Above: Students participating in the Practical Activism class (Photo courtesy Sarah Woodside Bury)

Students of John R. Lewis College are getting into trouble—and receiving recognition and reward for it. But don’t worry: It’s the good kind. 

Inspired by the words of the college’s namesake, in this case, “good trouble” means developing knowledge and skills in activism and community-engaged leadership.

Senior Director for College Student Life Sarah Woodside Bury (photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

As part of the 2021 naming of the college formerly known simply as College Ten, administrators developed projects including the Good Trouble Academy (GTA), which combines classes, experiences, and student-initiated opportunities aimed at sharpening skills in social justice change.  

“We wanted to disrupt what would be traditional concepts of leadership or defined ways of being,” says Senior Director for College Student Life Sarah Woodside Bury. “To really open that up so students could see themselves as leaders and making good trouble in all kinds of ways.” 

Good Trouble Academy programming includes a five-pillared framework for becoming those changemakers, distilled from the life and work of the late Lewis—a famed civil rights leader and congressman. Engaging with the program allows John Lewis College students to be honored for participating in experiential and academic opportunities related to the college theme of Social Justice and Community.

The name “Good Trouble Academy” is derived from one of Lewis’s best-known quotes, delivered in March 2020 on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, where in 1965 he’d suffered a skull fracture at the hands of state troopers in the brutal Bloody Sunday beatings of civil rights marchers during the first march for voting rights.

“Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America,” he said in the speech, delivered months before his death in July 2020.

The following year, the naming announcement for College Ten was made, and the dedication ceremony took place in spring 2022. 


Pillars of success

This spring, the GTA process will be further enhanced by a unique course on Canvas—an online instructional hub—in which all future incoming John R. Lewis College students will be automatically enrolled. The course, which will be self-paced, starts at any level, whether students are incoming first-years or transfer, offering various possibilities for fulfilling the criteria, both with academic and cocurricular activities.  

Such experiences were formerly divided into two pathways—one earning a leadership certificate and another for academic accomplishment. Now, they are united into one program under the GTA.

Based upon five pillars, derived from principles central to Lewis’s life and work (see sidebar below: The five pillars of Good Trouble Academy), students connect academic and cocurricular achievements to each pillar to receive various honors such as a certificate of completion; a John R. Lewis College stole for commencement; and a letter detailing their involvement, which they can carry forward into work and graduate school opportunities. 

Collaborating with then-provost Flora Lu, professor of environmental studies, Woodside Bury, who has been with the college since 2002, sought to answer, “What are the tenets Lewis lived by?” 

They narrowed it down to five pillars and “started to name what we do that fits into those pillars,” Woodside Bury says. “We started to see that it’s not a [separate] academic pathway and a leadership pathway. It’s a both/and. We collectively landed on calling it the Good Trouble Academy.” 


The five pillars of Good Trouble Academy
    1. Students are changemakers
    2. Commitment to justice
    3. Courageous and interconnected community
    4. Empowering engagement
    5. Sustaining oneself in the struggle


Three Rs: Reading, writing, reflection 

In the Canvas course, students will delve deeper into each of the five pillars. 

Chelsea Hamnes (Kresge ’16, psychology), College Nine and John R. Lewis College adviser (photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

For Chelsea Hamnes (Kresge ’16, psychology), College Nine and John R. Lewis College adviser, who, along with committee members, built the course out, delving into what each pillar could mean included finding a passion for developing the material for the students.

In Hamnes’s role in designing the interactive, visually engaging course, she sought to expand on “what each of the pillars are—through a historical lens, how do we see this in our world and our country; through to John R. Lewis’s life and how he exemplified the pillars; and then finally on our campus and how students engage with these pillars already. It then ends in the academic and experiential learning activities that are the culmination of each of the pillars.”

One essential component of the course involves students gaining the time and ability to take a step back and reflect, as Tia Ching Mahannah (John R. Lewis College ’21, triple major: psychology; critical race and ethnic studies; and education, democracy, and justice), current cocurricular programs assistant at the CoCurricular Programs Office (“the CoCo”), College Nine, and John R. Lewis College, explains.

“It’s easy to be so busy you don’t reflect on everything you’ve been able to accomplish,” Mahannah says. The course will provide students with time to absorb and contemplate what they’ve learned and the opportunity “to recognize, ‘Wow, I did all that,’ and hopefully be proud of that.”

One of Mahannah’s own reflections is cited as an example on the GTA’s website. In it, she describes having taken the anthropology and critical race and ethnic studies course Blackness in Motion, collaboratively creating a rubric for the class that included “rest and wellness practices,” which Mahannah realized she would be focusing on for the first time in her life—a discovery that was somewhat disconcerting. 

“I had to pause and reflect on that,” she says. With three majors, taking over 20 units each quarter, plus having a job, it was “go go go,” she says. For pillar five, “Sustaining oneself in the struggle,” Mahannah had the opportunity to breathe, think deeply, and consider, “What do I want to do with my life? What are my goals?” 


Future prep

The hidden side effect of composing such reflections is, in addition, being able to articulate and demonstrate the kinds of “soft skills” future employers are seeking. Woodside Bury and her team considered National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) research on employment readiness and how best to prepare graduates for their career pathways. 

“They’re helping us think about how we gear our programs and activities toward the soft skills employers are looking for,” she says, a process that led to connecting these behavioral and interpersonal skills to the five pillars based on the work of John Lewis. “To be able to be a changemaker, you need skills in communicating across differences, resolving conflict, listening, and sharing. This is how we started to think about the Good Trouble Academy as not only a place where students could engage, but where in their own words they can reflect on some of these skills that may not show up on a résumé.”

Left to right: Miranda Oyoque (John R. Lewis College ’24, education, democracy, and justice and psychology), Pichy Jumpholwong (John R. Lewis College ’24, game design), and Tia Ching Mahannah (John R. Lewis College ’21, triple major: psychology; critical race and ethnic studies; and education, democracy, and justice) (photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

The skills, knowledge, and abilities are valuable to employers and to the students’ development alike. In the words of fourth-year student and Terry Freitas Commons student manager Pichy Jumpholwong (John R. Lewis College ’24, game design), who participated in the GTA program through various leadership positions on campus: “Being in these roles allowed me to be part of a team where we get to make change in the community and have a voice—we are ‘for students by students.’ Being part of Terry Freitas [student lounge and food pantry], we collaborate with other clubs and organizations, and I’m able to make connections along the way.” 

Jumpholwong echoes Mahannah’s sentiment about the key opportunity to reflect. 

“Oftentimes, we’re focused on pushing forward, keep going, don’t look back,” she says, and “GTA helps out with being able to actually find the time to have these reflections. It’s integral to finding out how and where you see yourself, whether it be now or in the future.”

For Miranda Oyoque (John R. Lewis College ’24, education, democracy, and justice and psychology), cocurricular student programs coordinator, the pillars connect her cocurricular and academic experiences as a student leader. 

Oyoque participated in promoting and tabling for the GTA program at school events, emphasizing “that this program helps students define skills they have built over their school years and helps them to become more involved in their community and college.” 

Having been part of the Practical Activism Conference and working at the CoCo helped to “give back to my college’s community,” as did assisting in facilitation of weekly free mindfulness yoga on the Social Sciences lawn, open to all UCSC community members. That has been “a great way to destress and participate,” Oyoque says. “It has been fun and relaxing to see everyone come and take advantage of this opportunity, a great resource to have when needing a break from studies and life stressors”—another win for pillar five.


Multiple leadership pathways

While the GTA streamlines what were once two pathways, the chance to be a leader and demonstrate leadership have expanded. These students’ experiences demonstrate a goal Woodside Bury and collaborators had in mind when creating the GTA. 

“There are lots of ways to participate in classes and experiential opportunities, where you’re espousing these themes and values that will serve you, your community, and whatever is next in your chapter. It is designed to be accessible and show the scope of what leadership can entail,” she says.

Students will see how full this scope actually is. As Mahannah points out, in the previous iteration of the leadership and academic certificates, “I didn’t apply for the awards because I thought I wouldn’t qualify,” she says, “but now that I’ve been doing the work on the other end, I know I would have qualified for both of them. This is a way that makes it more accessible, because if you think, for example, ‘I’m too shy to be a leader,’ you can still do things that allow you to engage and recognize that you are.”

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.