What might the world look like on the other side of this extraordinary moment? When so much around us is crumbling, what can we construct? What is the learning and doing that is uniquely possible because of, and not despite, our current circumstances? 

These are the questions at the heart of ThirdSpace@, a new two-part, virtual co-curricular program offered by the Athena Center for Leadership, Office of the Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and the Center for Engaged Pedagogy (CEP) this academic year. 

Activating the Barnard community in our current “together apart” reality, ThirdSpace@ invites all Barnard community members to think about creating the world we want to see by starting with what is possible — with where each of us is, what each of us have, what each of us can do — and just as importantly, what we can do together. “The kind of transformative change we need in this moment will only come through collaboration,” said Athena’s director, Umbreen Bhatti ’00. “When we relaunched the Athena Center earlier this year, we made an explicit commitment to growing leaders capable of taking on the thorniest challenges we face — challenges that, by their nature, cannot be addressed by a single person or a single approach, or in a single try. This program is one way we’re doing that.” 

“The year 2020 has revealed an urgency with respect to issues that many of us at Barnard are deeply concerned about and already working on — community safety, economic security, and access to education,” said Ariana González-Stokas, Barnard’s vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion. “This moment asks higher education, perhaps more insistently than ever, what responsibility it has to make spaces for the practice of possibility. We know that students are personally affected by these issues, and ThirdSpace@ invites them to act, while learning and working in community.”

This co-curricular structure that integrates learning and action is central to the work of ThirdSpace@’s third organizing partner, the Center for Engaged Pedagogy (CEP), directed by Jennifer Rosales. Honoring the postcolonial roots of Homi K. Bhabha’s Third Space theory, ThirdSpace@Barnard was designed with the current hybrid reality in mind. It is in this liminal, yet productive, space where existing boundaries and roles — such as, virtual/physical, home/school, and theorist/practitioner — can be interrogated, negotiated, and reflected upon to provoke new possibilities for a more equitable future. “The ‘third space’ concept is the foundation of the program design, and why we designed it for this specific academic year,” said Rosales.

The ThirdSpace@ organizers take inspiration from organizers and activists working in grassroots campaigns, intergroup dialogue, Afrofuturism, and an organizing approach called “emergent strategy” — as well as from students themselves, whose applications show a broad range of interests and experiences, alongside a shared urgency and commitment to critical learning and action. 

ThirdSpace@ will engage current students in two virtual communities, SPARK and BUILD. 

Hosted on the ThirdSpace@ website, SPARK, launching September 25, is a virtual experience featuring interviews between Barnard community members and individuals making change in the three intersecting thematic areas — with initiatives like The Truth Telling Project and CAPStat (community safety), organizations like Movement Generation (economic security), and WeACT and Wikimedia (access to education). SPARK is open to all members of the Barnard community.

For students interested in connecting inspiration from SPARK to their existing or aspirational in-real-life commitments, there is BUILD, Barnard student action circles that will convene once a month from October to April. In this phase, groups of students from a range of majors, class years, and geographical locations will gather to strategize and reflect on implementing their own local change efforts. Guided by expert facilitators from around the country and supported by each other, BUILD students will work with local community partners, whether through Barnard, Morningside Heights, students’ hometowns, or any other community in which they find themselves this year. 

How are SPARK and BUILD connected? Here’s an example: In SPARK, students will learn about Fixup, a startup social-enterprise repair service — founded by associate professor of professional practice in theatre and director of campus sustainability and climate action Sandra Goldmark — that harnesses the skills of local artisans to meet people’s real-world needs. Then, in their BUILD Circles, they can explore what a social enterprise repair service in their own communities might look like. In a BUILD Circle, a student interested in exploring that might decide to collaborate with an already existing service (like, for example, providing local services to the “MendIt” app, or linking up with a community center to implement a similar project in a way that best fits their local community's need). But BUILD projects need not be limited to the domain of SPARK speaker content. Barnard students are welcome to bring any and all ideas, at any stage of development, to experiment with acting upon in community through BUILD Circles. 

Though ThirdSpace@ doesn’t officially kick off until September 25, this collaborative spreadsheet is where Barnard students can share ideas, inspiration, and strategies now. What will you add to it?

It’s not too late to apply for BUILD! Applications for BUILD are due by September 11 (before SPARK). Visit ThirdSpace@ online for more information and answers to FAQs