Grinnell’s QuestBridge group is trying to build a discussion around homelessness.
Questbridge is a national scholarship organization that matches low-income, high-achieving students to 36 partner colleges and universities. The group is looking to start a conversation about homelessness through hosting speakers, building makeshift shacks and offering students the chance to spend the night on Mac Field. The event, called Homeless Awareness Night, will begin at 6 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 2, and will allow students to have the chance to deepen their understanding of homelessness.
According to Christopher Bell ’18, the group’s Quest Liaison, the Questbridge event will focus primarily on discussion about the topic. The event will bring in different speakers, including professors and Associate Chaplain and Rabbi Rob Cabelli. After a talk that will focus on the more academic perspective on homelessness, soup will be provided for those who attend.
“The idea is to have the speakers be relatively informal in their presentations [so that] we have things to foster discussion,” said Professor Damian Kelty-Stephen, Psychology, who is the QuestBridge group’s faculty advisor. The presentations are intended to be around 15 minutes followed by feedback and discussion from the attendees.
After the discussion, QuestBridge will lead the construction of cardboard shanties in which attendees may spend the night. It is important to emphasize, however, that attendees may stay or go as they wish, and no one will be forced into an uncomfortable situation.
Since homelessness can be a sensitive topic, Bell noted, “What we’re working on right now is trying to have people there that people can talk to, if at any point they need to step aside.” He also mentioned that Rabbi Cabelli would be there to serve as a confidential resource.
“We started out calling [the event] a shantytown, but then we realized that just even that name might be problematic,” Bell said. “What we’re doing isn’t really what a shantytown is—a shantytown is a legitimate town, just made out of scrap materials—so we changed the name [of the event] to Homeless Awareness Night.”
Because homelessness is a sensitive issue, it was Kelty-Stephen’s role to help coordinate with the College to ensure that this event is handled accordingly.
“I am in charge of getting the College’s blessing,” he said. “It’s been a bunch of meetings with a few Deans’ offices … and getting ideas from lots of people on campus as to how the students can structure [the event] so it can be most constructive [and] educational.”
Kelty-Stephen also helped communicate with students of the QuestBridge group so that they could focus on how to structure the event most appropriately within the context of the community of the College.
“I’ll be [at the event] standing back, helping students do their best and helping the speakers know what to do,” he said.
Bell participated in and organized similar events in high school, but acknowledged how homelessness can be experienced in a multitude of situations, which was reflected in how he planned Homeless Awareness Night.
“I went into this feeling like, yeah, I got this, because I’ve had experiences with homelessness, but I haven’t gotten it … there are things that I still don’t know and understand [about homelessness],” he said.
Connections made from past experiences proved to be beneficial in planning Homeless Awareness Night. One of the organizations Bell spoke with in his previous homeless awareness events, the Mid-Iowa Community Action, will speak this Friday.
According to Kelty-Stephen, the idea of these events have been spreading across many college campuses. The College’s QuestBridge group is committed to bringing homelessness awareness to the Grinnell community in the way that is most appropriate.
Although Bell felt ambitious about both extending the reach of the QuestBridge group on campus and fostering a sense of intergroup belonging, he emphasized that that bottom line of the event is to share experiences and knowledge.
“[QuestBridge] is supposed to be like a family and whatnot, but I also really want to reach out to other students,” he said.