by Maya Sungold

Sometimes it can be hard to feel connected to community on campus. To feel like you can show up somewhere, meet people you’ve never met before, get to know them in a real way, and be accepted and embraced in each others’ fullness. This year Ethics & the Common Good and Transformative Speaking Program are collaborating to hold a space to try this on. It’s called Hampshire Huddle.

But to really explain how we got to this, we’ve got to go back a few years. I was in my last semester of my Div III, in fact at the very end of my Div III, at the opening for my art show. I had spent the year exploring what it could mean to build relationships as we build movements. Through conversations with Hampshire students, alums, faculty, staff, and community organizers, I made space to share and hold stories around our joys, challenges, tools, and visions for the changemaking work we did, wanted to do, or hoped to make happen. The conversations came together in a book, They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds: Growing Heart-Centered Movements from the Ground Up, reflecting on our experiences shifting culture, in both dominant and radical spaces, to grow the resilient and transformational communities and movements that we both want and want us.

We celebrated the book in a collective art show with zines, poems, paintings, drawings, photographs, and quilts submitted by my conversation partners and the Hampshire community at large to show that art has a place in changemaking and in community building, too. The room was filled with people I’d grown relationships with over the year, a book of our collective knowledge and skills, art across every medium, and an energy somehow of home. I looked around me and felt a whole-hearted and whole-bodied support embracing each person in the room as real, full beings working on feeling alive and active in a broken world. Finally, after four years, maybe even after twenty one years, I felt a shared connection and belonging. I felt community.

And then, I graduated. I moved to DC and started over again. New place, new job, new people, and a re-newed feeling of being alone. I wondered, what happens when you become the only tie to the communities you were a part of, so far away now? What does finding and rooting into new community look like here? When will I feel a sense of home again?

In the course of my first few months in the city, I miraculously made one friend. One night in December, that friend called me and we had a life-changing conversation. That conversation went like this:

“Hey, I heard about this thing called Dinner & Huddle being put on by this group called The Sanctuaries. Let’s go!”
“Well, what’s a Dinner & Huddle?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, who are The Sanctuaries?”
“I don’t know.”

And off we went, totally clueless yet curious, a powerful combination.

We arrived at what looked like an over-sized living room, with groups of people talking to each other on couches, plates of food on their laps and animated looks on their faces. Grabbing our own food, we settled in. Soon we learned the theme for that night’s event, fittingly centered around “Transitions.” Then we got into huddles around the room, with the choice to join a conversation or collaborate on a piece using different art forms, from dance to drawing to poetry to song. There were four huddles in all, two for each choice, focusing on either the joys or the challenges of transition.

I made my way over to the conversation huddle focused on challenges, not quite ready to be so public with my reflections and needing some support around the transitions I was going through. We got into a circle, introduced ourselves, and then each person had time to share their story and be heard. As we went around, it was affirming to hear my group’s challenges with transitions, to feel connected in this place of struggle and to explore how we each were engaging with our different situations.

We came back together as a whole room to share out some of our realizations and to see the art made by the collaborative huddles. It felt hopeful to witness the joys of transition shared by two of the groups and begin to imagine myself feeling that way soon. There we were, all of us in one room, different ages, faiths, cultures, community practices, parts of the city, offering our willingness to feel deeply and honestly with each other. A transformative experience of connection, reflection, and creation.

And it didn’t end there. After we closed out, I went up to the facilitators to learn more about The Sanctuaries. A community-sourced, member-run collective, The Sanctuaries activates artists to build power, shift culture, and heal spirits by igniting the arts for social change and bringing people and resources together across differences for the wellness of our communities. I joined right then and there. Over the next year, I practiced beautiful partnership between people, between teams, between communities as I collaborated with The Sanctuaries to host gatherings, perform at events, engage in arts teams, and teach workshops, all while bringing my full self, making space for raw and relevant issues, and creating real change together. My time at The Sanctuaries deeply shaped how I view and move with community today, seeing it less like layers, stacked one on top of another hidden underneath the visible top layer but more like a web, individual threads interconnecting and made stronger by their relationships to one another.

With this in mind, coming back to Hampshire to work at Ethics & the Common Good was a joyful transition, practicing community building throughout the year with a grounded and reinforced perspective in the relational. So when we were brainstorming this summer about ways we could support Hampshire in strengthening and deepening how we relate to each other, I tugged on the thread of my web connected to The Sanctuaries.

And with their blessing, we have lovingly adapted the Dinner & Huddle to fit our campus as the new Hampshire Huddle. Our intentions in offering this space are:

  • Hold a consistent space to come together, open to all students, staff, and faculty
  • Easy, accessible way for folks to connect and create with each other at a low-risk level
  • Reflect and collaborate intellectually, emotionally, and creatively on themes
  • Appreciate and build up the skills, talents, and resources of our community together

Activist Grace Lee Boggs once said, “Community is the most important thing that’s been destroyed by the dominant culture.” Cultivating community that supports us to make and grow, to question and recenter our actions to support visions, both individual and collective, of connection and transformation therefore becomes a radical act and also a healing act, of living our values and fighting for wholeness.

So whether you see a flyer, read a newsletter, get invited on Facebook, or are excitedly pulled aside by a friend or co-worker – I hope you will try something new with us on Thursday, September 27th for our first Hampshire Huddle on New Beginnings. See you there!

Maya Sungold is the Relational Leadership Alumni Fellow with Ethics & the Common Good. They graduated with a degree in Relational Community Organizing and through practices of cultivation and collaboration, support relationships in continued resistance and resilience. In spinning both fiber and web, they build change and creative adaptation, queer time and radical imaginings, tender accountability and perfectly possible contradiction into their art-making and community-building. Their work aims to shape space and structure for connection, reflection, and creation to resource us as we live into the world to come.

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