An anonymous donor pledged $250,000 over five years to help sustain and advance Pitzer College’s Critical Action & Social Advocacy (CASA) Pitzer’s work in critical analysis and community partnerships around the most pressing social justice issues in the Inland Empire. Based in Ontario, CA, six miles east of the College’s main campus in Claremont, CASA Pitzer brings local residents, organizers, activists, artists, and nonprofits together with Pitzer College faculty and students to build community and enact change.
“We’ve had this beautiful space for years, but because of our limited resources, we weren’t able to do as much as we wanted to,” said Tessa Hicks Peterson, assistant vice president of community engagement and director of CASA Pitzer. “Now that we have more staff and these funds, we can create a vibrant community center in our local region.”
The CASA Pitzer academic program facilitates student internships and community-based participatory research on issues of regional equity and justice pertaining to incarceration, immigration, education, environment, labor, art, culture, and health. Students co-enroll in two courses, Critical Community Studies and Research Methods for Community Change, and participate in a 125-hour internship in the community.
“Our students have been directly involved with our partner organizations and are impacting people’s lives through their research and internships,” said Hicks Peterson. “We also help community organizations to bolster and build their programs.”
One of CASA Pitzer’s partnerships is Resilient Voices, a program hosted by the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to support formerly detained immigrants with re-entry services and negotiating the traumas of injustice. This summer, Pitzer students are helping to expand and improve the program to make it more vibrant, accessible, and healing. Meanwhile, in collaboration with Inland Empire Immigrant Youth Collective, CASA Pitzer is hosting Know Your Rights workshops, designed primarily for undocumented youth, to learn their rights within the legal system and how to negotiate education, healthcare, and their everyday lives.
CASA Pitzer’s partners also include the food justice organization Huerta Del Valle, Warehouse Workers Resource Center, Youth Mentoring Action Network, The Arts Area, Motivating Action Leadership Opportunity, and Riverside All of Us or None, Starting Over Inc., a housing complex for formerly incarcerated people.
While many universities host community engagement programs where students go off-campus for internships or volunteering, CASA Pitzer stands out as a college-owned and operated space that is free to use by local community members and that allows students to engage in deep, intensive practicums with organizations doing research, organizing, and advocacy work.
“We did research this past semester with a CASA Pitzer student who looked at other community engagement centers across the country, and he could not find a single one that is quite like ours,” said Hicks Peterson. “People come from all over asking us about the program and wanting to learn about the model.”
According to Hicks Peterson, CASA Pitzer has identified four important areas that their new funds will go toward: 1) paying a stipend to recognize the co-educator role of the community-based organizations that mentor the students; 2) expanding partnerships with Pitzer students and faculty to increase the number of courses in different fields and to increase collaborative research; 3) revitalizing the space by funding new and sustained programming conceived by local students, families, community members, and organizations; and 4) creating more work at the intersection of healing, wellness, and social justice.
“I feel so grateful that now we have the funding to deepen and expand the work through classes, partnerships, collaborations with the community, and research with students and faculty across The Claremont Colleges,” said Hicks Peterson.