Envisioning transformative social change

By Saybrook University

An extreme close-up of a keyboard, focused on the shift key which now says "change" and has a red map of the world.

How Saybrook University scholar-activists can bring about positive social change visions, strategies, and solutions for the world.

By Joel Federman, Ph.D. 

We are living in a time of transformative social change. Around the world, people are becoming aware and connected in very different ways than ever before. We have increased access to information about the world, and the technological capacity to communicate our ideas, which allows us to organize collectively with greater efficiency.

Our society is also experiencing the inertia of seemingly relentless violence and injustice, both episodic and systemic. These injustices are being committed by and against individuals, communities, states, and religions. They are committed between neighbors locally and between nation-states globally. These are exemplified by recent U.S. gun violence tragedies in Orlando, Dallas, Charleston, and Baton Rouge. They also include terror attacks in Germany, Turkey, France, Mexico, and Honduras against innocent civilians, citizen activists, and journalists.

A new generation of young people is coming of age shaped by these conditions. They expect to be able to mobilize and make a difference in this new world. They also seek a broader understanding of social movements and ways to organize for effective change worldwide.

What is the Transformative Social Change program at Saybrook?

The Transformative Social Change (TSC) degree program at Saybrook University was created to support effective responses to the risks and opportunities the world is presenting. The program is an incubator of ideas, solutions, strategies, and visions in service of Saybrook’s broader mission of inspiring transformational change “toward a just, humane, and sustainable world.”

The program has assembled a stellar multidisciplinary faculty, who are leaders in their scholarly and activist fields, including Communications, Psychology, Peace and Justice Studies, Social Impact Media, and Transformative Learning and Change.

The program has two specialization areas, in Social Impact Media and Peace and Justice Studies, and also offers certificates in Peace and Conflict Resolution, Community Health and Development, Socially Engaged Spirituality, and Building a Sustainable World.

Tahrir Square and the Global Spring

The pivotal historical movement that symbolizes the potential for transformative social change occurred in Tahrir Square in Egypt in 2011. The Egyptian people, who had been repressed for decades, mobilized immense support online, which in part allowed them to take over the central intersection of their capitol city, making it into a common space where people were housed and fed, and free share their dreams about the kind of country in which they wanted to live.

It is no coincidence that “Tahrir” translates into English as “liberation.” Tahrir Square is Liberation Square. Despite the terrible backlash currently faced by Egypt’s democracy movement, their visionary and courageous actions continue to inspire the rest of the world.

Even with its limitations, the Arab Spring has, in turn, inspired a global spring, with similar reclaiming of parks and town squares in cities throughout the world. These include #OccupyWallStreet, #BlackLivesMatter, and #DemocracyAwakening movements in the U.S., the Los Indignados of Spain, the Idle No More movement in Canada, the Brazilian Spring, the Taksim Square movement in Turkey, the global climate justice movement, and the Nuit Debout (Rise Up at Night) movement in France.

All of these movements have found their manifestation not only in the streets, but in a proliferation of nonprofit or nongovernmental organizations that are focused on addressing issues of democratization, human rights, climate change, social justice, conflict resolution, and peace.

Saybrook University as Part of the Solution

Building from these local and global changes, Saybrook University’s Transformative Social Change program prepares graduates to provide theoretical insight and policy expertise to community organizers and nongovernmental organizations focused on peace, democracy, human rights, the environment, and social justice. They learn to develop strategies for greater impact, and to help NGOs evaluate their effectiveness.

Throughout the Transformative Social Change program curriculum, scholarship and activism are interconnected. Students make personal connections with those making change in their chosen areas of study, as well as build conceptual links between the theory of change and its practical applications. The program is an extension of Saybrook University’s ongoing commitment to identifying needs in our global society and finding ways to become part of the solution.

Look forward to more blog posts about the amazing work our students and faculty are doing, as well as developments in the program coming soon. As always, you can find more information about the Transformative Social Change program at Saybrook here.

Dr. Joel Federman, Ph.D., is the director of the Transformative Social Change program at Saybrook University. His writing, teaching, and activism focuses on helping people to re-envision their individual and collective potential in order to see themselves shaping a better world. He is particularly interested in the development of global civil society efforts aimed at realizing values such as universal compassion, social justice, and peace.