Tyler Spencer came to UC Santa Cruz as a transfer student from Bakersfield in the fall of 2014. In his third week on campus he learned of the Everett Sociology Program. He was hooked when he learned that the Everett Program emphasized achieving change through technology. In the summer of 2015, he travelled to South Africa as an Everett Program fellow.
In describing his experience, Tyler says, “I'd always been interested in helping people, but never really knew how to get started on a project that I was interested in. As a history major you are highly aware of global social issues, and I saw this as an opportunity to work on one. After looking through some of the past projects that students had done I was sold, it's been the best thing I've done at UC Santa Cruz.”
In the winter of 2015, the Everett Program students were introduced to the incoming director of the program, Professor Chris Benner. “He spoke on past projects that he had worked on in South Africa and it immediately piqued my interest,” Tyler says.
“I knew of the culturally destructive system of Apartheid from classes, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn more as well as help do something about it. He was able to put me in contact with the Community Monitors Action Network, an organization that works with young people in voicing the opinion of the people. Additionally they seek direct calls for action in mining-affected areas through campaigns, newsletters, and podcasts. Currently I'm working on a digital mapping project with them that’s goal is to hold mining companies more accountable for their actions that are negatively impacting South Africa.”
The long-term goals of this project are to provide support and evidence to health, environmental, and social issues. Teams in different provinces and areas around Johannesburg go into the community to find these problems, create reports, and submit them directly from their location to a map. This allows one to visually see and read what is taking place in these communities, at the same time offering proof of what is occurring. Over time the digital map will also enable people to see changes on these issues for better or worse.
“Since I've been here I've been able to witness with my own eyes just how devastating Apartheid was and though it may be over many institutionalized structures and scars are left,” he says. “Working on this project has changed me profoundly and has been a wonderful and eye opening experience. It's now pushed my direction of interest towards policy change at an international level.”
To learn more about Tyler’s experience in South Africa, visit Slugs in South Africa, visit Slugs in South Africa, a blog that Tyler and other Everett Program fellows are writing to document their work on sustainable social justice projects in KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng provinces in South Africa.