public service leaves me inspired and excited for what this spring semester will bring!

A look back at my first semester

For the past six weeks, I have been back in New York City and away from my life as a graduate student in San Francisco. This time has given me the opportunity to reflect on my first semester at USF, and try to readjust to my old life in NYC. I cannot help but make comparisons between life on the East and West Coast. I am relieved to be back in a city where I can wholly rely on public transportation, but I am not enjoying the weather here.

Looking back, I cannot make sense of all of the leaps of faith I have taken in the past 6 months. From withdrawing money from my savings to make the initial deposit at USF, to turning in my last paper of the semester, I cannot believe that I made the series of decisions that have led me to today.

Every doubt that I have had, at every turn, I have been met with the excellence of my peers and professors. Each student has pushed me to reason differently and think critically. Each professor has made me question my preconceived notions and imagine new possibilities.
 In Data Visualization we hacked data and learned about online mapping platforms. With GIS we mapped urban health disparities, potential sites for transportation improvements, and emergency response deficiencies in the city of San Francisco. I was beginning to see the city in many new ways.
 In Issues in Urban Public Policy class we were blown away by Fainstein’s the Just City and disgusted by Moretti’s the New Geography of Jobs. Then three months later, when given the opportunity to create our plan for increasing moderate income housing in San Francisco, our ideals went out the window and Neo Liberalism might as well have written our final plans. The ‘gotcha!’ look on Corey Cook’s face when he explained to the class how we had so clearly and quickly gone back on our ideals was gratifying for only Corey.
In History of Urbanism class we learned about the disturbing history of racial covenants in San Francisco. Now I find myself constantly searching for street signs, and racking my brain for names of neighborhoods from my readings.
For my TA position with Professor Shin, I got a glimpse of what it is like to manage 80 undergraduate students. I was able to sit in on sociology lectures and learn about social determinants of health. Ultimately these lectures informed my own research interests in my graduate classes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For my social media position with the McCarthy Center, I found myself attending events on campus that I wouldn’t normally have gone to. I had the opportunity to learn about varying subjects, from the imperial history of San Francisco to ranked choice voting in Oakland. I have become more involved on campus, and am beginning to feel a sense of ownership for USF and its community.

Uprooting my life and becoming a student again has been challenging to say the least. Thanks to the support I’ve found, I’ve been able to fully take advantage of this new life. My professors, my fellow cohort members, the McCarthy Center, the beautiful campus, the city of San Francisco, my supportive and loving family… all encourage and inspire me to continue to take these leaps of faith.

I have a few more weeks in NYC before spring semester starts. While I am enjoying my time off, I am also looking forward to getting back in the classroom.

– Amanda Smith, MA in Urban Affairs Candidate