In the summer of 2021, we sat down with Allie Van Buskirk (Class of 2008) for a conversation about her many years as an INVST leader. Allie reflects on her contributions to our learning community, the ways she has grown and changed, and the unique needs of college students learning to eliminate the harmful effects of our political, social and environmental arrangements.
Allie, you were an INVST student in Via Ajooba Sol, the cohort that graduated in 2008. For the past 4 years, you have been the instructor of INVS 3931-3932, the Community Leadership Internship, Parts 1 and 2. In between, you have held lots of other leadership roles. What are all the different roles you have had within INVST?
After graduating as a student in the INVST program, I became a Fundraising and Advisory Board (FAB) member and eventually co-chair. I was on the INVST board for over 5 years, and I supported the FAB in developing our methods, documenting board governance and identifying and evolving the two major annual fundraisers that we still utilize today -- BINGO and an auction. When working at Project YES, I was the internship supervisor for a handful of INVST students and also served as a SOL Project advisor a few different times. I facilitated the Climate Justice Summer experiences three different times. This was definitely one of my favorite roles in INVST! Before becoming an instructor, I assisted the Program Director with the staff training for the Summer Program Facilitators and student orientation for a hand-full of years. When Annie Miller was on maternity leave after having a child, I stepped into her role as the Administrative Assistant for three months. Finally, after getting my masters degree, I was able to achieve a goal I had since being a first-year student in the program -- teaching INVS 3931 and INVS 3932. Basically, I have served INVST in every role that you can besides the Program Director!
How have you grown as a communitarian?
I have memories of believing, in my early years of college, that the best way to support communities was through a structured and organized approach taken by non-profit organizations. Upon graduating from CU, I looked to such organizations to find my place in eco-social justice work and I believed that a career in this field would support me in my goal of contributing to my community, in ways large and small. Although I gained incredible experiences and skills early on by doing so, over time, I also started to recognize some of the ways the culture of such organizations can perpetuate harm. In INVST, we have students read Incite’s “The Revolution Will Not be Funded,” and Dean Spade’s book called “Mutual Aid,” to understand critiques of such organizations. Large agencies and charities are often beholden to the desires of funders who may have interest in maintaining the status quo as well as often perpetuating work cultures that are unsustainable. I certainly found myself in situations where I was compromising my health for the work, and was also noticing the influence that philanthropy and specifically foundation funding was having on mission drift, or even the extinction of programs that I was involved with. This certainly spurred an evolution of my growth as a communitarian as I started to shift away from more structured or sanctioned opportunities to participate and towards a grassroots organizing approach that centers around developing relationships.
A more recent example of my growth as a communitarian occured here at CU in the last few years. Before my role as an instructor in the Leadership Studies Minor, I had primarily spent my time participating in and facilitating conversations in community with people who thought a lot like I did. In the leadership classes here, I was exposed to an environment where that wasn’t the case and tension was regularly present. My positionality in this space really pushed me to learn to espouse my values authentically and articulately, and hold myself and others accountable in a way I didn’t know how to before. Relationship building and developing community amongst students has always been natural for me, but I take this role much more seriously now. I’ve been working to recognize and act on the responsibility that comes with my privilege, to develop the self awareness required to show up in all spaces and name the racialized, gendered, etc. dynamics that are at play and work to create environments that are supportive and beneficial for all community members.
Allie Van Buskirk (top left) participates in the INVST Antiracism Study Group, one of many ways we contemplate -isms, reflect upon our own participation in social dynamics, and plan for action and transformative change.
How have you changed as an activist or leader? And which of those terms do you prefer, or would you like to choose your own?
I consider myself to be more of a community member than an activist or leader. If I had to label my experience in this realm, I suppose I would say that I have become more radical in my approach. I initially associated activism with martyrdom, and didn’t take care of myself in the non-profit jobs I had after graduating from CU. Something that has become essential to me is engaging in eco-social justice endeavors in a healthy way. I take the lifetime commitment aspect of our mission very seriously! And, I have been learning how to maintain my commitment while also resting and experiencing more joy in my life. Also, over time, my analysis of social justice issues has become more nuanced. I’ve become less interested in the reform approaches I’ve spent my energy on for most of the last decade and more excited about dreaming into and enacting new and creative ways of being with and supporting one another. I spend a lot of my personal time in groups focused on embodiment practices, practical spirituality, and engaging with what we call “mythic resistance,” the act of connecting to the stories of our lineages to challenge the dominant narratives of this time. I have come to believe that the merging of these and other contemplative practices, combined with action rooted in social justice principles, will cultivate the radical imagination that is needed to guide us into a more just and sustainable world. I am excited to participate in navigating this path forward.
Recall a memory from the INVST classroom. When did you have a magical teaching moment with INVSTers?
I have magical moments with INVSTers all the time! My favorites are moments where all of us in the room are teaching and learning from each other. I also value the classes where we spontaneously drop the activities that are planned for conversations or processing that needs to happen in that moment with those particular people. Although oftentimes that means something challenging is going on, these moments are filled with the rawness and vulnerability that deepens our self-awareness and relationships with one another. There is a presence in those conversations. There is honesty and love and support. Everything feels real. These moments have meant the most to me when working with INVST students.
Allie Van Buskirk (top row, second from left) has generously given her summers to travel with INVST students on their Climate Justice Summers. Here she is in Delta County at Thistle Whistle Farm where CU students learn how organic farming, protecting our waterways, and coal mining do or don't mix in the rural United States.
What is your advice for INVST staff who may join our community in the future?
Trust the students. The students in INVST are always a really beautiful guide for knowing what needs to be happening. Also, INVST is a unique program because we have some serious longevity, while at the same time, we seek to adapt to what is going on in the world around us. We strive to meet the present needs of the communities we work with. It's a really interesting dance to upholding aspects of our program that have worked very well for over 30 years, while creating space for something new. My advice to future staff is to give more attention to areas in which we can evolve and grow to best meet the current moment and the students we serve. Lastly, I strongly believe good things come when we give ourselves permission to be vulnerable, so I hope that whoever steps into my role will be excited about participating in an environment where we relate to each other from a heart space, and continue to cultivate that.
Article by Areyana Proctor, Allie Van Buskirk and Sabrina Sideris