On Tuesday morning, students gathered around a mysterious van in Gleeson Plaza. While others rushed to class, a group of seven students took turns living out of the van, answering questions from curious passerbys. This van was a part of the Performing Arts and Social Justice class, the Performance Brigade. These PASJ students set up the van as part of a larger project called Be/Longing to bring awareness to homeless and DACA student populations.
The Performance Brigade is a class that utilizes performance art to advance social justice causes and activism. A goal of many social activists is to find innovative ways to capture the public’s attention by methods other than protests to convey their message. The students in this class are tasked with tackling social issues by using their creative and artistic means to convey a message through performance. During the brainstorming session, the students thought of the two issues of homelessness and the proposed repeal of DACA affecting students and decided to combine them into one project.
Through the Be/Longing project, students sought to convey the feeling of not belonging, be it in terms of not having a home to go to at the end of the day or under threat of displacement from the only place that undocumented students have to call home. The class came up with the idea of parking the van in Gleeson Plaza so that many students would be encouraged to ask questions about the project as they went about their daily commutes around campus.
Isa Williams, a senior PASJ major, was one of the students that slept overnight in the van in solidarity with homeless students. “The message is to focus on the human aspect of all students at our university, that they can’t be silenced, especially DACA and homeless students,” Williams said “And [to] see them as human beings, and appreciate them even though they seem to not be part of the community, but are there.”
The students slept in the van in shifts, taking time out of their busy schedules to make these issues visible to students. Williams continued, “The only time I left the van was to go to class. I was at the van for about 8 hours each day. Everyone in the project stayed in the van one night each.”
Sarah Troup, a freshmen PASJ major, was motivated to be part of this project because she was homeless during her sophomore and junior year of high school. “The goal was to raise awareness about the case of homeless students […] and encourage students to see their privileges in life,” she said.
Jeff Prather, a junior student and passerby, was impressed by the devotion of the student participants. “It’s interesting to see these social issues presented into the world instead of just being talked about,” he said.
During the first week of the Performance Brigade class, professor Roberto Gutièrrez Varea had the students brainstorm what issues students should be made aware of on campus, and how they would accomplish their goals. The last time Professor Varea taught the Performance Brigade class was in 2012, but he decided to revive the class this past spring as a reaction to the development of the current political climate.
“[I wanted to] expose the students to tools and techniques related to non-violent, creative responses and or ways to engage difficult social issues that affect our lives,” Varea said. “But also particularly how these issues intersect our lives as members of the USF community.”
The Performance Brigade students also handed out informational pamphlets about undocumented students to those who were interested in helping out.
When asked how others could help DACA recipients and homeless persons, Troup said, “Educate yourself on the data and statistics about Homeless and DACA students, and what is going on behind the scenes.”
The performance group also told students that they could become involved by attending informational meetings about the renewal of DACA, such as one hosted by the USF Law School earlier this semester.
Featured Photo: Priyanka Panda and Isa Williams living in a van outside Gleeson plaza share a laugh. Hursh Karkhanis/FOGHORN