The following is a transcript of an Interview conducted via email by Valencia Voice Reporter, Laura Ramones with club founder, Sharon Ainsley in Spring Session, 2001.
Laura: What is your name?
Sharon: Sharon Ainsley
Laura: What is your position in SPECTRUM?
Sharon: Founder and acting Chief Coordinator (*president* -we do not use hierarchy titles)
Laura: Why did you start this club?
Sharon: When I came to VCC, I marveled at the diversity of the students here, and was very much impressed with the school. What I found, after my first semester, was that even though the community college environment is designed to teach and model diversity, the campus was really not set up to do that; at least not with the student clubs where it would be most effective. What I saw was a long list of organizations that people needed to "qualify" for, either by having a certain GPA, holding certain religious beliefs, or belonging to a certain ethnicity or hobby or occupation. While I feel that all these organizations hold a very real purpose, and can provide valuable experience for their members, I also believe that the best lessons come from walking outside of one's own sphere of perception. Joining a club based on a set of structured criteria only provides a means by which one can segregate oneself and reaffirm ones established ideas. This is great for some people, but I came to college to learn and grow and experience the diversity of life, and I felt that we needed one organization out of the bunch that offered that type of opportunity.
Laura: What made you feel that Valencia needed this type of club?
Sharon: VCC is an exceptional institution, and when one looks around campus, they can clearly see that we have a wonderfully diverse and varied student body. In our professors, adjuncts and staff, you can see the same thing; many different people from many different walks of life all gather here to pursue their education. I just felt that we needed to have an organization that any one of those people could join and be accepted, valued, and embraced. Every individual has wisdom to share and we wanted to offer them the means to do just that. The word Philosophy so often throws people off as to what we are all about - it is not intended to refer to ancient thought as much as it refers to each and every person's ideas, beliefs, values, and thoughts. It is all about humanity and individuality; which are values that are often overlooked.
Laura: What is your clubs goal for the Valencia Student?
Sharon: SPECTRUM is designed to help the members learn about the diversity of humanity and realization of themselves. We spend a great deal of time talking about various religious, political, philosophical, moral, and ethical issues because those are the things that serve to alienate and isolate people in our society. America is a country of freedom, and yet we have yet to overcome the basic prejudices individuals hold towards others. Fear and prejudice are still very common in our world, and part of our objective is to provide the means by which those who choose to do so can share, experience and learn about the diversity all around them. Where there is true understanding, there is no fear. The greatest personal contribution I feel I can make to the world, and this group can provide, is that of helping people overcome some of those obstacles to understanding. There is also an underlying goal for the SPECTRUM group of instilling self-confidence and self-understanding in our members. We embrace everyone regardless of philosophical differences, religious preferences, sexuality, appearance, etc, and offer everyone a place where traits and ideologies that might alienate them under different circumstances actually empower them within the group. Individuality is something we value and encourage, and we would hope that every person who is part of the group will be happy and fulfilled with who they are, understand why they believe the things they do, and take that wisdom into the rest of their lives.
Laura: What do your meetings and special events consist of?
Sharon: Generally, we meet twice a month for "discussion" meetings, which consist of roundtable, open forum debate and dialog. A topic is chosen for a given meeting, some supporting information is provided about the topic, and members are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings about the topic. We usually address the more "touchy" or controversial topics, and this provides is a means by which each person in the room can not only share their own views, but hear and respond to the views of the others in the group. Cognitive Dissonance theory is employed in the way discussions are structured, since debate is one of the best means of learning new things. The environment is one of supportive interaction, and I have yet to have an actual argument or otherwise unhealthy discussion take place. We tackle everything from homosexuality to racism to religion and atheistic belief to politics. Everyone has an opinion on these sensitive issues, and we can learn a great deal about the diversity of thought by allowing ourselves to be exposed to those various ideas.
Sharon: Special events are a good part of what we do, and we choose somewhat unique events when we hold them. Part of SPECTRUM's ongoing event calendar is the monthly movie forum, where we pick a movie that is somewhat controversial, offer a selected viewing from the film, and then hold debate and discussion afterward. The purpose is not simply to entertain, but to illustrate some of the more difficult philosophical questions through the medium of film. We also take our members free of charge to the Sapphire Supper Club downtown when they have spoken word events there. In the past year we have attended a Lydia Lunch spoken word performance and a performance by author Jerry Stahl. SPECTRUM even provided the opening act for the Jerry Stahl performance, as myself and professor/co-advisor Clay Holliday took the stage for some poetry reading before the main act. We choose events that will help our members experience different aspects of our culture and be exposed to diverse ideas and concepts.
Laura: Has there ever been a unique situation (you can leave out names) that SPECTRUM has assisted a person?
Sharon: There were many people we met during our "Remember Them" event. There were two men, in particular, among the homeless people gathered outside the Coalition who expressed to us that just having us spend some time with them and treat them like valuable human beings had made their Christmas Day special. Our donation of "pokemon" stuff for the children at the shelter brightened the day for the many children who otherwise had nothing to be happy about. A police officer that we met while delivering cards and cookies was moved to becoming teary-eyed just because we acknowledged and thanked him for his service to the community. A cafeteria worker at the Florida Hospital downtown gave us hugs and said we had really made her day. We even pooled up our money to buy a homeless man with a broken foot some lunch at Subway. Sometimes the greatest gift you can give to another human being is that of compassion, acknowledgement, respect, and hope that comes from truly valuing them.
Laura: What kind of volunteer work does SPECTRUM do?
Sharon: We were never designed to be a service organization, since many of the other clubs on campus already offer those opportunities, and our scope is somewhat limited. Groups like PTK, SGA, and others offer tremendous volunteerism experiences, and in trying to promote diversity, we also promote our member's participation in other organizations. Among our existing volunteer activities are visits to Westminster Towers, an assisted living facility downtown where we visit with the residents and read to them, serve them snacks, and provide companionship for the elderly. Some of our members also participate in children's activity leadership activities at the Waldenbooks on 436 for a couple hours a week. We also hold Christmas Day event called "Remember Them" where we deliver cookies, cards and spend time with people who would otherwise be forgotten on the Christmas Holiday. But we keep our volunteer activities reasonable, and are always supportive of the activities the other clubs are working on.
Laura: How often does "ancient philosophy" play into your every day life?
Sharon: I do not know if I really believe in such a thing as "ancient philosophy" since human insight is always human insight; and we really have not changed much in the way we think from then to now. **smiles** I am an avid reader of classic literature and mythology, and find that a great deal of the ideas set to paper then are the very same things we still contemplate and pontificate now. The themes of basic human dilemma and the search for meaning are truly timeless.
Laura: What is the fate of SPECTRUM?
Sharon: The fate of the club, at present, is really undecided. Without strong leadership and involvement, the club will not survive. I have put my heart into the past two years, as have many of our club's officers, but we all have to graduate sometime. I think my biggest fear is that the club will survive, but not live up to the standards we set when we founded it. I would rather have it close down than to remain active, but not accomplishing what it was established for.
Laura: What kind of person needs to replace you? What kind of skills do they need?
Sharon: Well, I think more than anything, my replacement needs to be dedicated to organizing the activities and keeping up with the "red tape" part of it all. He or she will also need to be a good discussion mediator and have no fears of open dialog. The main purpose of the group is to allow for this open exchange, and my successor needs to be ready to continue on with the same open minded, free speech ideology I have established in order for the group to really achieve its goals. Good organization skills, good communication skills, an open mind, and enough time and dedication are what I would list as qualifications.
Laura: Why isnt a current member moving up into your position?
Sharon: Sadly, there is no one in the group at present that wants to take on all the responsibility. Several of our most active members have, or will be graduating about the same time as me, so it will really fall into the hands of our new members to keep the group in forward motion.
Laura: Who will care if this club is cancelled?
Sharon: I believe that the club serves a very vital role in the college and is unique amongst the student organizations, and I would hope that if it closed, people would care. I cannot say for sure, but I know I would care, as would our other members who have devoted their time and energy to the organization. **smile** Because many community college students either have little time for extracurricular activities, or only join groups that will offer great benefits (scholarships, fellowships, resume material, etc) our club is not the most sought after one on campus. I would think that everyone who understood what we were about or went to even one meeting would care and feel the loss if the club were terminated. We are truly unique, and it would be a shame to lose that.
Laura: What benefit does one have to joining this club?
Sharon: Realistically, I am aware that college organizations like PTK and SGA and such offer far more in the way of tangible benefits to their members. We have no scholarships for our members, we do not get special tassels at graduation commencement, and there is no real prestige involved in being a philosophy club member when dealing with college transcripts. What the group provides is really a great deal of life learning, personal enrichment, and individual wisdom. We provide our members with self-empowerment through self-realization and motivation, and we nurture diversity, open mindedness, and individuality. You cannot list such things as tangible benefits, but these are the very things that can most enhance the quality of ones life.
Laura: Compare yourself to another club at Valencia and tell me why your club is just as important.
Sharon: That is difficult to do, since there is not really another club established with the goals we have. I could choose any of the clubs and outline what that group provides for its members, but it would not be the same things as what SPECTRUM does. PTK, for example, provides tremendous benefits to those students who qualify, and is among my favorite campus organizations, but membership is limited and you cannot go to a PTK meeting and speak your mind about transexuality. Campus Crusade, for another example, provides a wonderful environment for people who hold similar views about faith, but their intention is not to allow people to share and experience diverse ideology, just to strengthen their existing beliefs. The Chess club is for people who play chess, the dance club is for people who like to dance, etc. SPECTRUM is for anyone who has an opinion and a voice, period. Comparing us to the other groups is like comparing apples and oranges; we are not better, worse, inferior, or anything else, we are simply different. That difference is, I suppose, what really makes us so important.
Laura: Compare your situation now to a situation that make have taken place in ancient times. Explain to me how your favorite philosopher would handle this.
Sharon: Socrates would have been a founding father of SPECTRUM if he was here today. He devoted his life to open dialogue and discussion, explored ideas, and modeled tolerance and the value of individual thought. His role was very much like my own, in that he sought to acquire wisdom and share it with others, while never professing to hold a single truth. In my current situation of needing to find someone to adopt the club in my place, I believe Plato would have been his first choice. If anyone wants to take on the position of "Plato" send him or her our way!
Laura: Thank you.
Web page design and maintainance by Sharon Ainsley. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments about this organization. Copyright © 1999-2001 SPECTRUM Philosophy Club. Title Artwork was very generously created for us by Rob Carlos III at www.colorsmith.com, and is copyrighted to him. No unauthorized duplication or reproduction is permitted.
Last Updated: 03/28/01 02:06 AM