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Grassroots Community Organizing

Anthropology 380 + 397S, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Application for Spring 2023 - DUE NOVEMBER 18, 2022

Here is a lot of info about GCO! It's also all on the application form.

Welcome to Grassroots Community Organizing!  GCO is a five-credit Anthropology course held each the spring semester that includes an Alternative Spring Break trip to learn from and work with experienced community organizers. The course focuses on how people in marginalized communities build power to change the policies and structures that affect them, and how people build community and organize across lines of difference. Throughout the semester, we learn from and work alongside grassroots organizers working toward social, economic, racial, and environmental justice. In the past eight years the class has worked with the Alliance to Develop Power in Springfield, MA; Virginia Organizing in Danville, North Hampton Road, and Fredericksburg, Virginia; City Life Vida Urbana in Boston, MA; Solidarity and Green Economy Alliance in Worcester, MA; Alternatives for Community and Environment in Roxbury, MA; Maine People’s Alliance in Portland, ME; the Pioneer Valley Project in Springfield, MA; Ex-Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement in Worcester, MA; WE ACT for Environmental Justice in Harlem, NY; Independent Drivers Guild in Brooklyn, NY; and the Granite State Organizing Project in Manchester, NH.

​This course is facilitated by a small team of undergraduate and graduate student facilitators who have engaged in an intensive year- long training process. Facilitators of GCO 2024 will be coached and backed up by a team of trainers, including the Director of UACT (UMass Anthropology professor Jen Sandler), UMass Anthropology graduate students: Urgyen Joshi, Char Nim, and Terrell James. 

Facilitation by peers makes the class community a uniquely challenging and empowering space where students are able to build collective knowledge and community in a rigorous but not faculty-led space. We learn from one another, from a diverse range of authors, and from our community and campus partners who are experienced community organizers. This learning is collective, unusually challenging, and -- dare we say -- transformative. The power of this experience of learning and using knowledge differently is why diverse student leaders work so hard to make GCO happen for a new group of students each year! 

​GCO is open to students from all five colleges, at all levels, from first year undergraduate students through graduate students*. Admission to GCO requires that you complete this application. We will use this application to get a sense of why you are interested in taking this course and what experiences you have had that bears on the course content and methodology. We aim to use the application process to create classes of diverse students who are open to the particular kind of experience this class offers, and who are ready to engage ethically and respectfully with the community and campus organizations from which we learn and with which we work.

​We want to be clear that developing knowledge in a different way than is usual in the university is quite challenging. The course readings and the weekly written reflections require a large time commitment, and there are several requirements throughout the course that, whoever you are and wherever you’re coming from, will push you beyond your comfort zone. GCO is a particular type of “engaged anthropology.” There is no class like GCO on this campus, nor is there one quite like it anywhere else in the country that we know of. We hope this sounds like the class for you, and we look forward to reading your application!​

There are usually more applicants than spots in this class. We are not looking for the people who know the most, or who write the most eloquently. We’re looking for the people who are ready and open to learning, contributing, and engaging fully in this process of building community and skills with others, across challenging and complicated lines of difference. A committee comprised of UACT student leaders and trainers will review all applications. Decisions will be made before December 4th. Admitted students will secure their spot by emailing us and getting registered, and will receive a packet of preparatory reading and writing materials.

UACT, the UMass Alliance for Community Transformation, is the organization that runs GCO. We develop advanced, powerful social justice skills among people who navigate worlds of difference, always aiming to support more relational organizing, organizations, and movements that are designed and led by marginalized folks. Students who have taken GCO are encouraged to continue with UACT as part of the leadership of this academic-political-participatory organization that operates within (and works in communities beyond) the UMass Amherst Department of Anthropology. About fifteen student leaders, a dozen or so alumni, organizers from about six community partner groups, and several faculty members currently lead and/or advise the direction of UACT.

  • The class will meet once each week, on Thursdays, 4-7 PM, in person, beginning with the UMass semester on February 1st. 

  • All participants in GCO must attend a mandatory retreat (likely overnight!) February 23-24. ​

  • All participants must be able to attend the Alternative Spring Break trip, March 16-23.

  • The course fee is $300. All Spring Break transportation, rustic lodging, basic food, and training support are included in the course fee. Most of the private colleges have funds available to support the course fee. A UACT Alumni Scholarship Fund aims to support all students who need their course fee covered.​

* Graduate students who are admitted participate on an equal basis in all aspects of GCO, plus 3-4 separate grad meetings and a longer final paper. Grad students in GCO 2024 will register for the course as ANTHRO 696 (4 credit independent study) with Prof. Jen Sandler.

Interested? Check out the Narrative Questions so that you know what's on the application.


Already read all the things? Great!

Apply Here!

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