Story by Bridget Gibley, Culture Editor
Photo courtesy IMDb
COVID-19 has caused drastic changes to the end of the semester. With the college campus closed and Governor Whitmer’s stay-at-home order now extended through April 30, students are continuing their learning from a distance. One of the pillars of the Dominicans is “community,” and Brigid Avery, Associate Director of Career Services, wanted to make sure that the community remains strong.
Avery wrote her thesis on civic engagement among college students at historically Black colleges, post-Hurricane Katrina. She saw then how students could become isolated in the wake of a natural disaster or pandemic, and wanted to provide more communication and support for Aquinas students.
Avery said, “In times of crisis, it’s really important to keep students connected, because otherwise, their main focus is just going to be on survival, and not thriving, and so if we can maintain those communication infrastructures, maybe students can move to the next level of ‘Now I want to do something about this.’”
This desire to keep the Aquinas community connected led Avery to coordinate an event with the Advantage Center, the Alumni and Advancement Office and Student Senate. On April 3, they sponsored a screening of the new documentary, “Slay the Dragon,” which features Aquinas alumna Katie Fahey and her organization, Voters Not Politicians, as they fight to end gerrymandering in Michigan.
The Advantage Center, Alumni and Advancement Office and Student Senate covered the cost of streaming the film. Students, faculty, and alumni who registered ahead of time were sent the link to watch the film asynchronously on Friday. That night, Katie Fahey joined Avery, as well as Dr. Molly Patterson, Associate Professor of Political Science, for a Zoom Q&A. All who registered were invited to join.
Fahey has spoken at Aquinas several times since she graduated in 2011. At the Q&A, she said, “It’s really cool in general to feel so supported by Aquinas. It’s just such a supportive, loving community, and people who really believe that we can change the world–which, if you watch the film, not a lot of people did!”
She credits her liberal arts education with developing her skills of connecting with people from different disciplines and backgrounds. But perhaps even more than the connections, she noted, “At Aquinas, you could do so much… Nothing ever felt like you weren’t allowed to do it. It’s such a small school that if you have an idea, you can try and make it happen and in my case, while at Aquinas, I got to do that a couple times.”
Proposal 2, which creates a new commission to determine how district lines are drawn, passed in Michigan in 2018. Fahey describes her campaigning efforts as intentionally making Voters Not Politicians the opposite of closed-door gerrymandering, and talking to as many people from as many different lives as possible. She said that during the campaign, she thought, “I’m going to try my hardest to see if democracy still exists.”
Dr. Molly Patterson was one of her first calls, to see if a citizen-led proposal to end gerrymandering was possible. At the Q&A, Patterson recalled, “I didn’t think it was terribly likely, but it could be done. I’m glad I didn’t say ‘no.’”
Since Proposal 2 has passed, Katie has become the Executive Director of The People, an organization of support and resources for people who, like Katie, are trying to make a difference in their communities and their systems of government.
When asked what advice she had for people hoping to make grassroots change, Fahey responded, “It can be done. It took an extraordinary amount of dedication, and that’s the part you have to be prepared for.”
Fahey also emphasized the importance of community, which was a significant theme in the evening’s Q&A and in Brigid Avery’s goal for the event. Above all, Fahey said, “Find your people and don’t doubt that other people care about the same things you do.”
Bridget Gibley is a senior at Aquinas studying English, Spanish and Women’s Studies. She thrives on reading, writing, and lots of coffee.