Bonner seniors reflect on four years of service

By Shasta Webb

This week The Mac Weekly sat down with five of the senior Bonner Scholars: Maya MX Pisel ’13 (American Studies), Rosie Glenn-Finer ’13 (Biology), Jasmine Ball ’13 (Educational Studies and Psychology), Michael Bolling ’13 (Economics and German), and Tsesa Monaghan ’13 (Political Science and German). Members of the Bonner Scholars program since their first year at Macalester, these five of twelve Bonner seniors, spoke about their experiences with social justice, intentional communities, and changing perspectives. The Mac Weekly: What does it mean to be a Bonner Scholar? Maya Pisel: Bonner is a program for students to earn their work-study [aid] off campus at community organizations. We all have financial need and many of us are first generation college students. We have weekly meetings for enrichment activities. Michael Bolling: The meetings give us an opportunity to reflect on what we do in our community organizations. It provides us with a space to reflect on the issues that we come across in our work. Tsesa Monaghan: Bonner is a nationwide program, so it’s pretty cool to be a part of this national movement for service learning in colleges. It’s cool to have connections to people all over the place who are committed to social justice and civic engagement. Jasmine Ball: I met a Bonner last year. We actually brought him to campus [to speak] to encourage youth to get involved. He’s still doing the work he learned in Bonner, which is really encouraging. What are some examples of places Bonners work? TM: There really is a wide range. First year we’re all placed in local schools, either elementary or middle schools, but after that we have quite a bit of freedom to choose. A couple of us have worked in the Civic Engagement Center. MB: The majority of Bonners work off campus. I’m working at the Somali American Education Program, which is in the Cedar Riverside area housed currently in the African Development Center. I tutor and teach math to Somali immigrants. Some Bonners work at the Minnesota Internship Center tutoring and acting as health advocates. MP: I work at Amicus as a mentor for girls on criminal probation. I also work with adult with criminal records, especially on resumes and finding jobs. Amicus is Latin for friend, so it’s all about radical relationships and building community. With the girls, I facilitate a group that meets every week. Rosie Glenn-Finer: I’m an example of a Bonner who works in the Civic Engagement Center. I’m the Health and Wellness Issue Area Organizer, so if students are interested in health and want to volunteer off campus they can come to me. Organizations looking for student volunteers can also come to me. JB: We also have people working with the Minnesota AIDS Project, the West 7th Community Center, the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater. People have worked at or volunteered at the Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Red Cross. There’s a wide range. After your first year you can choose an area that interests you. I’m an Educational Studies major and I like working with kids so I was placed in an elementary school my first year. I ended up staying there for three years with the same class. This year I’m at the Civic Engagement Center, which I really like, but I really miss the kids. At the CEC I work at the College Access Coordinator, so I bring students to campus to visit Macalester. Have you been able to incorporate your off-campus Bonner experiences with your on-campus life? TM: What’s great about Bonner is that it gives you the opportunity to see what you’re learning about in action. For example, freshmen year we all took an ed. studies class. When you learn about the achievement gap, and the you’re tutoring in the school, you can see that in action and it really enriches your knowledge about the subject and also how you can take concrete steps to act on what you’re learning about. RGF: Bonner also provides a really intentional community. Bonner brings a lot of people with similar but different interests together. MP: I had a really rough transition to Macalester, and working at Amicus was where I learned how to tell my own story. Once I heard learned that, I was much more empowered to be a part of the community here at Macalester. I started things here that are connected to Amicus, like the Outer Peace Circle. I wouldn’t have found my own sense of self or sense of community without Amicus. What have you learned as Bonner Scholars? TM: Bonner love! RGF: This sounds kind of cheesy, but Bonner has helped me figure out the direction I want to go in after Macalester. I’m a biology major, but through Bonner and how that led me to the Civic Engagement Center, showed me that I’m more interested in public health as opposed to medicine or academic research. It showed me the importance of being part of a community. MB: I’ve had a similar experience working with teaching and tutoring students out in the real world. It helped me realize that that’s what I want to do with my career and not spend my days in an office cubicle, which I’ve also had experience with. It’s showed me the importance of staying connected to the outer community. TM: Bonner’s completely changed my mind about what I want to do with my life. When I came to Macalester, if you had asked me what I wanted to be, I would have probably said ‘lawyer’ or ‘teacher’—the two professions that I knew of that I thought I’d maybe be good at. But now I know want to work in the non-profit field, generally toward the public good. JB: Bonner’s helped me make meaningful connections between my majors. First working in a classroom and now bringing low-income students of color to campus has helped me realized I’m passionate about this area of work. Bonner had me apply for this program called the Success Speakers program through Achieve Minneapolis. I go and give ten presentations throughout the year to high school students. I get to go and meet other kids off campus, especially in Minneapolis where Bonner doesn’t really work, because it’s too far off campus. We mostly work with St. Paul public schools, and typically not high schoolers. But now I get to work with high school students, and because I’m a first generation, low-income, student of color, I can really make those connections. The kids can really look to me and say ‘This is something I can do.’ When I was at one of the presentations, I asked, ‘Why do you guys want to go to college?’ and about five of the kids were like, ‘I want to be the first one in my family to go to college.’ I love to hear that. You’re exposed to so many opportunities though Bonner. MP: Another important part of Bonner was our trip to New Orleans freshman year. We went over spring break and it was super rad. JB: One of the most memorable moments for me was when we finally got our van to the airport. I put on my iPod and the Lil Wayne song about New Orleans came on. We’re just driving through and the song is talking about the destruction that his city went through and all of us in the car were getting choked up. It was interesting to make connections like that. You hear things about issues that are going on but when you experience and see them first hand, it completely changes your perspective. Has there been anything particularly shocking or difficult about being a Bonner scholar? MP: At my very first day at Amicus, the very first person who I met who came in needing resources and help broke down because his baby mama had just kidnapped his child and they called legal aid. They didn’t want to help him and he had no place to stay. I was just like, ‘Ok, here we go. I am 19 years old.’ It was difficult coming to terms with why I was there and what I had to do with the trauma of this man’s story I couldn’t ask for more—to see people dealing with trauma and connect with them meaningfully. I couldn’t ask for a better skill. It’s worth the hard work and the struggle. RGF: Sometimes the topics we discuss in our meetings are difficult. The meetings are structured to push you to think about
issues of identity or the work you’re doing. Or even just reflecting on where you are in your life and what that means. I find it really beneficial but difficult in the moment. JB: For me there are a couple difficult aspects. First year, they’re like, ‘You’re the only first years that get to work off campus.’ It’s awesome but at the same time you’re like, ‘I’m off campus.’ It was the first time I had taken a bus! Trying to learn that and scheduling and doing track on top of all that. Also, our first year, we’re all in schools, but it gets harder and harder to have topics that really relate to us all because we’re all in completely different areas. How do we have a meeting that relates to all of us? Sometimes that’s challenging. MP: It’s so cool to see how everyone engages in social justice in different ways. I have a lot of respect for the Bonner community and also for the organizations we work with. There are some people I might never know if it weren’t for Bonner. JB: I remember this one meeting where we managed to connect all of our work. We were talking about an issue Abass Noor’ 13 was dealing with. MP: He was talking about sexual abuse. Someone had called him at the Minnesota AIDS Project and someone had sexually abused her daughter. I talked about it from my perspective of working with people who have committed sex offenses, and their struggles to obtain housing and how I don’t feel like the community is any safer in that way. And [Jasmine] spoke about it from her perspective working with kids. It was really interesting. JB: Abass was from the health perspective. We all touched on different facets of the same issue. We were like, ‘Wow. There are a lot of different things going on here.’ What do you hope with stay with you from Bonner? MB: I hope not to lose the knowledge and insights I’ve gained from the communities I’ve worked with. I’ve gained a lot working with different cultures. I really cherish that and I hope not to lose those perspectives. MP: I’ve developed a lot of profound relationships with mentors and communities at Amicus, and I hope that I don’t lose that. I got hired there today. I feel like I have a big responsbility to the people who taught me these skills. I hope I don’t forget how inspired I feel by the diversity of interests and political perspectives in Bonner. Sometimes I get jaded with people who work in non-profits, but I genuinely love all of these people. RGF: Overall the sense of community built within Bonner, but also my connection to my own community. I’ve never been more engaged and aware with the Macalester and Twin Cities communities. That’s something I’d like to maintain. JB: I just realized that being a part of Bonner, and these meetings we have where we discuss different issues is a privilege. It really is. Once I leave here I’m not going to have that privilege anymore. I have to learn how to create these spaces. TM: I hope I’m always able to have some sort of community like Bonner. We have this concept called Bonner love, which sounds cultish and creepy, but it’s awesome. It’s this idea of loving your fellow Bonners and loving your community and wanting to be engaged in it. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by all the problems in the world, but I’ve been so motivated by how much my peers care and I hope that I’m able to find similar communities in the future. refresh –>