Micah Wilkins, Staff Writer
The Warren Wilson Activist-in-Residence Program began in 2010, an idea envisioned by Director of Spiritual Life Leah McCullough.
“The hope was to bring an activist to campus for an extended period of time [...] so that students could interact more deeply – to engage and learn from the person in formal programs, events, workshops and through casual conversations over a shared meal,” said McCullough.
As last year’s Activist-in-Residence, Peterson Toscano, received positive feedback, the Spiritual Life and Social Justice Crew decided to continue the program this year and hopes to do so in future years as well.
McCullough asked Claudia Horwitz to be this year’s Activist-in-Residence. Horwitz is the director of stone circles, an organization whose mission is to help individuals and organizations integrate spiritual and reflective practice into their work for social justice.
Stone circles mission statement states that the organization “provides workshops and trainings to individuals and organizations doing social justice work that deepen their capacity to realize the change they seek in the world. We also endeavor to cultivate a larger field of spiritual activism nationally that fully embodies the practices and principles that guide our work for change. We know another world is possible, and to stay engaged while creating that world requires training, practice and support.”
After visiting The Stone House, a center for spiritual life and strategic action in Mebane, North Carolina, where Horwitz lives, McCullough decided that Horwitz would have much to contribute to and teach the Warren Wilson community.
“Being on campus for two and a half years I have heard so many of our students, on my work crews and those doing activism, share their struggles with being overwhelmed, exhausted and burned out in their pursuits of justice,” McCullough said. “My hope is that Claudia’s presence, experience and teaching will invite those of us engaged in activism to reflect more deeply on how we can better sustain our work.”
Q & A with Horwitz
What prompted you to begin your organization stone circles?
Horwitz: I started out as an organizer. A lot of the work I’m doing now grows out of my work as an organizer, around economic issues. I was seeing the levels of burn out and the attrition of that work [activism], often with a similar outcome. Stone circles was started in 1995 as a direct response to that level of not just about burnout, but the lack of sustainability in the organizing world and the challenges in keeping that work whole. And I’ve been doing it pretty much ever since. It’s really related to having witnessed this struggle of attrition revelation for me that people were dying in the [activist] movement and we didn’t really feel like we were winning. I’ve lost people in the movement, both literally and people were just dropping out of the movement. It was a lot of experimentation in the beginning because in the 90s, I wasn’t unaware that people elsewhere were thinking about this too.
Why did you accept the request to be this year’s Activist-in-Residence?
Horwitz: We’re really trying to build our work. We’ve done a lot of work internationally. And as an organization we have a really strong network in the Triangle [the Raleigh-Durham area] and we really want to establish that connection, state-wide.
I’ve always been a really big fan of Warren Wilson. I feel like higher education is a hard place to be innovative and Warren Wilson is really innovative. I’ve always been inspired by the school. And I felt like I could be of use there. [Being Activist-in-Residence] really means serving the Warren Wilson community in a variety of ways. Through various aspects of the school, everything from the more formal classrooms to participation to training to sharing some of our tools rooted in spiritual activism, sharing those with students and just being available and bringing a different perspective to campus.
What is spiritual activism?
Horwitz: I feel like the whole idea of spiritual activism has been developed by a lot of different people. I feel connected to this group of peers. This community [is made up of] leaders and other organizations in other parts of the country. Spiritual activism is one strong pathway. There are a few, but it’s the one I’m most familiar with. I think spirituality is very broadly defined in our culture. I see it in a broad sense. It’s everything from organized religion to more personal pathways to freedom. I don’t particularly like those two words, but I think they’re very interesting when put together. I hope that people [at Warren Wilson] aren’t necessarily hesitant with the explicit idea of spirituality. I hope they will still come, because I think it goes deeper and broader than people think. [Spiritual activism] was the motivation for starting the organization. It helped open a door for me to see another way to live. I use the practice of meditation to my work, and I think there’s a very direct link in people between freedom and suffering.
Do you consider yourself to be an activist? How so?
Horwitz: I do. I think it’s through my way of thinking. I believe in standing up for the things I believe in in an active way.
*Some activities and classes Horwitz will be leading and attending include group discussions on our relationship to food, sustainability, finding meaning in activism, yoga sessions and other events.